Tuesday, April 22, 2008

I have a dream...

...although fantasy might be a more apt term.

It goes like this:

CPOP meets with the Zoo on May 2 and eloquently explains that while the Memphis Zoo may be a major boon to the local tourist economy, it is also a major annoyance to Midtown residents (and others) who want to enjoy the Old Forest and other attractions in Overton Park.

CPOP suggests that since the Memphis Zoo has nearly doubled its attendance from 550,000 visitors to over 1,000,000 annually in last 10 years, it might make sense to factor in the impact those millions of visitors are having on the park. CPOP points out that while creating new exhibits and improving existing ones is good and all (*cough*), adequate parking might be nice too. I know that the people who go to the Greensward to play soccer, have a picnic, or learn how to ride a bike would certainly appreciate it.

The Memphis Zoo nimbly counters: “Oh, it’s only a few days out of the year that we have parking overflow onto the Greensward.” CPOP points out that it is those same exact days —- the holidays, the sunny days, the special event days -- when people who live near the park also want to enjoy the wide open spaces trapped beneath the Memphis Zoo's overflowing collection of SUVs.

"But wait," the Memphis Zoo reps say, "We thought you treehugging crackheads were here to oppose our old growth clearcut?"

CPOP smiles and says, "Glad you mentioned that." Then CPOP suggests that, in order to atone for sins against nature and restore public trust, the Memphis Zoo should tear down the fence surrounding the remaining 17 acres of old growth forest under their "care" and give everyone else a chance to enjoy it.

Because really, it doesn’t make much sense for the Memphis Zoo to create a "Chickasaw Bluffs" exhibit when there’s already a good amount of the real Chickasaw Bluffs on display in the park -- for free.

One of our readers, jccvi, optimistically suggested: “The Zoo exhibit could perhaps serve as an entry point to the rest of the forest, allowing people put off by the seedy reputation to experience and eventually defend this treasure we've been entrusted with in Memphis.”

Maybe, but take a look at this map:

Then think about it this way:

Joe Schmo and his family are new to Memphis. They decide to visit the Memphis Zoo on a lovely sunny Saturday... just like thousands of other people. The Memphis Zoo’s parking lot is full, so they’ve been instructed to park on the Greensward near Rainbow Lake. As the Schmos get out of their Honda Odyssey, their son, Joe Jr., looks over his shoulder and spots... a puddle!

Joe Jr. pokes his toe in that puddle and wonders if there are any fish or turtles in that big pond nearby. Mrs. Schmo looks up at the fence surrounding Rainbow Lake, thinks nothing of the trees standing on the other side, and herds Joe Jr. back over to his little sister Schmo-Schmo.

The four Schmos start the arduous walk to the Memphis Zoo entrance, pay their $37 including parking (Schmo-Schmo gets in free) and begin their adventure. Chances are they will never really make it all the way to the Chickasaw Bluffs exhibit because Joe Jr.’s feet hurt and Joe Sr. is tired of carrying him and/or Schmo-Schmo has blown out her last remaining diaper.

But, for the sake of argument, let’s say they do make it. Joe Jr. loves it! He is running through the trails with the wind in his hair! He’s climbing trees! He’s found a turtle!

He’s instructed by a Memphis Zoo official to stay on the path! Get off that tree! Put that turtle down! Get that wind out of your hair, kid!

The Schmos are really embarrassed about their son’s behavior. “It’s been a long day,” they say, as they desperately look for a Zoo Tram to take them back to the main entrance. Maybe there will even be a shuttle from the main entrance to the Greensward where they left their family truckster hours ago. (Maybe the shuttle will even accept a credit card since they spent all of their cash on gift shop mementos, flattened pennies, Dippin Dots, Back Yard Burgers, carousel rides, and Zoo Trams.)

Once everyone is safely buckled in, Joe Sr. glances at that fence behind Rainbow Lake. Mrs. Schmo is rushing him so she can get little Schmo-Schmo in a clean diaper, but he can’t stop staring. Then it hits him.

He just spent 45 minutes begging and pleading and spending hard-earned cash in order to get the much-in-need-of-a-nap Joe Jr., poopy Schmo-Schmo, and cranky Mrs. Schmo back to the car that was only a hundred feet away from where Joe Jr. was having so much fun before those Zoo officials crushed his spirit.

Now, don’t start thinking the lovely earth muffins behind CPOP say DOWN WITH FENCE just because they are too lazy to hike to their minivans after a long day at the Memphis Zoo.

CPOP wants the fence down so that when Joe Jr. wanders over to Rainbow Lake to investigate a puddle, his mother will look up, see the lovely foot bridge crossing Lick Creek into the Old Forest and say, “Hey Joe, wanna go check out those awesome trees over there?”

After sitting speechless for a long while, the Memphis Zoo reps eventually say: "You know, we never thought of it that way. We're so sorry. I guess we've been a little selfish, and not the best neighbors. We've got to do better. There should be more parking and less fence!"

Then we all join hands and sing Kumbaya and go out dancing.