Monday, January 3, 2011


On December 26th I had the perfect opportunity. It was nighttime; we were driving away from the scene of congestion. The chances of my being caught were slim, but I didn't have a stupid blow horn handy.

Our family was pulling off the street that led to the Phoenix Zoo's annual Zoolights holiday extravaganza. It was just a bit after 6:30pm, and a couple of our kids were sniffling noisily in the backseat from disappointment. We saw an enormous parade of cars waiting to turn down the street that led to the parking lot of the zoo while off-duty policemen watched from the dirt grade by the intersection. Hahaha! Little did the people in those cars realize what they were about to find - an absolutely enormous parking lot completely awash in roving vehicles circling more than a dozen filled-to-capacity lanes like a pack of desperate hyenas - all of them hungry for kettle corn and lights synchronized to blaring Christmas tunes.

After mistakenly trying to locate a space for our own vehicle at the tardy hour of 6:15pm (Zoolights began at 6pm), we were forced to give up hope of gaining entrance to a magical world of lit giraffes and bedecked desert trees where aforementioned kettle corn is sold to vulnerable families every twenty feet. As we were leaving, I craned my neck to look at all the poor saps entering the fray of aggressive drivers.

"Look at all those cars, " I said to cheer up the kids. "They're trying to get in, too, and they're not going to find a parking space, either." Then I said aside to Matthew, "We should have known better than to come the day after Christmas. Everybody's looking for something festive to do, so they can hang on to the holidays. 'Oh, what can we do? What can we do? Wah-ha....Zoolights!' "

"Exactly," said Matthew in a tone I know well. He lifted his eyebrows and made an exaggerated gesture with the hand he could spare from the steering wheel and mocked, "Mwah-ha...Zoolights!"

"Mwah-ha-ha...Zoolights!" I echoed, giggling at the zaniness.


(That went on for a while.) Meanwhile Ella Boo whimpered in her car seat and Berto growled at our audacity in making fun of such a dire disappointment.

I wrapped it all up when I laughed as only one can laugh at finding others in the same predicament as oneself and said to Matthew, "Perfect time for a drive-by neener-neener, though." He smiled, but my dad would have laughed outright.

Dad would have understood the joy of imagining myself rolling down the window, balancing half my body outside the car, and yelling into a blow horn with relish, "Neener-neener-neener! No parking at the zoo! Neener-neener-neener! No Zoolights for you!" Then with great exhilaration jerking myself back inside the car, chucking the blow horn into the back of the van out of sight and tapping my finger gleefully on the little button that rolls up the car window while laughing in an unseemly manner at the ridiculous plight of my fellow human beings.

It's all a pipe dream, though, because somehow I never think to pick up a blow horn for just such occasions.

But just the concept of the drive-by neener-neener has brought me occasional mirth ever since an early morning ride to my grandfather's church on a lonely stretch of freeway between Boise and New Plymouth, Idaho when I was still a teenager. There was construction on the highway, and Dad and I were very worried we'd be late; traffic was so tortuously slow. After making a chorus of disgruntled noises and vainly looking for something to distract us on the radio, we did make it to church just a few minutes late. I slid into a pew as Dad prepared to teach Bible Study.

On the return trip to Boise, Dad and I gazed across the brush between the divided highway to the two lanes of traffic opposite. Cars were nose to bumper, creeping slower than slugs. Dad and I got to thinkin' in the silly way we do when we're together.

"Don't you wish we had a blow horn, so we could call out, 'Neener-neener-neener!' to all those other drivers," Dad said with a chuckle.

I laughed. "It'd be a drive-by neener-neener!"

"Sure," said Dad, and imitating a news reporter, "There was a drive-by neener-neener on the highway today. Several witnesses attested to the savagery of it. Unfortunately, the culprits were never apprehended. The blow horn was never found!"

We laughed a good long time at our own silly joke as we made a smooth commute home and sped passed the clogged cars on the opposite side of the highway.

Of course, I've never heard of a drive-by neener-neener actually taking place. Do I like to think that other people have been tempted by the opportunity to rub life's sticky situations into the faces of their fellow human beings in such a completely obnoxious and juvenile way? Oh, sure. But have I ever heard of the brave individual who actually took the blow by the horn? Sadly, no.

And I should face it: I'd probably never have the courage to do it myself. But I did find the courage to venture with Matthew and the kids back out to Zoolights. This time we arrived a good twenty minutes before it even opened and waited in lines outside the gates while a zoo worker walked up and down shouting at patrons, "There are five lines, people! So figure out which line you're in! Is it the two on the left, the one in the middle or the two on the right? C'mon!"

When the gates opened, we went to member services for a couple of free tickets, because we're members and therefore extraordinarily special. We still had to pay for three more tickets, of course, but then we got to by-pass people giving us dirty looks as they waited in their five lines to purchase their regular tickets from the regular ticket booths.


Inside we compulsively bought kettle corn at the nearest vendor. Then as we walked we encountered a magical world of small lit stands of saguaro cacti, multiple species of monkey made from lights, and a glowing orb of pulsing light suspended over the zoo lake. Then we sat to ooh and ahh over a loud light display set to the melody of the Nutcracker suite and the voice of good old Bing singing White Christmas.

Afterwords we went to gaze at the lazy Komodo Dragons. Then the girls rode the carousel because I had for once succeeded in convincing their Papa to be serendipitous. Meanwhile Berto got to listen to the Ohio State marching band who were in town for the Insight Bowl. After the girls got off the carousel, we stood to the side as the players, cheerleaders and band members passed close by, and Berto, his face alight and eyes wide, got to see all the amazing instruments a college marching band plays at the games.

"What would I play?" he mused.

"Did you see all the drums?" said his papa.

"No, the tuba," I said enthusiastically, and as I spoke my fond wish that Berto would someday be in collegiate marching band grew a little stronger. "I can definitely see you doing that," I told him.

"And you get to go to all the games," said Matthew.

Before we left the zoo, we went down the desert trail, saw some peccarys, and searched in vain for the coyote. I also got this awesome picture of a display of simulated rabbits.

We left with warm feelings rekindled for the Phoenix Zoo. But we had to hustle all the kids into the car and throw the stroller in the back with all due haste because there were at least ten cars waiting for our parking space and the chance to see an animal refuge all aglow. I would have cupped my hands and shouted a hasty, "Neener-neener!" before jumping in the van to snicker into my sleeve, but I didn't want to destroy the Christmas mood that, thanks to a beautiful zoo transformed into a glowing evening oasis, still thrived on that cool desert night.

1 comment:

  1. Cool; Mom and I wish we could have seen the Zoolights.
    As for the concept of the drive-by "Neener, neener", so brilliantly documented here, well, I'm always a bit ashamed of myself, but nonetheless willing to commit the act.


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