Last week, I took a field trip to the Los Angeles Zoo. It was educational.
I took the slog, and photo-documented all the weirdest animals I saw. Sadly, I didn't write down the names of any of them, so I can't even tell you what many of these creatures are called. But they are beautiful. (And, okay, I know flamingos, and the emperor tamarind because that one was my very, very favorite--it's the little monkey with the serious white mustache).
As I walked the zoo, getting a little sunburnt, because apparently in LA you should wear sunscreen if you're going to be outdoors for five hours, I had the disturbing realization that we--homo sapiens--are like the plainest animals on the planet. In fact, we're downright boring when compared to flamingoes (flamingos? my computer is telling me both are correct) whose knees bend backwards, or goat creatures with crazy shaggy hairdos and spiraling horns.
I had also forgotten that sometimes, at the zoo, animals stare back at you. Especially meerkats. It's like nobody told them they're the exhibit. And I wanted to say, "Hey, don't waste your time watching us. What've we got? Some flexible thumbs, and wimpy skin that is allergic to sunlight. You know who doesn't need SPF? That crazy blobby warthog thing next to the flamingoes (flamingos?)."
I rode the bus, the LA city bus, to get to the zoo (and lest you compliment me on my resourcefulness, I should tell you that Kate--my roommate's best friend and our houseguest this week--figured out all the logistics. I was, as they say, along for the ride). Here's what I saw:
A mother clutching her daughter's overalls so she couldn't fall out of the bus seat.
A little boy who begged and begged for his grandmother to sit next to him, but she didn't, so he had to sit next to his sister, which he obviously found pretty disgusting. Until he forgot she was disgusting, and they told each other jokes and made each other laugh the whole way to where they were going.
A constant rotation of people taking seats, and then offering up their seats the moment they saw someone older, or more infirm, get on the bus.
An ancient, ancient man who shuffled onto the bus, then helped another ancient man onto the bus at the next stop, and then they got off the bus together, and a very young man with a skateboard helped them down the stairs at their stop.
I guess this is just common courtesy, but I saw so much of it--and I was on the LA city bus, so I expected the sort of indifference that mass transit in a huge city would seem to invite. What I saw, the whole ride, was a surprising gentleness and desire to connect. People just wanted to be helpful.
Then, at the zoo, I was walking behind a big man in oversized clothes. He had lots of blue tattoos like I associate with gang tattoos. He even had a tear drop tattooed under his eye. My brain categorized him as "a rough sort," and I wondered, "what's this guy doing at the zoo?"
He passed a woman pushing a stroller just at the moment her frustrated toddler managed to launch himself right out of his seat and sort of flip towards the pavement. I froze, frightened for the ensuing injury. But in a single, swift, and gentle motion, before the kid could even hit the ground, the same "rough sort" swooped him up and landed him back in his mother's arms, like it was the most natural thing in the world. No hesitation. He didn't even pause, or miss a step. The woman said thank you, dumbfounded, and the kid had this dopey, wide-eyed expression like, "What the hell just happened?"
It was all kinds of heroic.
And my point is that even up against such exotic, curious animals as flamingos (flamingoes?), tapirs, and emperor tamarinds, we people can hold our own.