On a recent Saturday, in fulfillment of one of the most critical components of the social contract, I took four grandchildren to the zoo. I was assisted in this task by two other adult men. That, I would advise anyone considering such an expedition, is about the correct ratio: three adults for every four children. Actually, if you could manage four adults per four children, you might be on safer ground, but anything lower than three is foolhardy. As Donald Rumsfeld has discovered, you absolutely need sufficient troops going in if you are to have any hope of controlling later events.Our day at the zoo was wonderful. The weather was superb. The symphony was rehearsing for a concert that evening when we arrived at 10 a.m., which added impressively to the animal-watching atmosphere. The Albuquerque Zoo is truly a gem. The city fathers should all take a bow for its quality and for the cleanliness and upkeep of the grounds and exhibits. Still, there is always room for improvement, and one little thing arose that day which I believe would enhance the overall zoo experience.I’m referring to the train ride. We enjoyed it greatly and it was the highlight of the day for all of us. But what needs to be improved is the information about the train ride that is provided to the casual visitor.Information provided now is inadequate: where to buy tickets and where to board; the difference between the two separate train routes (“Africa” and “Asia,” though neither name tells the first-time visitor anything about where they go on the grounds); and how much each costs.The only sign visible when we came through the entrance informed us that tickets for the “Africa” route had to be purchased at the Africa depot and gift shop. No other skinny was divulged; such as, for instance, where the Africa depot and gift shop is located and what the fastest way to get there is.So all seven of us strolled outward in blissful ignorance, roughly following the railroad tracks we could clearly see meandering through the grounds. In the distance (beyond the camels, giraffes and elephants—exhibits that certainly said “Africa” to me, but then I’m no big game specialist) the tracks headed for a nifty little train depot.From where we were we could see a long queue of children and adults wending past a pair of ticket windows, so we worked our way toward the depot, approximately a quarter mile from the front gate. Bad move. A sign at the depot indicated no tickets were sold here. (The cute little building was completely empty, apparently nothing more than a prop.) It also noted that “combo” tickets for the train through the zoo and botanical gardens had to be purchased at the front entrance to the zoo.The children wilted when I explained I had to go back to the entrance. I left them in the care of the other two adults and hot-footed it back. In the gift shop at the front of the zoo a pleasant young woman apologetically told me she couldn’t sell me tickets to the Africa train: “You have to buy your train tickets at the Africa depot and gift shop.” When I began whining, she patiently explained that I had apparently been at the Asia depot. Then she gave me directions to the Africa depot.This was good, for I quickly realized there are no signs telling where the Africa depot is located. As she had instructed, I turned right at the “White Rhinos” sign, wandered past some Australian birds and to my great joy arrived a few hundred yards later at the Africa depot. Inside, another pleasant young woman informed me she did not sell “combo tickets” there, only tickets for the Africa train. My brow must have furrowed like George W. Bush’s during uncomfortable press questioning, because she hastened to assure me that “combo tickets” could be purchased at the entrance to the zoo (10 feet beyond the gift shop where the previous pleasant young woman had told me she could not sell me train tickets).At this point I said a bad word. I won’t repeat it here and it didn’t help the situation to have said it. I wound up buying simple Africa train tickets, then walked back the quarter mile to the Asia depot, gathered up our hardy little band of travelers, returned the quarter mile to the Africa depot and boarded the train.We chugged at three miles an hour or so back the same route to the Asia depot, then went beyond it to the outer edge of the zoo property (no animals here, just stacks of timbers and an array of trees and shrubs that will soon be transplanted in the Bio-Park) and then back to the Africa depot.It was a perfectly pleasant 15-minute ride and the kids loved it. So did the adults. But my own enjoyment was affected by the fact that I’d had to traverse the zoo grounds in their entirety four separate times to board it.My suggestion is to add a few dozen little directional signs all over the promenades after you enter the zoo: you know, “Board train over there.” Simple information for simple minds. I never did figure out what that Asia depot is used for … or why it’s called “Asia.”
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