Monday, July 18, 2016

Notes from Our All Day Visit to The Bronx Zoo

Notes from Our All Day Visit to The Bronx Zoo

Martin Bodek
We arrive at the Bronx River Gate at 9:45 AM. Park opens at 10:00 AM. We have never been this early for anything.
We’re eighth in line, and we’ve already created a traffic problem for cars trying to enter/exit the Bronx River Parkway.
They let us in to the gate. There are five gates. It’s a lot like the Old City. This gate doesn’t have a “Welcome to the Bronx Zoo” sign that you can stand in front of without being murdered by a passing car. Nice.
It’s me, my wife, the boys, and Ross, who’s treating us to the park today. We sunscreen up, the boys get Polaroid cameras (they’re popular again! Whoda thunk!) from Ross, and off we go.
First, a bathroom stop before we head in to the park. It’s an eco version. Oooh. The urinals have no water, just gravity. The faucets are manual! Ha! San Diego Zoo had the same ridiculousness!
Okay, into the park.
Chipmunks and robins welcome us as we walk in, but we’re here to see animals we don’t see every day.
We pass World of Birds. Nobody’s interested. We see birds every day. Our backyard is a practical aviary. We have strarlings, mourning doves, robins, cardinals, blue jays, woodpeckers, and more. Quite gorgeous, and we don’t take it for granted. Here? Meh.
Now bison are cool. Bison remind me of David Oritz: hulking, but gentle, with interesting facial hair.
What else this place got?
Peacocks. Lots of peacocks. Peacocks everywhere. Did you know that’s the name for the males? And that the females are called peahens? And the babies are called peachicks? I didn’t until today!
We come upon the sea lion enclosure. How do we know they’re sea lions and not seals? Um, something to do with the ears, I think. I can’t really tell from the signage, which seems to be written by idiots for idiots (example: “This animal likes to hide from predators.” No, seriously?).
The baby sea lions look like they want nothing to do with the water, and the mommies are nudging them in for training. Awww. The dominant male is barking his brains out at everybody. Stupid male. This one wouldn’t look out of place wearing a wifebeater.
What else we got? Ooh, the Madagascar exhibit! Let’s see what we have in here: ooh, lemurs. Lemurs are cool. Do they blink? And what else? Ooh, Nile crocodiles. Yikes, scary. The water refraction makes ‘em feel like they’re an inch away. My wife’s camera can’t get a view from both above and below the water line. Shucks. Woulda been a cool snap. There’s a bird species flying about in here that we don’t have in our backyard: a fody. Gorgeous, and red. This exhibit is fantastic for inquisitive children, and has the first tortoises of the day. The one thing this place has that’s more plentiful than the peacocks are tortoises. Also here: da foosa!
Bathroom stop for the boys.
Next stop is the Children’s Zoo, which stinks like a…children’s zoo. I don’t know how the animals can stand it, much less the humans.
They have animals here not typically in petting zoos, like an otter. This one is messing with a sewer pipe. I think he knows the way out.
Ooh, look, turtles in a pond with a buncha cute ducks, and squirrel monkeys bounding about with babies on their backs. This strikes my wife’s fancy, and she takes tons of great pictures.
Because the petting zoo smell is not enough, they rigged a weird feature where you can lean over a vent and smell what a skunk smells like. Ugh, who wants that? I can do that any time I step out of my house for a run, thank you very much.
Another interesting feature of the Children’s Zoo is in the bathroom, presumably designed for kids, where the soap dispenser is approximately nine feet above the sink. Explain this to me.
They do have one neat amenity though: an artificial tree, scaffolded by a neat treehouse platform, with a slide built inside. Neat, but it’s next to the owls, who (pun intended), when they look at you, make you feel like prey.
On the way out, and away from the smell are more tortoises. In one enclosure, one of them, looking for love the wrong way, is ramming against another enclosure-mate, repeatedly. I call him Chris Brown.
Time for lunch! Where has the day gone? Park staff is very chill, and gave us no problems at the entrance, or in their café, where my wife unleashes the torrent of food she’s prepared. Yummy. Boys get “small” refreshment soft drinks. By “small,” I mean “huge.” I get an iced coffee, but the cashier needs coaching on exactly how that’s built.
Wheels up! More park to see!
Ooh, the Komodo dragon enclosure, which a child can easily climb into, if he wanted, but they’re hiding, the dragons are. That’s the thing with this park: their enclosures are built so the animals can find hidey-holes. No fair. Right in front of the dragons? More tortoises! Giant ones!
Bathroom stop for the boys.
Ooh, The rhino house! Gotta go see. Rhinos are awesome.
They’re not inside today. Outside. Ooh, let’s go see them outside. There they are, a million miles away. That’s the other thing with this park: not only can animals hide, but they’re very set back and apart from visitors. Very distant. That has pluses and minuses.
Anyway, we find the rhinos, and one of them takes a Guinness-record whizz right in front of us. That must have been like a minute and a half.
