Everywhere I go I make observations on the world that would be great commentary for this journal. Unfortunately, I never write them down and most of these notes get lost in the millions of thoughts going through my head. But I will try to recall what I can.

Observation no. 1: Zoos

Last weekend I went into Chicago to visit Lincoln park and wandered around the Lincoln Park zoo. As a kid, I liked zoos and then I kinda lost interest with all of the fakeness. Lately I’ve been into checking out various city’s zoos to see how they compare. Habitats nowadays are getting more realistic and natural, especially for indoor exhibits. The Lincoln Park Zoo had some pretty nice displays for being a small and free zoo. I especially liked their small primate house, small mammal house, reptiles, and birds exhibits. I also enjoyed their Africa Expedition.

This weekend, Erin and I went to the National Zoo in Washington, another free zoo but that was made up with parking fees. The national zoo is bigger and funded by the Smithsonian, but is in need of a renovation. The relatively new panda habitat is quite nice, but the big cats and African mammals had the old-fashioned concrete step enclosures and the primates had cage-enclosed trees to climb on, though most were inside for the winter. The small mammals building was set up with better habitats, but there were too many repeat species among the displays. The reptiles were set up nicely as were the invertebrates. I really liked the bird habitats. Like the Lincoln Park Zoo, the exotic bird house in Washington included a large free-flight room which you could virtually bird-watch with binoculars. My favorite part of the National Zoo is the Amazonia building which was newly built the last time I was there senior year of high school. You walk into Amazonia greeted by a shallow flooded forest aquarium with sting rays and other fish. Then you move on to some river displays including some rather large fish of the Amazon and some turtles and so forth. That’s followed by a discovery area with some small animals in 10-gallon tanks. But the best part of all is the rain forest upstairs with plants, free-flying birds and free-climbing monkeys.

At any rate, I’m a sucker for forest exhibits whether at zoos or aquariums. The best zoo with continental enclosures is Toronto’s. But many aquariums have rain forests too. Most of us, if you live in the mid-Atlantic region, are familiar with the Baltimore Aquarium’s forest. Well, as we were wandering around Inner Harbor, I noticed the entrance to the aquarium was newly remodeled and sure enough there was a second forest exhibit to walk through. The original one appears to be there as well, so now I really want to check out the aquarium.

Observation no. 2: Airports

When you look at a map, the sheer size of Chicago’s O’hare airport dwarfs the city much like JFK, which could easily fill the lower half of Manhattan. Midway’s airport looks tiny in comparison, taking up one of those square blocks made up by the grid of major roads in the suburbs. I mean, just compare the two on the map. But maps are deceiving. Midway was quite larger and busier than I expected, though it didn’t service any planes larger than a Boeing 737 or Airbus A320 (about the same size). At any rate, I was amazed at the terminal size and the amount of food options. Then you realize that O’Hare is about 6 Midway terminals spread out, so yeah… its huge.

I’ve flown out of Baltimore many a time as a kid, and its a bit bigger than Midway, but no giant that I remember it. Its also not nearly as busy as it used to be. In fact, walking around the ticketing loby, Southwest was the only airline to take up all of its counters. Many of the ticketing counters were just empty, perhaps just under half of the total check-in booths. Security, which used to be at the front of each terminal had been moved up so that only ticketed passengers could go to the shops and restaurants. I guess the FAA and security agencies don’t want visitors just hanging around anymore. Then again, most of the security measures implemented since 9/11 are just an unnecessary joke and probably cause more feelings of paranoia than safety. Perhaps that’s the downfall of the airlines. Sometimes I get the feeling the government just wants U.S. citizens to sit around at home like shmucks rather than travel and explore the world.

Observation no. 3: The Weather

Here in Chicagoland, its anywhere from 10-20 degrees colder than its been out East. As a result, we still have snow on the ground and got another inch last night. Its supposed to warm up by the weekend so maybe I’ll find something fun to do by then.