Animatronic Hippos

And Other Things That Go Bump In The Night

When we first moved here, I got a call from Ruben in Los Angeles.  He told me that he and Bridgette and little son, Gus would be coming to Disney World and asked if we could meet for a day.  Thrilled to have Patrick be introduced to one of my dear friends from a long ago home, we drove the two hour journey.  The last time I had seen Ruben in person was prior to my trek across country and move to Connecticut,  which in turn prompted this entire blog. Patrick and I had seen him in commercials during the interim.  Years back he was newly dating the beautiful Bridgette and sweet Gus was only a wish.  Within moments of greeting and hugs, they share with us that they will be expecting a second child at the end of the year.  I cry.  Finding out someone is growing a baby will always make me cry.  We spend the day eating swirled vanilla and Dole pineapple or orange ice cream shakes and standing in long lengthy lines.  We fly down logs, ride carousels and we pile onto a flat pontoon boat floating down the Jungle Cruise.  The shtick of the captain annoys me to no end but the bumps through the river are exactly how I had remembered.  Even though I knew they were operated from a computer board, I still smiled as the hippo lumps raised from their dark water dwellings.

Patrick and I spend most evenings and one day per weekend going on bike rides.  He speeds along  on his racing bike while I yell blocks away for him to slow down.  I had recently bought a vintage and heavy retro beach cruiser on Craig’s list and the old broad takes her time.  Patrick named her Judith.  A half scratched off sticker revealed she was made in Taiwan.  So, I renamed her Judith Yang.  Patrick is currently building her a crate basket for her backend.  We will have plenty of room for beets at the downtown farmer’s market.  While possibly picking up some egg roles.

One night in lieu of our bikes we took the dogs on a walk.  Our neighborhood holds onto its past.  The houses are built in retro glamor of the 1950’s and 60’s: Mid Century angles, sloped roofs, high windows and use of large brightly colored cinder blocks create each lot.  We walk passed the tackiest house three blocks down.  The one with constant blaring music IF the glowing sign, “Bar is Open” is on.  All is quite if “Bar is Closed” is glowing.  Usually, three drunk elderly men are sitting on the uphill driveway enjoying the spectacle of themselves.  After just a few steps down the street, everything turns back to normal manicured yards and a breathtaking blue sky.

We head straight to the bridge over the Philippee Creek.  A large winding creek which is wider in certain areas with concrete retaining walls to guide the dark slow moving water way. On one of our bike adventures, we came across another bridge and saw a slew of large river turtles looking up at us.  Speeding back home (Judith Yang style) we shoved the only frozen vegetable we had in the freezer into a backpack and headed back.  We took turns tossing down Succotash.  The corn was a hit but the niblets of red peppers were often spit back out.   Patrick leaned over the bridge to get a better look.  “Babe, stop throwing food. like now”.  But the turtles seemed so happy, why stop the happiness buffet? I followed his pointed finger.  Yep, there was five foot gator waiting for veggie rain.

Delilah and Coraline were pulling on their leashes.  Ahead the bridge was only a block away.  Greeting us before our destination, three large geese size bizarre ducks with red wax-like masks and black and white dotted feathers cross the road.  They have claws coming from their black webbed feet.  Goodness, the wildlife here enjoys mocking the awe inspired humans.

We stand over the bridge and look down into the deep depths.  This part of the creek is much wider than our neighboring turtles and gator habitat.  Patrick begins to explain the mechanism of how boats are lifted onto land.  This was my fault because I had asked.  I became bored and my eyes wondered to the other side.  There were so many bubbles popping on the surface.  and ripples in the water.  And then this massive dark greyish brown mold-like glob erects out of the water close to three feet and then falls gently back down, immersing beneath a hidden world.  Not a sound was made but Patrick droning on about motor systems or something.  The dogs were whining.  Patrick looks back as there were ripples upon ripples in the water.  “Did you see something?” He asked me.  I was frozen.  All I could do was grab the leashes tighter and hold onto Patrick’s leg of his shorts.  In panic, I asked, “Did you not see that?”  Patrick was laughing. “Babe, I’m sure it was a fish”.

All I was thinking in that split second moment was someone must be pushing the button somewhere.  It’s time for hippos to come out. Spray the children. I was obviously in shock.  I whisper, “Patrick, I just saw a hippo from Disneyland”.

Patrick had seen me numerous times act things out.  He knows when I’m bluffing or within a few minutes he can call it.  But in that moment he knew I was truly shaken.  Then.  the water started to bubble again.  something started to agitate the water from underneath.  It was moving extremely fast.  Ripples turned into fierce water currents changing directions on a dime.  (to this day, I don’t know what that was or if it was all the same thing).  We both stood there in utter fear mixed with giddiness.  Both laughing at our situation of being completely stumped and wanting to find out while also tempted to run with our arms in the sky, shrieking. The bubbles were everywhere now.  And ripples two. There was no splashing or two tiny eyes peering out from a reptile head.  I wanted it to be an alligator.  I just wanted to know what my dogs were hearing and or smelling.  We stood there for at least an hour.

It arose again, I’m sure out of kindness vs mocking.  We gasped.  It was a manatee.  And it was the most beautiful lump, I had ever seen.  Walking distance from our little house built on a street named after a tropical fruit, swam a manatee.

We now, take bike rides in hopes of seeing more of this phenomenal creature.  We have seen them a handful more times.  The last time one of their noses came up to take a bite of floating grasses as they moved down the center or the creek. We said they must of picked up some take-out.

Who knew that this place held so much magic.  I wasn’t prepared for the beauty of blue herons flying over the horizon of our back yard to the way an alligator will move with speed by using the strength of their tails and stop on their water paths by spreading all four legs out while tail will cut to the side. Nor did I know that my childhood desire to work with animals would be remembered here.    It had been hidden for years, back into the darkness of my thoughts…it just needed a little jolt.

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  1. jeanne

     /  May 4, 2015

    awesome story… usual, you never disappoint.

  2. kerry

     /  June 1, 2015

    I love this story! Sounds surreal.

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