Friday, June 24, 2005

The Asphalt Jungle

I have seen many sleepless nights trying to ignore the call of the jungle. The asphalt jungle, where busy drivers pass like ants and ambulance and fire truck sirens peal through the night like the call of an incessant song bird. I have seen the best and worst of this asphalt jungle. I have watched men pummel each other because one guy’s fat ugly girlfriend can’t keep her mouth shut. There are restaurants where animals are splayed over an open spit and cooked. I have watched store closings where people pick and choose insignificant items the way a vulture or hyena would pick at a carcass.
I have watched the landscape of this asphalt jungle change. Sparkling urban shopping centers that once were in decay are now in renewal. Some harder to tame lands have become gentrified and unrecognizable. So, I have finally decided to answer the call of the asphalt jungle. With my most comfortable outfit on, I boarded a bus to visit some renewal projects in progress. One of them that I passed looks as though it is near completion. The next one I went to is still in progress. It’s odd to watch the new style clash with the old. Satisfied at what I have seen, I moved deeper into the heart of the asphalt jungle.
Giant metal cranes have come to Houston once again to build giant nests from concrete, steel, and glass for corporate fat cats and their underlings. On the edge of the jungle thicket I spotted something unusual. I decided to get off the trail and see what exactly it was. As I walked by a warren of nightclubs, restaurants, and theaters. The flocks of people grew thicker as I approached. Every jungle has its smelly flower, and I just found this one’s. It’s a Ferris Wheel, part of what appears to be an aquarium according to the screaming blue letters on the sign outside a large building.
As I crossed Buffalo Bayou, I had to wonder what the Allen Brothers had in mind when they docked their steam ship on the banks of this muddy swamp. I wondered the same thing about this business man who decided to turn the site of a former fire station and water plant into this monstrosity before me. The flock grew thicker as I walked onto the grounds of the aquarium complex. Many are in line to get a glimpse of the new concept where one can eat seafood while surrounded by large tanks of fish. To kill a little time, I looked at all the other offerings of the aquarium.
Games and rides here have nautical themes. Ride a train while passing through an aquarium full of sharks. I have to wonder if the sharks hate to see all that great food pass them by every day. There’s a carousel where kids can ride fiberglass alligators. Let’s see them try that in a real swamp. Then, there’s that mammoth Ferris wheel. Houston’s skyline pictures are going to like a family portrait with he black sheep of the family in it making rabbit ears behind Grandma’s head.
I finally decided to go into the belly of the beast and see the aquarium exhibit. The first tank was full of striped bass, a very peculiar thing until I enter the themed areas of the exhibit. First off was the swamp where alligators and turtles live together in perfect harmony. Overhead were fake trees covered in fake moss and mawkish sound effects. Looking at the alligators, I read that they grow to be eight feet long and up to one ton. There’s obviously not enough room for something that big in here. No, they won’t be dumped into Buffalo Bayou. Instead, they’ll be sent to alligator retirement homes.
There’s also crawfish, bullfrogs, and catfish, a veritable Cajun smorgasbord. Next up was a shipwreck. No flash photography, the sign above the octopus tank says. No sooner did I read the sign did I see someone’s camera flash go off at another tank. It makes me wonder if that octopus tank were open if it would reach up and snatch the camera. They’re very intelligent creatures according to the information on the plaque near by. They’re also incredibly shy because this one never came out of its hole. I went the Amazon area where I was met with more mawkish sound effects. Some yokel behind me asks why the hell they got them birds in here.
Let’s see, the gold macaw is native to the Amazon rainforests. This is why I hate coming to these exhibits when they’re crowded like this because there’s always one ignoramus who makes an ass of themselves by asking stupid questions. In the Mayan ruin is a room full of friendly jungle critters like the Goliath tarantula, also known as the bird eater. He’s as big as a dinner plate and has been known to bite humans. The discovery area is the last leg of the journey through this exhibit. It’s a fish petting zoo. No kids, you can’t touch the stingray. I’d like to see them try that with its deadlier cousin that I saw back in the Amazon exhibit.
And so my short but educational trip was over. Please exit through the gift shop and buy stuff you don’t need. It was dark when I got outside and the place was busier still. Children splashed around in the dancing fountain while harried adults waited in a growing line of people wanting to eat seafood with the fishes. There was also another restaurant where they served dinner while sitting in a boat in front of a movie screen where previews of sea movies played.

I decided to get back on the trail and go home where my fish comes in a can. I figured I wanted seafood bad enough, I could always go to Long John Silver’s. I still heard the call of the asphalt jungle even as I tried to sleep that night. It is loud no matter how much I try to ignore it. There are still more journeys for me to take through this jungle. Each following will be more unique than the next. I will wait until next weekend to run the asphalt jungle in search of new experiences, new places to explore, and new places to see.

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