Day 315 was one of those days that I've been waiting to write since it happened; the experience was a cornucopia of emotions from terror to shock to hilarity. I am so sorry that it's taken me so long to get here and if I have any regrets in life, it was that I was not technologically savvy enough to live-blog the experience as it was happening.
Instead, I am doing what I've done all along, and that is rely on the emotional scarring, the images and memories that have been permanently burned into my brain to write this blog; and of course, consult the excellent notes that I took following this insane day.
Weeks ahead of Day 315, my work friend Jackie announced at work that she was in need of ways to entertain her 2-year old son Vince on weekend mornings while her police officer husband slept at home after his overnight shift. Jackie didn't have to explain to me that toddlers and adults trying to sleep during the day do not mix.
While trying to think of ways to help her, I instantly remembered a conversation I'd had with my friends Dani and her husband Doug at a wedding several weeks before. They had recently visited a place called Wild Animal Safari where they came face to face, literally, with wild animals roaming through a field.
My response to Dani after she told me about it, "This place is in Georgia?"
She smiled and shook her head "Yes. Weird, isn't it?"
She and Doug went on to show me video and pictures. I was instantly amused, and somewhat disturbed, but mostly disturbed. I knew that for blog fodder, a trip to this strange place was exactly what the doctor ordered. Plus Dani, who hasn't made many blog appearances, but had already come through with a doozy of a trip to a Bingo Hall, was clearly full of good ideas.
"Go," Dani said, "I'll go with you if you want. Just go."My only concern was that the place might not be suitable for toddlers, but only Jackie could determine that. She perused the website and decided that Wild Animal Safari was exactly what she and Vince needed to occupy their Sunday morning. So they picked me up at 9am on Sunday morning and away we went.
Day 315's thing I've never done before was to go to a petting zoo.
I'm calling Wild Animal Safari a "petting zoo," though I'm not even sure that's what it is. But "petting zoo," sounds nicer than, "weirdest effing place ever," so I'm just going to go with it.
The trip down to Pine Mountain, where Wild Animal Safari is located, was nice. Jackie and I rode in the front chatting with one another, while Vince napped in the back, seemingly leery of his mom's new friend and about where we were going.
After a couple of missed turns, and both of us wondering who came up with such a weird idea and why they put it way out in Pine Mountain, we arrived at Wild Animal Safari. The entrance sign led us both to believe that this was a legit zoo that just so happened to be tucked away an hour outside of Atlanta. We pulled in, excited about our adventure ourselves, and trying to excite a now awake, but still confused, Vince.
We were some of the first visitors to arrive, and we walked inside to buy our tickets at the restaurant/gift shop. There were a lot of options for tickets: adults, kids, seniors, military. Then there were food pellet options: one bag, two bags, family size. There was a lot to decide for an activity that should've been easy, in my opinion. Jackie generously paid for my share of this experience which was way more expensive than I could've imagined. Admission, plus food to give to the animals, and the optional car rental really added up.
Wild Animal Safari gives visitors the option of driving their own cars, or renting one of theirs to drive through the park. Dani and Doug advised strongly that we should borrow their vehicles because the place is pretty dirty; cars are not off limits to animals slobbering or defecating on.
Gross, I know. But cars are washable, so whatever. My only concern about using one of their vans was that Vince wouldn't have a car seat to sit in. The guy behind the counter assured we'd never go faster than 5-10 miles per hour, and that we should be fine sans car seat. So Jackie and I decided to rent a mini-van; I would drive so that she could hold on to Vince. The guy at the counter plopped two plastic bags full of food pellets on the counter, we made a quick restroom stop, and then we walked out to the fleet of vehicles in the parking lot.
I assumed that any van taking frequent trips through a petting zoo would not be in tip-top condition. I wasn't expecting we would ride in style. I wasn't quite prepared for just how disgusting these vans were, though. They were painted in animal prints, which was fun, and the rear windows had been replaced with bars that made feeding and petting the animals easy. But they stunk so badly, I was nauseated. There was a layer of grime on everything inside and the second I touched the steering wheel I wanted to wash my hands. The seats felt like they had never been vacuumed. My car's not exactly pristine, but the cars grossed me out and I didn't even want to touch the steering wheel.
Having seen the up close and personal videos and pictures that Dani and Doug took from their trip to Wild Animal Safari, I had set forth some strict guidelines with myself about what I would and would not do during the 3.5 mile journey through 200 acres of the safari. I'm all about getting an authentic experience in any new things I've done this year, but under no circumstances would I let the animals eat from, or lick, my hands. I didn't even want them to get close to me at all. I planned to toss food at them as I drove by slowly, keeping them several feet away from the car.
You can imagine, then, to my surprise, and to Jackie's, when after slowly driving through the entrance gate, no more than 10 feet into the park, we immediately were surrounded by animals aggressively coming at our car from all sides. There was no time to follow my guidelines and toss the food at them. They were everywhere! Antelopes, zebras, cows, boar, some I didn't even recognize!
