There Goes My Study With Santa Claus
One Infuriating Day in the World of Mundane Technology

At the Toledo Zoo

We told the border officer at the Ambassador Bridge, en route from Windsor to Detroit, that we had planned to go to the Detroit zoo, but we might go to the Toledo one instead because we had heard that it was better. He agreed that it was. He thought that because he was a member himself. The Detroit zoo was okay, he said, but it meant a lot of walking to see not that many animals.

These are not guys that are known for chit-chat. Upon being waved through, we headed straight for Toledo, though the bridge itself empties directly into Detroit.

The hour drive down, along I-75, was not pretty. I thought of some Vietnamese friends, who had yet to master the language, describing a certain picnic at which they had all sat on the ground, as “not beautiful.” This drive was also not beautiful. Detroit went bankrupt in 2013, long-ago dethroned as Emerald City of the automobile. It is a pretty gritty place today, though the downtown itself is vibrant and we will return someday to explore more thoroughly. I-75 itself was under heavy construction. A billboard whizzed by for the Detroit Pistons; only then did it occur to me: Of course! Pistons—what else would you name the team from the motor city?

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You can see Detroit from the Windsor shoreline, a narrow strip of park. It is very pretty and the GM building dominates. Peter Lynch once wrote that the nicest thing that he could say of General Motors was that it was a terrible company—bloated and inefficient, but that was long ago. No doubt it is firing on all cylinders now. Do not say that these stone figures became such when they fled the sinking town and disobediently looked back, as though fleeing Sodom. It is a cheap shot. Don’t go there. No. This is a statue of Canadian people doing something else.

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We had spent the night in Windsor because, from upstate New York heading to Detroit, you are better served crossing into Canada and traveling “atop” Lake Erie.

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Phone service dies, because we don’t have Verizon, and you have to drive those things they have there instead of miles, but the trip is shorter. We stayed at a Best Western—it was once called the Waterfront Hotel. The next morning in the elevator someone commented on how Justin Trudeau had also spent the night there.

Could it be? The Chrysler Theater was right next door—there is even a connecting passageway—and there had been a long line wrapping around the night before. I had gone out to investigate, but I assumed it was for a music concert, as the marquis suggested. Quite a few cops were there, too, but not that many—I mean, Trump would have shut down half the city. A protester there had been shouting that Trudeau was a racist, and though it made no sense then, afterwards I found out that some college photos of him in blackface (“face-darkening make-up,” a friendly news source said) had been discovered and published by those who didn’t like him. It occurred to me that protests are pretty much the same everywhere—just plug in a fresh set of faces and you are good to go in any land.

It turned out that he had not stayed overnight. That was just rumor encouraged by the guest having seen a SWAT team. He had just been there to give a campaign speech—he was in and out. Moreover, the relatively small police presence occasioned remarks afterwards of how nice they are in Canada, how just a few cops will do for a visit from the Chief of State—you really don’t need too many—and how even the terrorists, should they feel obliged to shoot up the place, are invariably polite and apologize for the inconvenience.

My wife and I were on the final leg of our Zoo tour. We had signed up as members to the Cincinnati zoo last year so as to get in at half price; the clincher had been when they told us that we could then get into other zoos at half price. We had planned to see about 20, but life gets in the way, and we only made four: Syracuse, Buffalo, Hershey, and now, Toledo. Even Rochester, closest to where we live, we did not get to.

We did not even need our membership at the Toledo Zoo—it was senior day—“Senior Safari”—and oldsters that we are beginning to resemble were admitted free! They were trucking them in, hauling them around in golf carts, and lining them up for vendors and agencies who would pitch services to them.

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It was all sponsored by the Office for the Aging. The old people didn’t look too healthy, many of them—old age is not kind—and one of them (who did look healthy) keeled over right behind us in line for no reason at all. He suffered no injuries, fortunately, except for pride. It was a splendid day weather-wise—sun, mid-seventies, with low humidity.

They offered seniors a special deal for lunch, just five dollars per head, so of course, my wife and I signed up. I absolutely refuse to wear the “Where’s My Senior Discount?” tee shirt that some nutty friend gave me a while back, but when a bargain falls right into your lap, of course you take it. So did hundreds of others—when I saw how long the line was, I began to regret it. But it moved quickly, and once inside, we were seated at round tables of ten—with tableclothes—and waiters placed identical meals of a hamburger and a few tiny side dishes before each old person.

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And then, lo and behold, the master of ceremonies, standing before the aquarium, introduced the Contours, that Mo-Town band of the 60s! I had seen them entering from the other side of the building and had not known who they were. There may have been close to 1,000 in attendance to hear these guys. Who would have thought it? See them here on-screen, but also in person away to the left in the connecting room. They only sang four or five songs. The topper was: “Do You Love Me?”—a 1962 hit that became a hit all over again from the 1988 movie “Dirty Dancing.”

