The Big Fat Boo Boo. A Tourist No No.

Found myself in a slight jam yesterday. Not a traffic jam (although that did actually start the whole thing.) The jam I am referring to was a reminder of the importance to remain calm and flexible when things go awry.

While in Washington D.C., I had been set up with tickets through a congressional aide to tour the Kennedy Center and found myself missing my appointment due to a motorcade. Truthfully, I’d never been privy to witnessing a motorcade, so a part of me pushed aside the panic and guilt of being late and sat and enjoyed the light show in all its wonderment through my windshield.

That being said, that light show screwed up my whole day. With the intersections blocked and coupled with the unforgiving streets of the District, I frustratingly found myself on a twisty road that took me straight out of the city and into what seemed to be the backwoods of Virginia. Later on I learned it was an enormous park, but the dormant trees and brown leaves just added to the feeling of being lost and in the wrong place. Looking at the standstill traffic jam on the other side of the road of those morning travelers commuting into the city, I gave up hope of being able to turn around and kissed my appointment at the Kennedy Center goodbye.

As I was thinking about what to do next and how to fix my little predicament with GPS and my newly downloaded Waze app, I found myself finally being able to turn around at the exit for the National Zoo. Out of pure curiosity, I decided to take a detour and drive past it to take a peek. In true miracle fashion, a 2 hour parking spot magically opened up right in front of the Smithsonian Zoo main entrance, so I wooshed into it like a local driver. In an unexpected turn of events I had just been given two hours to play an accidental tourist. Challenge accepted.

Never having been to this part of D.C.,  I smiled as I walked through the gates right as they opened and enjoyed chatting with some of the tour guides waiting for their incoming school groups. With some tips and recommendations, I proceeded to walk around the deserted pathways watching all God’s creatures wake up.

This is where things went wrong.

I had been meandering around enjoying the crisp morning air, saying hello to the pandas and other entertaining exhibits and even laughed as I saw a deer run across the pathway and away into the neighboring woods. There was no one around and it felt like I was on my own private personal zoo tour. Humming along, I was on a large pathway I had been following with towering fences and oversized beams on each side that were coupled with arching bridgeways that gave off a slight Jurassic Park feeling, eventually ending up in a large circular area. As I approached and entered the apparent end of the path I started to look around at exactly where I was at.

As I slowly turned in a circle and took in my surroundings, I froze. I was in an exhibit. As in full on smack in the zoo side of a habitat. I looked through the double fence line and saw that on the other side was the snack bar and tourist area of where all the people and bystanders are supposed to be. Then I took in the tires and toys on the side I was on, realizing that I was on the animal side of the pachyderm house. Those lovely towering fences I had been admiring were not decor for a people path, but the behind-the-scenes pathways between the various houses and playgrounds for the elephants.

With my mind racing on how I ended up in this area, all I could think of is, “This is how people get hurt. I have to get out.” With all senses on high alert and my eyes darting around in a panic, there was only silence with no one around (and more importantly, no elephants.) The last thing I wanted to do was go back into the elephant pathways and meet a roving elephant. Quickly assessing my exit options, my body went into ninja action as I shimmied and squeezed between two poles of a gate in the enormously tall fence, ran across the 20 foot gap and threw my purse over the second fence while hurdling over the top to the safety of the the deserted snack shack and observation deck.

Completely embarrassed and not wanting to end up in jail or some kind of zoo prison, I scanned the area to see if anyone was around or had been watching and then disappeared down the first pathway out that I could find, not daring to look back even once.

Getting back into to my car and finally allowing myself to actually breathe, I started laughing. What just happened???!!! 

Looking back, with all the construction prep and pre-opening park cleaning that was happening that morning (it was off-season after all), the only thing I could think of was that somewhere along the way a gate was accidentally left open that shouldn’t have been. Without signs, it’s hard to tell a pedestrian path from a staff walkway.

I cannot tell you if they have cameras, although I’m sure they do, or if anyone saw what happened. What I can say is, if they did, it must have been absolutely hilarious to watch the whole scene play out. I would pay money to see this random girl with her purse and her ponytail walk through to the center of the display and watch her face as the realization kicked in on where she was–let alone her ridiculous and stealth departure method!

Breaking and entering a zoo exhibit–check.



Ashlee Bratton - Life Before The Lottery

Ashlee Bratton – author of the book “Life Before The Lottery: Living Beyond The Bucket” is a professional photographer, freelance writer, and inspirational speaker with a bachelor’s degree in speech communication and master’s degree in business administration.

Along with completing 29 of the 30 things on her 30×30 list, her writing contributions include numerous publications such as Vail’s EAT magazine, creating a 56 page Visitor Guide for a mountain ski town, blogging and guest blogging, being featured in multiple newspapers and e-zines, and various other projects.

Currently, she keeps her camera in hand in Southern Colorado, is a complete and total foodie, and takes plane rides for fun. She likes things that go.

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