Author’s note: This is the second of a four-part story of my family’s summer vacation. If you want to pray for me, it’s too late.
Cars, tents, campers, lawn chairs and banners for Division 1 schools like LSU, Arkansas, Virginia and Texas decorated the parking lots of Omaha’s Rosenblatt Stadium like a preschool art project. The colors made me a little woozy.
It was Day One of the 2009 College World Series, it was 7:30 a.m., and traffic was backed up for blocks; which was good for the scalpers, who were also backed up for blocks. The last time I’d seen that many cardboard signs was on a Chicago off ramp.
The average attendance for the College World Series over the past five years has been 278,321, which, compared to the city’s population of 432,921, the stadium seating capacity of 23,100, and the just more than 10,000 hotel rooms in Omaha, meant there were a lot of people in town with nothing to do except get in my way.
But my family and I weren’t in Omaha for the College World Series, which caused a problem with parking. We were on vacation and taking our children to a Midwest vacation mecca – the Henry Doorly Zoo. At least 50 weeks out of the year there’s decent parking at the zoo, which shares parking lots with the stadium, because for 50 weeks the city doesn’t host the series.
I don’t plan well.
“The zoo opens at 8:30 a.m. Saturday,” my wife said as we settled into the scary hotel of death (see Part 1). “We should get there early. Let’s go.”
It was 7 p.m. Friday.
We weren’t alone in this quest to have fun in a city that’s best chance at tourism dollars was to ignore us and cater to people waving banners. My wife’s college friends and a few of their husbands were in town, and we were all going to the zoo. That made nine adults and nine children, all under six. I was scared. I can barely contain my own kids. What if one of the other parents had to go to the bathroom?
We drove slowly onto the street that leads to the stadium and zoo behind vehicles with college flags and foam fingers, packing the giant parking lot like it was a sausage. And we found a spot – easily.
The zoo, unlike me, planned ahead. Any vehicle could park in the zoo’s special parking lot if the people inside paid zoo admission.
Clipboard Guy: How many adults in the vehicle?
Clipboard Guy: You have to pay zoo admission to park here.
Me: I know.
Clipboard Guy: I mean, you can go to the games, just know we’re going to use your money to buy pizza.
Me: We’re going to the zoo.
Clipboard Guy (looking at me like Congress looks at Supreme Court nominees): That’ll be $23.
I’m sure the carload of geniuses from the University of Texas who spent $69 to park next to us, and were now drinking Natural Light from the trunk of their Saturn at 7:30 a.m., were going to the zoo, too.
Next week: The zoo.
Copyright 2009 by Jason Offutt
You can order Jason’s books on the paranormal, “Darkness Walks: The Shadow People Among Us,” and “Haunted Missouri: A Ghostly Guide to Missouri’s Most Spirited Spots,” at amazon.com.