Don't get me wrong, we were prepared to see animals; we were prepared to feed animals. We were not prepared to see so many all at once within the first minute we'd arrived. It was like our car was like Justin Bieber and these animals were 15-year old girls. They were knocking into each other, charging full speed (which was not fast by any means, but nonetheless alarming), all trying to get to whatever it is that we had.
I'm not sure what I was expecting (perhaps I expected order, as if the animals would approach us one by one), but this was not it.The near-bum rush of 20 animals at once sent Jackie and I into a tailspin. I tried to keep the curse words to a minimum, but I can't be so sure that one, or 1,000 didn't slip out in the five minutes of terror we experienced. I was laughing, because that's what I do when I'm nervous, but I was also letting out moans similar to the ones I'd let out at the Haunted House almost a year prior.
And I'm not proud of it, but there were also a lot of, "Oh my God, Oh my God, Oh my God," spoken as well.Poor Vince, at only 2.5 years old, he had no choice but react the same way the two adults in the car had reacted and he began to cry. And those tears came before, in a fit of panic, his own mother heaved him off of her lap onto the floor in between our two seats. Jackie said she's still not sure if that was her motherly instincts trying to protect him from the gross animals charging at her passenger side window, or if she was saving herself and needed him out of her way to make it happen.
Finally, after what felt like an eternity, we made it to the "other side," temporarily away from any animals. And then we started to laugh. Hard.
We laughed so hard that we cried, right there in our beat up, painted-like-a-zebra Chevrolet Astrovan. I had to stop the van completely so that we could deal with what just happened, pick Vince up off the floor, and figure out how we were going to make it through the remaining 3.49 miles of our journey. I hadn't ever, that I can remember, experienced complete terror followed so quickly by such pure amusement in my life. My stomach muscles hurt from laughing so hard, and my heart was still racing.
Thankfully, nothing that happened after the first ten minutes at Wild Animal Safari was quite so dramatic, though after that experience, we aimed to get out of there as quickly as possible while still doing what we came to do, and that was, I think, to enjoy the animals.
We opted to leave our windows rolled up except for a space large enough to throw the pellets through, and managed to keep a safe distance, for the most part, until we arrived at the giraffe, which is treated as the park's main attraction. As much as I didn't want the giraffe's gross mouth and tongue anywhere near me, I had to marvel at the animal's height and was amazed at its ability to bend its neck to get food from our van.
Unfortunately, our plans to keep our vehicle moving was in direct contrast to the van in front of ours' desire to pet and feed every single God-forsaken animal in the Wild Animal Safari that day. I swear there was a family of 15 inside that van and when we'd pull up behind them, all Jackie and I could see was 30 little arms sticking out of the back windows holding pellets to summon the animals over. We'd sit and wait for them to soak up every last minute with each gross animal before they'd move on to the next area so they could do it all again.
Obviously we found their behavior quite strange, and we were clearly not as into this whole experience as everyone else, but I have to think that even the biggest Wild Animal Safari fan would eventually tire of the same animals coming up to their van begging for food.
But if anyone else was bored, they didn't show it, and exhibited pure enthusiasm from beginning to end.
Jackie and I, on the other hand, got towards the end, and when we started to get approached by the same animals who had greeted us upon entering, we started heaving the pellets that we had left out the windows and doors of the van. Our only goal was to get rid of the food and move on.
Halfway through the experience, when the number of vans and people driving through seemed to steadily climb, I had to wonder how healthy it was for all of us to be feeding these animals. The thought that perhaps what seemed like a good as a funny thing to do wasn't the most environmentally friendly one.
I never completely relaxed during the trip either, finding comfort only in the sweet things Vince said to the animals throughout the trip, including, "Hey you, boy, don't get in our car!," and, "Hi A-Min-als!" When he saw deer he said, "Hey John Deere!" in a friendly voice, but he appeared to like the llamas less, saying firmly when they approached our car, "No." Then he followed with, "No, no, no."
Vince also called me Sophie for most of the day, and may have attempted to go to second base a couple of times, too. I let it slide. He's 2-years old. Plus this place his mom and I had brought him to was no doubt emotionally disturbing and she'd accidentally thrown him to the floor earlier in the trip.
So disturbing, it seemed, that when we arrived back at the parking lot to park the gross zebra van, Vince didn't seem to want to leave it. Instead, he wanted to crawl all over the floor and climb over the seats, a sight that made me physically ill, but after all we'd been through, I wanted him to be happy and do what he wanted. I think Jackie was exhausted and didn't have the heart, or the energy, to tell him to stop.
We squealed out of the opted to reward ourselves with a lunch stop at Sprayberry BBQ, where country music singer Alan Jackson first worked as a teenager, but they were closed, so we toasted our bravery over chips and cheese dip at a Mexican restaurant instead.
The delicious food was well-deserved treat after an emotionally trying experience, and it's safe to say that the greatest thing that happened that day was spending quality time with Vince. And the giraffe.
No, just Vince.