Volunteer open house

I arrived at Zoo at 11:14am (according to the time stamp on my ticket anyway), and quite surprised that even though the temp hasn’t been above 30 degrees all week I found that the vast majority of the snow and ice from Tuesday’s storm was gone – particularly since it was still messy getting around on Saturday afternoon.

There were only two gates open, the agents inside are talking to one another until the male points me out to his the female companion who turns to me as if I was interfering with their conversation. She sells me a ticket anyway and gives me a map to all the animals that are off display due to the frigid weather (which was pretty much all of them except the polar bears, Chimp Forrest, prairie dog village and the indoor portion of the giraffe exhibit) and gets back to the discussion I so rudely interrupted.

After wandering around the plaza area and watching the squirrels run around the prairie dog pen (the only part of the plaza to still have snow), I eventually go back to ask the only staff member in the immediate area how I was supposed to get to the Mansion House.

“What do YOU need at the Mansion House?” she asked me.

I explain the Volunteer Open House they were hosting this morning, even though she should have already known about it. She looks at me skeptically, smirks and makes a snorting noise before saying:

Stay there,” though she sounded more like she was trying to humor rather than help me. “I’ll call someone to escort you up there.”

I had no idea where “there” was, but I walked out towards the lion statue guarding the prairie dog exhibit. A few minutes later, a man on a golf cart came flying by me and around the path before another man in a green polo shirt arrived from the same direction (on foot).

He wasn’t openly rude like the admissions agent, but he clearly had better things to do with his time than escort some imbecilic visitor to the admin building. It turns out I was supposed to use the gate across from the mansion to get in (even though their website said to use the main gate as all attendees were expected to pay for zoo admission).

I signed-in at Mansion House at 11:31am, and was promptly given a “FAQ,” a brochure and a small yellow form. The yellow card was for checking which area you’d want to work in, but you had to submit it back at the sign-in area before you could talk to the people at the respective tables. The woman at the table sent me around the corner to the orientation speech.

“Most of you are not fit to be zoo volunteers,” their Education\Outreach director said at the beginning of her speech. “For a variety of reasons: sometimes yours, sometimes ours, but at the end of the season, most of you won’t be working here anymore” (according to their website, volunteer terms are for “4 months,” but in her presentation it is “the full season” – March-Nov)

After an approximately 20 minute PowerPoint presentation, we were free to discuss things with the five or six tables crammed on the south side of the porch (the north side wasn’t being used for this event, but a few people were sitting at a table set up there to fill out their yellow forms).

I tried to talk to a few people, but then I remembered: I hate trying to talk to people in settings like this. Not only was there a line at all but one of the tables (AZA Docent and Guide guy got no love from prospective volunteers).

I wanted to ask something about the admin volunteers, but they didn’t have their own table so I tried asking at the sign-in. They, however, seemed more interested in taking my yellow form than whatever question I was going to ask.

Finally, after some hesitation, I turned in the yellow card with my name and job choice and asked a staff member how I was supposed to leave the event. She looks at me blankly (did they expect us to stay forever?), and then grabs the first volunteer she sees and “assigns” him to take me back to the entrance.

My escort this time is far chattier and even went as far as asking my name (something no-one outside of Starbucks, Caribou Coffee and the “will call” booth at Everyman has done in over 3 years). I half expected him to ask my phone number as well, but he didn’t.

Mondawmin Mall doesn’t have a proper “food court” so much as a haphazard collection of quick service restaurants shoved into the area between Foot Locker, Rite Aid and the rear entrance to the mall.

As I’m on my way out of the  mall, an older black man (who was dressed better than I was and with slightly neater hair) puts his hand up in front of me and says “hey, gimme a dollar.”


“Oh come on, I just need a dollar,” I try to walk around him, but he blocks me.  “I’m homeless,” blocking me again. “I need to eat and I KNOW you have a dollar on you. You cannot tell me you ‘don’t have’ a DOLLAR to give a homeless man,” he blocks me again, making sure to look me directly in the eyes “it’s just a DOLLAR – that’s ALL I want so I can get something to eat!”

“NO,” I said firmly as he was really starting to piss me off. That’s when he finally backed off and let me pass.

Why am I the only one who HAS to give money to homeless people to get anywhere? It’s like every time I leave my apartment I have to pay a homeless person a toll or something or else s/he’ll never allow me to get where I’m going.

I don’t see them stopping other people on the street and forcing them to justify exactly how much money they have and why they aren’t giving it away to anyone who asks for it – just me, and I have no idea why.

I needed a break from all this not-saving-everyone-in-the-world thing so I stopped into the Dunkin Donuts across from the Metro station. I ordered a medium coffee and two donuts – which came out to $3.99…I had two $1s, a wrinkled $20 plus 27-cents.

See? I really didn’t have a dollar to spare – in fact I was one short. Meanwhile, as I’m waiting for my coffee, who do you think enters the store? “Do you have .50-cents?” “No.” “Do you have 50-cents?” “Sorry.” “Do you have 50-cents?” “No.” “Do you have 50-cents?” “Not today, sorry.”

He gives me an evil look, but doesn’t ask me anything. More importantly, not only did he request a lower amount from them (what do I look wealthier or something?), but he didn’t insist they justify refusing him either.

Finally, the old woman with the inscrutable accent calls out something that could be my coffee…and as I get up to get it, she hands it to another customer. I sit back down and make some notes of my day and finally her American colleague calls out my order.

I finish my donuts rather quickly, but the coffee was too hot for me to drink there so I took it into the station with me (oddly, no-one stopped me)… and it was lukewarm by the time I reached the platform level. I closed the tab on the lid and waited for the train in relative silence.

Another “wild” day had ended – and it was only 1:30pm…

Categories: adventures, Baltimore, maryland zoo, metro subway | Leave a comment

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