by Jim Harris
I was surfing the web the other day when I came across an ad: “Visit Six Flags Wild Safari in Jackson, New Jersey, the largest drive-thru safari outside of Africa. Our 4.5-mile auto trail lets the animals walk right up to your car for an up-close encounter you’ll never forget.”
I had to smile. Almost 40 years ago to the day, some friends and I had gone to that very same place. On the day before I went, I happened to mention my plans to John Nollie, one of my fellow Mt. Airy letter carriers at the time. “Yeah,” he said. “I went there once, and it was fun, but if you want to see any monkeys, you better bring some bananas. They’re very shy animals.”
Now, this was the same trash-talking, hard-drinking John Nollie who regularly hid bricks in my mailbag and tied my shoelaces together as I was sorting mail. I should have known better than to believe anything he said, but being a naive and gullible 22-year-old, I bought several dozen bananas, put them in a brown bag, and headed out with my friends for a great adventure.
It really was amazing driving among giraffes and zebras. At one point, an ostrich came right up to my new Chevy Camaro and started pecking at the windshield. We all gave a sigh of relief when he headed off in another direction.
We threw out a couple bananas to see if we could attract some monkeys. “LOOK! There’s one,” someone shouted. A lone baboon came running toward us and gulped down several bananas in short order. We threw out a few more, and more of the impressive creatures started to show up.
Unbeknownst to me, one of them had jumped onto the roof of my car, and he grabbed the whole bag right out of my hands. The bag ripped open, strewing bananas everywhere. I quickly rolled up the window. Several more members of the troop arrived, and finding no more bananas, they began exploring the intricacies of my automobile.
To my horror, one particularly large male started peeling off the rubber molding around my window. Before I could even react to that, another big fellow ripped off a windshield wiper and began swinging it around like a sword.
I didn’t know what to do. My brand new car was being dismantled before my eyes; my human passengers were screaming like people in a Godzilla movie; we were completely surrounded by crazed baboons, and I could no longer drive without running over some of them. I was pretty sure that that would tick them off even more. I prepared to die, and thought about all of my acquaintances who would be shocked to learn of my strange and untimely demise — especially that S.O.B., John Nollie.
Just then, I heard an amplified voice saying, “Don’t stop. Keep moving.” A mesh-enclosed safari jeep pulled up behind us and slowly escorted us out of the facility. The baboons disappeared into the distance, flogging each other with pieces of my car as they went.
Once outside the compound, the safari guides informed me that I should leave immediately, never EVER come back, and thank my lucky stars that I hadn’t been arrested, sued or ripped limb from limb.
I have a friend who always tries to impress me with his toughness by saying, “I was in Vietnam,” to which I always reply, “I was attacked by a herd of baboons.” Let me just tell you something, folks, there’s no more frightening experience on earth. I still have nightmares. I can’t even set foot in New Jersey without breaking into a cold sweat.
If I learned anything from that horrible experience, I guess it’s that wild animals need to have their own space, and they need to be protected from us crazy humans just as much as we need to be protected from them.