Boys want on the Bug Carousel, because what’s better than things that give you the creeped-out willies at a tiny level, than to have them blown up to 1,000 times actual size. Yick, but we ride with them.
World of Reptiles is awesome. Alligators! Feisty kiddy ones! Trying to drown each other! Interesting!
Also, Verdi! (google “Verdi book”)
We skip Butterfly Garden because butterfly habitats freak out our boys. Some are scared of clowns, some of heights, ours can’t stand butterflies in close quarters.
Bears! Bears freak me out. If you understood their strength, they’d freak you out too. Bears are believed to be the only animals who’d shred a human like a hefty bag just because they looked at them funny. Other animals, would have, oh, I dunno, a reason, like defending their cubs or their turf or because they’re insanely hungry. Bears are practical gang members. They don’t need a reason to pick a fight except to show how tough they are.
Go ahead and see The Revenant. You’ll see what I’m talking about.
Doesn’t stop us from taking a pic with one of them in the background.
Bathroom stop for the boys. They need to stop drinking.
Baboons! Our little one has been begging for them all day. At first I thought he said bamboo, and happily showed him, when he said, “Not bamboo! Baboon!” Oh! Sure! Here you go!
Giraffes! Surrounded by gazelle and thousands of peaanimals! Giraffes are freaky and awesome. I think I’m a fan of any creature that weighs a ton or more. I think it’s respect for their ability to still lug themselves around. This zoo has every animal that generally weighs a ton (elephant, rhino, hippo, giraffe, gaur [pronounced “gaur”], buffalo) except for one (walrus).
Bathroom stop for the boys.
To the Congo! I came here about 15 years ago with my kid sisters, when this exhibit had just opened – for the price of four installments of $399.99 or something like that. Today they’ve come to their senses a bit more.
The gorillas are amazing. My wife snaps away at the mommy cradling her baby. Awwww.
The heron enclosure is fascinating, and you might think they can’t be in my backyard so it has to be a big deal to see them.
You’d be wrong. Heron populate the parks of Montclair, where I see them when out on my long runs, and every time I do, I feel I’m in Jurassic World, and something big is going to eat me.
Okapi are crazy cool. They’re like, ungulate platypuses. Ya know, thrown together parts. Nuts.
Bathroom stop for the boys. Seriously, they have to stop drinking.
We check out Rio movie in 4D. We get spritzed, vibrated, and have wind blown in our faces for ten minutes while observing birds trying to get back to the wild. I recognize most of the voices. I’m a voice recognizer. You watching a car commercial, and you could swear you know the voice from somewhere? You give me a call.
Dippin’ Dots and Icee break! Because the boys need more sugar and water. What are we doing to ourselves?
African Plains is awesome. They have wild dogs next to the Whoopi Goldbergs. Um, I mean hyenas. I never realized they weren’t the same thing, or rather, from the same family. The signage here seems to have been written by grownups for grownups. Finally.
Ooh! The Carter Giraffe building! I remember staring straight up at these magnificent animals when I was here 15 years back, and I was dazzled. I hurry inside to repeat the experience, but nope, they’re outside today, far from our reach and our view. Beh.
The Chris Rocks are really cool too. Um, the zebras, I mean.
On to Asia! You know you’re there because it’s themed like…Asia.
Now I see something in Jungleworld I’ve never seen before: everybody knows certain monkey and ape speeches groom each other, right? Everyone’s seen that. Know what we see here today? One gibbon carefully grooming another’s hindquarters, with the recipient thrusting the object of the grooming out and up into the air. It’s hilarious. They get more pictures taken of their activity than anything else on view in the zoo today, I promise.
Bathroom stop for the boys.
Onto the Wild Asia Monorail! This is fun. The animals, in their impressive enclosures, are set far back, as I’ve mentioned, but at least they’re not hiding here, and the tour guide is lively, friendly, and explains a lot (I’ve learned a lot today!). The tiger is awesome, and he sticks his tongue out at us. The Master Shifu is cool, even though he really isn’t a panda (so much learning today!). The hippo is wallowing. Hippos are incredible. Up close, they’re even incredibler.
We disembark around 5:00 PM. The park closes at 5:30, but the staff scurries all the animals away from view at 5:00, as a way of disinteresting visitors and ushering them out of the park. I get it, but I’m not a fan.
We hop on the shuttle, and ride on out to our parking lot. We see nothing along the way because there’s nothing to see anymore. Feh.
On the way out, Ross spots an injured bunny that she reports to the staff, who proceed to help.
Bathroom stop for the boys at closing time.
As far as I can remember, this is the first time we’ve ever arrived somewhere before opening, spent the day, and left after closing.
A fun, full, great day. Thanks for the treat, Ross!
Maybe I’ll be back again in 15 years. I’ve got to see those giraffes up close.

