There’s nothing that gets me out of the house on a subfreezing day faster than grizzly bears. A new grizzly bear exhibit opened this weekend at the Central Park Zoo and grizzly bears like the cold, right?
Turns out not so much.
My subway to Central Park was packed with bros dressed in suits, which was confusing because they were all yelling about having just finished some sort of fun run. They were giving some guy Nelson a lot of shit for turning his ankle. Jeff said he took a Hydrocodone and drank a Bloody Mary. Nelson didn’t look so hot. The bro sitting across from me was engaged in horrible display of manspreading, the latest plague to our fair city.
The two new grizzlies are Betty and Veronica who were formerly of the Bronx Zoo. It was decided they would be brought over after Gus, the zoo’s world famous polar bear, died last year. If there was any doubt to how the zoo felt about losing their icon, there was a massive sign reminding me of the tragedy as I waited in line for tickets.
But Gus’ personality didn’t fit the lovable bear on the gift shop t-shirts. Often depressed and neurotic, Gus was know as the “bi-poar bear.” He came to symbolize the lethargy and anxiety of city living. It does sometimes feel like you must have a giant white lazy polar bear attitude to live in New York.
It must have been one of the least attended days for the zoo. There were only a few families at the ticket counter. No line. I quickly realized that being an adult guy in glasses carrying a huge camera alone in a public place with a bunch of children, I must’ve looked pretty creepy. Perhaps if the zoo wasn’t so sparse, I would’ve looked normal but the lack of people made me stand out even more.
My first stop was the huge seal tank in the middle of the zoo. Except for a few splashes, you wouldn’t have known anything was in there. A lone woman wrapped up in scarves simply watched the tank from a bench.
I moved on to the snow leopard cage. I’m not sure why a zoo, whose purpose in these frigid months is to showcase winter wildlife to the public, would choose an animal skilled at remaining camouflaged in the snow. I thought I saw a glimpse of him at the top of his habitat. But it could’ve been a squirrel.
Next was the red panda who just ran around his pen in a constant circle (he’d worn a path in the snow) hoping each time an escape route might present itself.
Then to the penguin room, which I found out was where most people were because it was inside. New York winter is actually too warm for the arctic penguins so they’re housed in a dark tank with underwater windows. You couldn’t see any of them and the exhibit smelled like sardines. They did have a kickass mural though.
“Where are all the animals,” I heard a son ask his father in a thick Texas accent.
“They cold,” the father said. “Probably inside sleeping.”
“Can we go home and sleep,” the boy asked.
“Where’s the big New York zoo,” the wife interrupted. “This ain’t the big zoo is it?”
“Can we go home and sleep like the animals,” he boy pleaded with his mother.
“No,” she said. “Honey, this is science.”
After a few more completely empty exhibits, I got to the bears. A sign informed me that grizzlies can run up to 35 miles an hour. Good to know. It said bears hibernate in the winter but Betty and Veronica did not.
Could’ve fooled me.
I only saw one of the bears and she was sleeping harder than I’ve ever seen anything sleep. She was not ten feet away from a huge window where the only sun in her inclosure was shining. It was strangely thrilling to be so close to something so powerful and benign.
It was also really really sad.
On the way out I stopped back by the seals. One seal was poking his head out letting the sun hit his face and smiling as if to say, “Finally some relief.”
On the way back downtown a woman asked me if she was on the right platform to go to 42nd street. The only people besides me dumb enough to go outside were tourists. Overhearing my subway acumen, a man with two kids in strollers asked me which train was the express. Then more and more people asked me directions for transfers and what was the right train to Ground Zero. No one wanted to go above ground, back into the bleak absurdity of winter.
I had all the answers. It felt good to help.