What do you do when you’re racing cross country and back on a two week vacation and want to give the eight-year-old huddled in the back seat the impression you’re providing him extra-exceptional entertainment by doing this? Flying through Louisiana on I-20, the co-adults spotted a billboard for a gator park and discreetly consulted with each other then pulled off the interstate to go searching for said park, first in the wrong direction then hopefully in the right one. “Where is it? Where is it? You’d think they’d have more signs. Wonder how many people get lost and return to the Interstate,” we mumbled low so that if we did find the park it would be a surprise for H.o.p.
And that’s what we did on the second day of our trip. Looked at gators and cute little African goats. And ostriches. Finally finding the park we entered a medium-sized green building which had a few souvenirs on shelfs, not stocked to the gills, and purchased tickets from a rather desultory but not unagreeable young teen or preteen sitting behind a long counter. He just had the kind of manner that teens have who would prefer to be most anywhere else in the world than where they are and would prefer in particular to be residing in someone else’s skin, but not yours, no, because you’re you’re a stupid old tourist and he at least ten times a day fantasizes about one of those old tourist fools falling into a gator pond, getting their due and livening things up at the same time.
Having purchased our tickets, we went for a $2 cup of animal feed and I read for H.o.p. the instructions on the counter detailing what not to feed the feed. I forget what I remarked about what not to feed but it was unremarkable and drew a reluctant laugh from the young teen at how unremarkable it was, he also thinking, “I hear that ten times a day”, and I was aware when I said it he heard it ten times a day but H.o.p. hadn’t. Co-adult followed up with another comment that drew another reluctant laugh, and feeling we’d done our duty proving how unimaginative and repugnant tourists are we stepped out back onto a wooden walkway overlooking what appeared to be really really really big painted concrete lawn ornaments of alligators, something not communicated in the below picture.
Alligators can sit impossibly still for long periods of time waiting for you to get close enough to eat you. I was aware that gators do this and have observed them at the Atlanta Zoo, but these gators were HUGE and so still and unblinking that they looked like statues. I had to look three and four times before my eyes acclimated and understood them as living flesh. Co-adult, who grew up in Mississippi and has apparently been to his fair share of alligator farms as a child, went high-brow on me when I remarked on how they looked like statues and proceeded to educate me on everything I already knew about gators, reminding me that though we’ve been married for decades he will always be Gulf-Southern and I will always be that foreign lady from the Pacific Northwest that he brought into the family, the death knell to generations of solidly Gulf shores breeding.
“One of your dad’s great-uncles was an alligator trapper in the bayou,” I reminded H.o.p.
H.o.p., being a city boy, picked up a few fallen leaves and tossed them in the brown waters, hoping to get one of the floating, log-resembling gators to move, but the gators resolutely ignored.
We overheard another family of tourists talking about how much they liked Okefenokee Joe, who we’d seen at the Georgia National Fair this autumn.
The gator park turned out to be new, about three years old, and doesn’t have the cutesy stuff that I see in pics for some of the other big tourist gator park attractions in Louisiana. It had a nice feel to it, wasn’t shrill and gaudy and demanding, and the animals seemed well-tended and the goats were happy goats and even the camels were pleasant, happy camels surprising the few visitors with how pleasant they were, but what do I know about gator parks and petting zoos.
The first-encountered mammals, which were little deer, ate every bit of H.o.p.’s big $2 cup of feed and I realized we should have purchased several cups as we now had nothing to reward the cute African goats for being cute and convivial.
One of the ostriches was walking around with its wings all fluffed out to the side like a muscleman doing that arms out pumping down to the side, really projecting the veins thing, which looked pretty odd and might have been intimidating but its head was down and so though it was definitely some show of some sort it didn’t seem to have anything to do with bullying the humans.
I can say that if this gator park had been the subject of a movie I was doing then I would have the proprietors as people who were dazed to find themselves running a gator park and ambivalent about whether they wanted tourists to be treking through. Because though the proprietors were nice they were not show people, quietly going about their business of tending the animals. When co-adult stopped the proprietor to let him know he thought it a nice little park, the proprietor looked a little surprised that one of the tourists was addressing him, and as if he wasn’t too accustomed to this kind of interaction he mumbled a few words in a soft, low, deep Cajun drawl, so soft and low and distant sounding that standing on the other side of co-adult, who’d struck up the conversation, I couldn’t hear a thing he said. But this was how co-adult learned the park was three years old and that they were still having problems with the driveway.
“You’ve got a nice place,” co-adult said.
“We’ve been here about three years and are going pretty good. Still having having problems with the driveway though. It just isn’t right,” the proprietor said. Then he mumbled something else about the driveway and staring off at the animals he fell silent and was done with talking for the day.
Of course we visited the gift shop on our way out and H.o.p. chose a small model of a mountain goat for his purchase as we already have for some reason a couple of big plastic gators at home and one concrete ornamental gator though we’ve got no yard. In our old place I had the idea I would fashion an indoor swamp installation for the ornamental gator but never got around to it.
So back on the road and away we drove to Shreveport where, the sun in our eyes, we were surprised to come around a turn and see a nice-sized wrought iron table sitting in the middle of the Interstate. We swerved and avoided. Everyone else behind us was swerving left and right to avoid. I called 911 on the cell to let them know exactly where the table was, which was going to really mess up someone if they struck it. I made a point of this. “It’s really going to mess up someone if they hit that table.” And I felt very much like I’d done my civic duty for the day though every other car that had swerved to avoid the table had probably made the same call. Hopefully no one did strike the table.
We spent the night in Abilene, Texas. And that was pretty much it for the second day. The gators and successfully avoiding the table in the middle of the road were the big news.
Oh, and I realized we were seeing across country a lot of billboards advertising abstinence.
Our adventures thus far must sound like they would have been very dull for poor H.o.p., but all he really cared about was what toy he was going to next get in his McDonald’s Happy Meal.
And I had in mind an adventure bonanza for H.o.p. come New Mexico so I wasn’t feeling too guilty about not making it to the other fine entertainments I’d designated as possibilities but were in ciities we kept passing through right at closing time.