Backward and forward in the zoo parking lot

July 19th, 2019


(As published in the Daily Memphian)

From a column in June, 2017:

“A couple of weeks ago, we took our grandchildren to the Memphis Zoo.

“We parked for free on North Parkway and then mounted an expedition to find the North Parkway entrance, cleverly hidden in a poison ivy-covered fence like a speakeasy door, manned by a tired attendant, in a tired shack, down by the aquarium – which has been tired for 40 years. It’s like entering the lower intestine of the zoo, everything is literally uphill from there and you’re not sure if you’re welcome. Before, I’ve forgiven the peeling paint, closed restrooms, attractions neglected in favor of the shiny and new – missing ten-penny nails in the midst of multi-million dollar habitats. Before, I’ve accepted the constant sucking of money to feed this, ride that, see something here, eat something there – a phony carnival barker atmosphere, an animal pimping, a road cut through irreplaceable Old Forest – all of which makes any claim of conservation a ludicrous contradiction. 

“Now I’m just tired of it, so very tired.”

I wrote that two years ago, after a visit to what used to be one of my favorite places on Earth, one of the things about Memphis I was most proud of, never tiring of being there. Sadly, meerkats no longer came to mind, muddy ruts did. The screeching of siamangs was replaced with the screeching of zoo officials, majestic predatory cats replaced with the petty predatory behavior of the zoo toward anyone who would deny them anything, and the folks who clean up after the elephants with shovels replaced by the council members who clean up what the zoo was dropping with resolutions.

So messy. So smelly. So tiring.

Then a compromise was reached. The zoo stole some of the Greensward for parking, but far less than they were claiming and already destroying. The Overton Park Conservancy and park supporters have protected what’s left, and the mayor claims that protection is forever. Chuck Brady retired and a Memphis expatriate and accomplished tourist attraction professional, Jim Dean, was hired as president and CEO to restore trust and pride in the Memphis Zoo, one of our greatest assets.

So, maybe it’s time to load up the grandkids and head back, time to see what’s new.

Then I see this in the Daily Memphian recently, “Memphis Zoo adds VIP valet parking.”

Among the first things new management is doing is sucking more money out of visitors for parking – vacuuming another five bucks from the pockets of members, another ten bucks from the hoi polloi.

Parking, the thing that started this whole mess and buried decades of zoo goodwill in Greensward mud, will once again be used to define and differentiate the Memphis Zoo experience, to separate us from them. The ordinary will be parking their own cars and schlepping their own strollers and coolers from the far reaches, while the extraordinary will have all that done for them at the front door.

And one must wonder if the zoo can find space for valet parking, and they claim they can for 80 to 100 cars, why wasn’t that space already made available for public parking instead of carving it out of the Greensward?

New management seems to have some of old management’s rhinoceros vision and grace; nearsighted new ways to charge more, and clumsily charging out of the gate into the parking lot again.

I’m a Memphian, and the grandkids and I will wait.


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