Sunday, September 17, 2006

Toledo Zoo 2

There was a problem a while ago loading photos to blogspot sites and so I cut my really exciting post about Toledo Zoo in half ! I'm sure everyone has been checking back and tapping fingers to find out how it all ended. Well your wait is over. But first.............

In a world where nothing is as it seems, one man set out to prove that his life is JUST as it seems. 65 million years in the making; this time, it's personal.

Ok what is going on here you ask ? I've really been into 'voice overs' these last few days - well ever since I saw the Geico ad featuring the king of movie voice overs, Don LaFontaine. This got me surfing for more of his work on You Tube and found his feature on Good Morning America last year. This led me to other voice over clips on You Tube and I found 2 more excellent ones, 5 in a car and one with some guy I'd never heard of. Very funny.

Once I start looking at these video clips on You Tube and how easy it is to move from one to another and another and another, then hours and even days can pass in a blur ! I'm THAT sad.

But what a career it must be - voice over artist. Wonder what it says on his passport ? It was funny to look at the clip in that limo as he had hair back then. No idea how old it was but he sure is different now. The money he reportedly makes per voice over is astonishing and he can churn out loads of them every day. Nice work if you can get it - and few do.

Of course this has nothing to do with Toledo Zoo, but as blogs are all about sharing, then I thought I'd get in a bit about voice overs. Sorry.

So where were we ? Oh yea, the zoo. Well we'd seen some reptiles and birds and so on, but I really wanted to see a bear. I wasn't fussy.......any type of bear would do. On the zoo map we carried with us, it showed they had a polar bear - so we headed off for a look.

And here it is. As impressive as it was, I couldn't help but recall the ad on tv showing a bear pounding the ground over and over with it's front paws and the voice over (not done by Don) informing us that it had been driven mad by having to perform on the streets and being in captivity all it's life.

The zoo bear seemed to have a nice clean environment but it still wasn't 'home' for it. As if to prove the point, it would pace along the edge of it's bit of a pool (as in the photo) and pop it's head into the 3 or 4 little cave openings along the ice wall. I've no idea if these caves went much deeper than the bears body but it would just reverse out and go into the next one and when it got to the end of the ice wall - which was as far as it could go - it went back and did it over again.....and again......and again. You can see why the tv ad came to mind. Can an animal be driven mad in a Zoo ? Was there another bear somewhere for it to be with ? I don't know the answers to either of those questions but I came away feeling quite sorry for the Toledo polar bear. There is a polar bear webcam where you can sit in the comfort of your home and watch the bear doing what I've just described. Yep, it still looks mad to me !

Things didn't get much better when we came upon the elephant. THE elephant. Where was her mate, her play pal, her companion ? Oh sure she had a baby (which was asleep on it's side and never moved the entire time we were there) so she must've had a mate at some time. Maybe it was a one off date and they agreed to be friends and keep in touch. Yea we all know how THAT goes ! Maybe she forgot his number. So much for having a well documented memory. In any case, she didn't seem to have a great deal of space or anything much to 'enjoy' in her area and just stood close to her baby and stared enviously at those of us on the outside who could wander where we wanted.

Go back to that webcam site and you'll find one for the elephants too. Often you can't see mom and kid so maybe there is more to their compound than we saw. I hope so, as what we saw was woefully inadequate for such intelligent and long lived animals. I hope mom was born in captivity as given that infamous memory, the look she seemed to have when we saw her might have been wistfully thinking of the open plains of Africa (or India depending on what type she was) and thinking "what did I do to these people to deserve this" ??

I was starting to go off zoo's in general and this one in particular.

I needed cheering up and we headed off to the aquarium. I think. See, not having the memory of an elephant, I'm not sure about our route through the various zoo exhibits and compounds. In any case, we DID go see the fishies at some point and very interesting and colourful they were too. I didn't see many that I'd care to have had on a plate with my chips (french fries), but if size was the only factor, the menu was overflowing with choice.