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They are still the showmen they once were. One of them exclaimed: “There’s a lot of good-looking women here!” What was he smoking? Even local realtor Sam Morreale, extrovert like you’ve never seen an extrovert, who thrives on people-contact and has done several deals for family members—I would recommend him in a heartbeat—told me that he doesn’t go to class reunions anymore because “the women don’t look so good” (as though the men do). There may have been a few good-looking women there in Toledo, but it WAS senior day, after all. One band member introduced another—I wish I could remember the names—and observed that even after all these years—even with his store-bought teeth—even with his store-bought teeth, that he got from K-Mart, he can still “really shake ‘em down.”

I love the scene from “Dreamgirls,” code name for the Supremes, where Eddie Murphy croons some song nice and bland, so as to appeal to the white people, and breaks down mid-song. “I can’t do it,” he cries. He then lets out a shriek and launches into pure funk, at which point the all-black horn section exits the bleachers and parades single file past him, joyously blowing for all they are worth. Let’s face it—modern music doesn’t really get interesting until the black musicians get their hands on it.

The Toledo zoo is rated by the Ranker.com site as the seventh best zoo in the country. Is it just a coincidence that the #2 (Columbus) and # 3 (Cincinnati) zoos are also in Ohio? As good zoos do, it intertwines people pathways with animal quarters. The former get many viewing angles—see how you can look through this aquarium and see folks on the other side?

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The animals have varied terrain and relatively spacious quarters. Probably not as spacious as Detroit, which is still in the first half of the Ranker list—after all, if you have to walk a lot to see not that many animals, it means that the animals have more space. The American Zoo Association mandates 5000 square feet for every two wild animals. When I was a boy, zoos used to be jails for animals—they have come a long way. Still, that is hardly the space that they would have in the wild, and my brother (the one who cheats at Scrabble) doesn’t like zoos for that reason. They represent one segment of humanity protecting animals from another segment that would kill them off in one way or another. I don’t know how the animals might feel about that.

Toledo used to be one of those jails for animals—most zoos were. The former gorilla enclosure literally looks like a jail, but it is now a restaurant where people come to dine behind the bars. It opened in 1993–it is called “Carnivore Cafe.” As I panned my camera, so as not to be obvious that I was honing in on a couple of diners, the woman wasn’t fooled a bit, and she began waving even before I pointed toward her—how can people be so clever? Later, when I sat back there myself, my wife exclaimed that they still do have great apes back there—see what I have to put up with?

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These days the gorillas get some revenge for their forebears being jailed. They can soak visitors if the latter happen to be standing in the wrong spot and the former are quick enough.

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And the translucent mannequin simulating how the body reacts to venoms and stings, who in this case represents just an ordinary joe cleaning his house gutters, dies after disturbing a nest of wasps! I mean, they went out of their way to have him die—ordinarily he wouldn’t have, but this fellow had a specific allergy.

The New York zoos that we went to—Syracuse, Buffalo—and we know Rochester from before—are all down near the bottom of the Ranker list. They are well done—almost all zoos are improving—and reflect people dedicated to their care, but they are smaller. Even ZooAmerica in Hershey, Pennsylvania—with a name like that we figured it must be spectacular, but it actually meant that it contained, as a refuge zoo, only animals native to North or South America—one would never describe as “bad.” Sometimes less is more, and having defined their more modest goal, they go on to do more with it.

Most zoos undertake the mission to educate as to how to be better stewards of the planet. The aquarium building had photos—they are spotted only as you are close to the exit—of just how damaging human pollution is to marine life. Some birds will feed on small discarded plastic items, filling their stomachs and causing starvation when real food no longer fits, one sign informed. And the next one of the turtles speaks for itself:

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Another exhibit of the Cassowary bird even illustrated a Bible verse for me. The creature defecates thousands of seeds that sprout and serve to repopulate the rain forest in which it resides. That called to mind the derisive title given the apostle Paul by the Epicurean and Stoic philosophers, who wanted to know “what is it this chatterer is trying to say?” (Acts 17:18) Literally the word means “seed-picker” and it denotes a bird that picks up a seed here and poops it out there—it is not as though they held him in high esteem

Just as some other creature did something so amazing that I was overwhelmed with appreciation for God’s design, some evolutionist behind me exclaimed: “It seems almost a miracle that natural selection has resulted in these ingenious behaviors!” So I spun about and threw him into the lions den behind me, where he was instantly devoured, as the three Hebrew lads had not been. Look—I gave him a chance to prove survival of the fittest—don’t judge me. I admit that it was an overreaction, but I was tired of his type carrying on about how the Chinese steal intellectual property, whereas nobody steals intellectual property today more than scientists themselves. The way jet wings tip up at the extremities, the way they never used to? That comes from watching buzzards, eagles, and storks. It wasn’t the brainchild of any human, but of God. Fortunately for them, it was not patented, and God doesn’t begrudge them for copying it. But they have no right to pass it off as their own brilliant idea and not give credit where credit is due.

 

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