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Monday, July 11, 2016

Notes from Our 2-day PA July 4th Vacay

Notes from Our 2-day PA July 4th Vacay
Martin Bodek

Sunday, July 3rd
5:30 AM, 7-mile run, because every vacation has to start with one. It’s the first official run of my marathon training season. Here we go!
Off to Sesame Place with the boys!
Crossing over PA border, it’s very clear that this state really, really, really wants to sell you fireworks.
One of the first towns over the border is Fairless Hills. What isn’t fair about them? Google reveals that it’s a census-designated place (CDP), which I still don’t understand despite rereading the definition repeatedly.
We spend the day at Sesame Place surrounded by water that’s too cold, people in questionably tasteful outfits, nary a tattoo-less human, and frightening surgery scars on display. Our little one gets more love for this Minnesota Vikings cap (having gotten some recently at a Yankee game we attended).
Fully roasted by the sun, and frozen to death by the water (I hear this would be the experience of a astronaut in space sans suit), we head to Philadelphia for dinner.
Judah Mediterranean Grill is quite delicious! Very pleased with the food and service.
On the road again, we pass New Life Church, which has a menorah on its façade. Interesting.
We also pass an Egypt Road. More on that later.
The neighborhood around Philly isn’t so pretty. I think this is precisely where The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was born and raised. There’s a reason he left.
At our hotel, we have the experience of experiences: as we’re headed to our room with our baggage, a guest informs the front desk that he smells smoke. Uh oh, we wait in the lobby for all this to blow over.
Two ladder companies show up. One brings a disco truck. He-Men with massive medieval weapons emerge, fill the lobby and stairways. The boys are dazzled.
The all-clear is given. My wife asks the warriors if they mind if the boys take a picture with them. They oblige happily, switch hats with our Vikings fan, and brandish their weapons. If I was them, I’d freak out from happiness.

Then a frolic in the pool and Jacuzzi, playing catch with deflated beach balls that we found (what, are YOU going to blow them up?).
Vayehi erev, vayehi boker…
Monday, July 4th
Happy birthday, America!
Breakfast in our hotel room.
Off to Scott’s Run Lake, where we spend three hours fishing under the guise and tutelage of Katie, an employee of PA’s Parks Department. PA, in a tourism push, has courses all over the state today, plus permission for anyone to fish without a license.
We catch nothing, but we have the time of our lives, because fishing is interesting, and the boys cast like champs! Big boy is most successful. He gets two nibbles, but no bites. We’re definitely going to try this again.

Giving it our first try.
Two interesting sights when we’re done:
1) A small field, still in the quiet day, but in full motion, because hundreds of fingernail-sized frogs are hopping across it. Fascinating.
2) A strawberry patch, one foot by one foot, in middle of nowhere, probably planted by accident by a single strawberry drop by a hiker, or whoever.
Off to Hopewell Lake, for motorboating – or rather, rowboating with a motor. Darn things maxes out at .2 knots. Still, nice. Boys take turns driving – er, steering.
Wheels up!
We pass a town called Limerick. I take a pic and send to a friend. Inside joke just for him.
We pass Lebanon Road. Now looking for a Jordan Avenue.
Turkey Hill shows up on WaZe. We reroute, because we gotta see, maybe entertain the boys on this long stretch.
During reroute, we spot baby deer, still with the spots on them. Just kids. Venturing too far from home. They’ll probably get a good scolding from their parents.
We then spot baby corn, and show the boys what that looks like.
Turkey Hill is just a gas station, that has some Turkey Hill ice cream. Boring, but we’re not leaving without that ice cream. My wife and I share a Klondike. Not as impressive as the classic commercials make them sound.
We pass Fairview Village. What’s up with all this fairness?
We pit-stop at the mid-point of trip home at Kids Castle, a four-story playground constructed of wood. I don’t think I’ve ever seen a playground that goes this high. It’s fascinating, and intricate, and fun. My wife barbecues while all her boys play, then we get the call when dinner’s ready.
Likely the most awesome playground structure ever.
Some more horseplay in the castle and it’s time to head home.
We pass Burnt House Hill Road. We didn’t get Jordan. We got Ticho House instead.
We pass a scareCOW. Never seen that before.
We pass Street Road. Huh? They have an Avenue Boulevard and Way Drive too?
Aaaaaand home sweet home. Boys conk out before they can watch the fireworks.