Even though there is nothing to give scale to this ET lookalike, take it from me that it was huge. My clenched fist would have easily vanished inside it's cavernous mouth and not for the first time in the aquarium, I was very glad that thick glass kept us in our respective worlds.

I think it was a breed of puffer fish but if so, it was 'puffed' for most of the time we were there. Maybe it was having fishy TOM or just a bad day but either way, it was not a happy guppy.

This was also where we saw the cute and amazing dragon seahorses I mentioned in a previous post - so I guess I have got my sequence a bit messed up.

Before we left the zoo, we went on a short circular train ride to see a few more animals all in one area. It was a fun and relaxing way to see many animals in a short period of time so although the area itself left a lot to be desired, it was just what we needed after a long day of walking.

And that was it.......a few group photos near the exit and we left. I guess I came away with mixed feelings about the whole experience. I know that outside of a zoo, I'd never get the opportunity to see 99% of the occupants in my lifetime. I know that the better zoo's have excellent procreation and conservation programs which help with the very survival of many species. I know that most animals are well looked after and obviously, with no preditors to worry about, easily have a longer life expectancy in captivity than they would in the wild.

But, and there has to be a but, there are many lesser zoos around that need both an infusion of cash and also management to bring them up to the modern way of thinking of how best to marry the two contrasting goals of a zoo; how to keep animals in captivity so that THEY are happy and contented and how to show them off so that the paying public are similarly served.

I'm just not sure that in the case of the Toledo Zoo, either of these goals have been achieved.

Saturday, September 16, 2006

American Football - College Style

I like that is. No, not soccer of course, but American football. Few outside of America care much about it - which ironically is what most Americans think about soccer. Happily that US/soccer situation has been changing a lot over the last decade thanks to good results by both the mens and womens national soccer teams.

Right now I'm watching college football which needs a little bit of explaining as there is no such soccer equivalent in the UK. When I came here a decade ago as a 3 week at a time summer tourist, I'd never heard of college football as, like it's professional big brother, it's not played in the summer.

In those days I liked to visit football stadiums when they were near my routes as saying I was from the UK usually got me in for a brief personal tour. I never wanted to pay for an official tour as I really wasn't that interested. Then one summer I got to Dallas, Tx and went to their football arena and once again, talked myself inside for some photos. I was left on my own and was clicking away and thinking what a vast and impressive place it was - when it hit me ! Where was the roof ?? Surely the Dallas Cowboys stadium had a roof ??? I'd seen it on tv, so where was it now ???

I went up to a groundsman and asked..........this IS the Cowboys stadium isn't it ? He give me a withering look like I'd stepped off a banana boat and said......hell no, son, this is the Cotton Bowl - the Cowboys play at Texas Stadium on the other side of the city !!

In those pre-internet days, I had to wait till I got home to look it up as I didn't want to add to my 'shame' by asking who DID play there. I was stunned to find out that this huge stadium, seating almost 70,000, would sit empty most of the year. Not only had the Cowboys left it in 1970, but even colleges found it too small to be of much use to them. You gotta love that.

College football is HUGE. Games regularly get much bigger crowds than NFL ones and most college stadiums can hold well over 80,000 and some over 100,000. 'My' state, Michigan, has the largest of the lot and when Michigan plays neighbouring Ohio, the crowd is around 107,000.
The record crowd was only a few years ago and was over 111,000. And this isn't the only college team in the state !! As well as Michigan (also known as U of M), there is Michigan State and Central Michigan to name but 2 more. Every state is like this so there are literally hundreds of these impressive stadiums all over the country putting the capacity of the new Wembley Stadium to shame.

The reason for these large crowds is based on history. These colleges have been around a long time (well in American terms anyway) and several family generations have graduated from them. The colleges never move and so there builds up a long tradition of supporting a team and going to the games. In the NFL, teams have owners and so get bought and sold and often move to a different state altogether. Given the distances involved here, fans find they can no longer go to games when their team is moved elsewhere and so crowds are nowhere near as high as they could and should be in the professional game.

