The Pittsburgh Zoo never gets old and is certainly never boring. I’ve been visiting my hometown’s zoo for as long as I can remember and I have very fond memories. This weekend I brought my boyfriend to the zoo because after twenty years, my mom still buys the family pass and endeavors to make a few trips there during the summer. So Jim and I took advantage of the free pass and decided to go on a very busy day, when every father was trying to make up for lost time and spend some quality time with their kids. We had to park in a gravel, fenced-in parking lot that I didn’t even know existed. (Not to mention the fact that even then I couldn’t find a spot, so I parked my car next to the end of a row and crossed my fingers that they wouldn’t ticket people at a fun, family attraction.)
But Jim and I had a wonderful day, as I knew we would, because I have never had a bad experience at the zoo. It is always a timeless adventure, a different experience every time. I hadn’t been there in quite a few years, having been wrapped up in school and summer lifeguarding jobs, so I was anxious to relive the memories. Now, if you don’t know, the Pittsburgh Zoo is set up very efficiently, with the general traffic flow in a large circle and ways for moms to take their toddlers in a smaller circle to get to Kids Kingdom a little quicker. So on a crowded day, I was relieved that the traffic flow kept moving and we were able to see all the animals that we wanted. People were generally conscious of others and I heard many mothers and fathers saying “Okay, let’s keep moving to let other people see.” The animals were pretty active and fun to watch. The tigers were swimming and jumping around, the lion was staring right at us, the leopard was pacing right at the window, begging to be photographed.
Either because of Father’s Day or by pure coincidence, it was also Renaissance Day at the zoo. We periodically saw people dressed in medieval costumes and long velvet dresses with gold trim. Around the Aquarium were several areas where they engaged in medieval combat and fencing, and inside the entrance to the Aquarium, women were explaining period clothing and weaving lace. It was interesting to see people passionate about their hobby and a period of history that is often forgotten. Of course Jim had to try on some medieval armor…
We had a pleasant rest of the day at the zoo, walking through the jungle and the monkey house and the deer yard, reminiscing. When I was younger my mom and several of her friends would all bring their kids to the zoo, lunches packed, strollers in tow, sunscreen slathered. We would press our faces up to the grimy, germ-infested glass at every exhibit and the moms would roll their eyes and whip out the WetOnes when it was time to pass out sandwiches and Pringles. We walked in a big group, always skipping the monkey house because it smelled and moving right on to Kids Kingdom where the moms would get a break while we climbed up the rope ladder and came down on the slides over and over and over. We would fall asleep in the car on the way home, thoroughly exhausted from our trip to the zoo.
When you’re a little kid, all of the animals look big and fierce. They’re all exotic–creatures you’ve only seen in picture books, parents asking, “What does the lion say?” It’s exciting, as a kid, to see these animals that you’ll never see anywhere else, and disappointing, when you realize that some animals really just sleep most of the day. The draw to keep coming back is to someday see the snow leopard move around in his cage. Someday, maybe the rhino will be in the water. You want them to move, or play, or fight or even just look at you. As a kid, you remember vividly the times when your favorite animal did something you thought was spectacular. I remember one time we saw one of the bears playing with a ball in its little swimming pool. Even as an adult, you marvel at the variety of life in a zoo. (I still can’t believe that they figured out a way to get all the creatures of the world to live in the same Pennsylvania climate.) And always, there is still the anticipation of seeing one of the animals do something you haven’t seen before. Something that makes you linger at the glass a little longer, staring in amazement.
Now, while the kids have grown up and some, like me, haven’t been to the zoo in years, the lions still lounge in the shade, the sea lions still glide effortlessly in the water, the giraffes still stand as tall as trees. Moms still pack lunches and push strollers and toddlers still squeeze right up to the grimy glass. The zoo hasn’t really changed but the kids grow up and new kids take their place, always hoping that the animals will do something to amaze them. It’s what keeps everyone coming back. And no matter what, it’s always an adventure at the zoo.