...Thursday morning we load up and make the short drive to the Alabama Gulf Coast Zoo. Animal Planet viewers know it as “The Little Zoo That Could”…for the way the zoo packed up in trucks and headed north, avoiding Hurricane Ivan.
...Much credit for putting the zoo on the map is it’s director Patti Hall. She masterminded several zoo evacuations, and had the foresight to have a film crew videotape one of them. While the students shadowed zookeepers as they performed various responsibilities, it was a fascinating for several of us chaperones to be able to shadow Director Hall.
...She was never at a loss for words, weaving interesting stories everywhere we went. In the nutrition building many cuddle with the baby tigers, as Ms Hall tells how they were acquired…from the Tampa Zoo, as I recall. She has an entertaining conversation with the talking parrot. They had flown to the other LA to appear on the Craig Ferguson show…after Peter Jennings named her ABC News Person of the Week.
...As youthful and exuberant as Patti Hall is, not many Pattis her age spell their name with an “I”, if you know what I mean. We chaperones may not be spring chickens ourselves, but with the exception of our two “29 year-old” leaders, I’m pretty confident that us other chaperones are much younger than Ms. Hall.
...As we followed Ms. Hall out of the Nutrition building in a small crowd, she asked what happened to “the older gentleman”…a very sweet and politically correct way to ask about Mr. D. Most all of us knew who she was talking about. Except for CINDY SWITZER. Mrs. Switzer knew there was another grey-haired gentleman in their company, so she pointed back and called out “He’s back here!”…pointing to me!
...It took her one second to realize what she had done. We both cracked up, but I knew I had her now. I made a big show of taking out my notepad and pen and wrote down what happened. Mrs. Switzer pleaded with me, to no avail. I suggested several titles for this Facebook Note, like “Switzer Disses Murphy”, and the like.
...Ms. Hall tells us how a lady donated $10,000.00, and got to name the camels. She takes us to see the baby kangaroo, and I snap pictures of Mrs. Hanson and Mrs. Bellerjeau holding the roo. I walk back out into the grassy viewing area, and realize I’m the animal in the cage. Mrs. Smith and a group of elderly couples (not Mrs. Switzer…HA!) are watching me. I tell the couples they can ignore the “don’t feed the animals” sign.
...Mrs. Hanson spends too much time kissing on a llama. I’m expecting the photos to be posted any day now. Sandwiches for lunch. Everyone wants the yummy chocolate pretzels, so I ration them out, one per customer. Jessica manages to pry the most from me.
...Cassie shows how well she can operate a penny-smashing machine, smashing two for her and one for me: my Matthew collects them. We learn how each animal has a specific diet. The local Publix donated expired food to the zoo. Gatorade is not for the crocodiles, but for the lemur’s monkey biscuits. Under the table is a big bag of Animal Crackers. What other kind would they eat?
...Later the students get to hang with the young kangas, and others are allowed to put their palms and faces against the chain link fence holding in the adult tigers. Eventually I join the “fun”…and the tiger immediately turns and licks my face. Did anyone get a picture of me with the tiger?
...Joel hands me his camera, and I snap a few pictures of him and Will. Will has drawn a little Clemson sign for the occasion. Then two geese attack Joel, making quite the racket.
...Next the group migrated over to the younger tiger cage, and seniors DJ and Michelle got to bottle-feed the beasts through the fence. A pretty cool day, for most of us.
...Mrs. D decided Mrs. Switzer’s offense was so great, that she was forced to immediately leave the premises, return to the house, pack her bags, and return to