How can colleges afford to build, modernise and manage these huge stadiums ? Well I'd assume it's down to the fact that when you get 100,000 paying customers every 2 weeks of the season and the players (being students) get nothing, then there is an awful lot of money flying around and a large slice must go into the college coffers. Leeds University must be drooling.

Here are 2 statistics for you - since they shutout Purdue on November 8th, 1975, every Michigan home game has had an attendance exceeding 100,000. In 2002, they had an average attendance of 110,576 fans at its home games. Staggering.

Anyway back to the present and I'm watching Michigan playing Notre Dame. The 'Fighting Irish' as they are known (that's Notre Dame by the way) are an Indiana college team that even some non-Americans may have heard of due to the excellent Rudy movie. Just as there are no good soccer movies, in my opinion there are no good football movies, or baseball, or basketball or.....ok you get the drift. Sport and movies do not mix. Usually. But the 1993 movie, Rudy, was an exception and the ending always bring a tear to even my cynical eye.

Today is the 3rd week of the season and with only seconds remaining in this game, Michigan is winning 47-21 to get a 'played 3, won 3' record. Games are spread over numerous tv channels from noon till late at night so Saturdays from late summer really are college football days. Sundays belong to the NFL.

Where does all this leave us ? Well when we Brits try and push soccer onto Americans and unknowingly use crowd statistics to try and impress them, it's not surprising that Americans look bewildered. Remember the Michigan statistics earlier ? A home gate over 100,000 every game for the past 31 years ? Well my home city, Leeds, has the 3rd largest metropolitan population in the UK and has only one soccer team to support. A week ago it played at home and the attendance was............16.268. Nuff said.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

Garage Sales

This is a first for this blog.........posting on location.

I'm sitting in a chair in my friends garage as it's Labor Day weekend and in the US that means............garage sales. Well ok not everywhere and it's not compulsary, but there are a butt load of them all over the country and people make a day of it and drive around visiting as many as they can.

eBay hasn't quite caused the demise of the garage sale as not many people want to be bothered buying or selling the small items that mostly make up such sales. Of course anything can be sold and we have a snow blower for $700 and a load of tools for 25c each...............and everything you can think of in between.

On my walk yesterday I passed quite a few such sales so the tradition is alive and well. Some were small affairs with one table containing only a few items and others were like ours with a huge 3 bay garage filled with groaning tables bearing the purchases of many well as unwanted pressies and gifts collected over the years. Anyone who is into downsizing their house clutter will get the point.

It's strange to see cars and trucks pulling up and disgorging family members who come up and pour over this families possessions. I know I'd find it hard enough to put a price of $30 on something I may not need anymore but cost me, say, $100 only a few months ago. Or take the snow blower.......oh God please take the snow blower !!! It was bought only a few months ago but is not needed anymore as we're spending the snow months in Florida. You have to know the market of course and set the prices accordingly. It would break my heart - but then again that's the Scot in me speaking !!

An associated custom I like here is leaving some item you want to sell out at the end of the driveway with a price on it.......or sometimes not. In the UK this would be taken as an offer for some passing motorist to swipe it and think they'd struck lucky. A totally unwanted item can be placed there too but with a clear sign showing it is free to whoever wants it. The unwritten rule seems to be that if it doesn't say it's free, then it's not......and don't assume it's not either Remember that home owners here might well be armed to the teeth and you might well get a few yards down the road with your stolen item but the bullets will still catch up with you !!

Well it's near the end of the 2nd and final day of the sale and we're ready to pack up, remove the road signs and call it a wrap. Sadly not everything was sold but that's the way it goes. The point is, there are plenty of birthdays and Christmas' to garner up more unwanted items and plenty of national holiday weekends to have garage sales to get rid of them all again.

It's a sort of circle of life thing.

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