Monday, May 14, 2007

Snakes on a Roller Coaster

Ok - That's a ridiculous premise. But poisonous snakes dangling from trees? That might just cause public panic.

On Sunday, MaLe and I decided to honor my mom by doing a day full of dangerous things. Busch Gardens Africa in Tampa, Florida is a zoo in some respects but has evolved into a first class theme park with some of the best roller coasters in the world. I learned early on that to get MaLe to go on the big roller coasters, I would have to trick her into thinking she was getting on something else or simply not let her see what we were standing in line for. SheikRa (the ride not the singer) is a fairly new roller coaster that is the first "Dive" coaster in the U.S. meaning you plunge at a 90 degree angle for nearly 200 feet. As the coaster quickly cranked up to the top and finally leveled out at 200 feet above Tampa, MaLe looked down and said "I didn't know it did this!"

That trick worked twice.

It was a fun and exhausting day and as the sun began to go down and people began to leave the park we headed for the exit. MaLe made one final pit stop and as I waited, my attention turned to a Crown Palm about 30 feet tall and in the fronds (leaves) I noticed three snakes "sunning" themselves. Red, yellow - then black....that's the pattern of a Coral Snake right? red on black - no coming back? No. red on black ok for Jack? I think so. Red on yellow - kill a fellow. These were poisonous Coral Snakes! As I began to stare at the snakes in the tree a crowd began to gather, all pointing up at the snakes. And suddenly a bird flew in, perched near a snake and plummeted to the ground - stone dead. Visitors became nervous, a few yelling and shouting and yet still standing under the snakes. Busch Gardens employees made panicked calls to unseen supervisors and a dead bird lay splattered on the pavement.

I don't know what killed the bird. I know it wasn't a poisonous snake bite. As MaLe and I walked away from the hysteria I would like to think I caused I pointed out each Crown Palm had three fake Coral Snakes tied to the palm fronds. Apparently they are intended to cause birds to think twice before roosting there. Apparently it can also have deadly reactions that in the Ornithological world are known as "fatal freak outs".

I can understand the confusion. They looked real despite the lack of movement. What I found most disconcerting was earlier in the day, a nine year old boy with a mullet (the hair style, not the fish) pointed out to his dad a Tiger. The dad astutely noticed the Tiger had seemingly lost the stripes. They marveled at this beautiful animal with a regal mane, giant paws and a solid tawny brown pelt from head to tail before wandering off. It was of course a Lion.

Even more disappointing was the man who recognized the skinny little "monkeys" peering around atop the entrance to the underground tunnels. They were of course Meerkats. If he had just hummed a few bars of "In the Jungle" they might have accompanied him in a sing-a-long.

The sad thing is people are dumb and just don't care. Monkey was close enough. Tiger made a dad proud of his kid. As Bill would say - If ignorance is Bliss - these people were ecstatic. And for that they may have had a little more fun than I.

As for Snakes on a Roller Coaster? Maybe next time. I just won't tell MaLe.

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