culture shock

When you’ve spent most of your career working for public relations agencies in Washington, D.C. – or really – doing anything in Washington, D.C., there’s bound to be a certain amount of culture shock when you start a job not only at a zoo, but a zoo in Portland.

Six months in, there are still so many days when something happens and I think, “Wow, am I really at work right now?” Like today when I’m at my desk and we start hearing a loud quacking-like sound. And your first thought is, “Is that a…a…duck?” Why yes, it is. Just a duck in the office. That’s normal, right? Or, the line of six-year-olds who stroll through with their camp counselors. That’s normal, right? Or, the teens having a meeting in the conference room across from my area who are giggling like, well, a bunch of teenagers. That’s normal, right?

Then there are the times like yesterday when you have on your Outlook calendar something like: Zoomer training, 11am – 12pm; please bring your driver’s license. What is a Zoomer, you ask?

This is a Zoomer.

You might be thinking:

Gosh, that kind of looks like a large golf cart. Dressed like a dinosaur.

Well, that’s because it is. 

Zoomers are used to transport guests who need assistance for one reason or another. Sometimes we are in situations where it’s helpful to drive a Zoomer. For that reason, they want everyone to go through official Zoomer training. And, there’s actually more to Zoomer training than you would think because when you are driving a Zoomer, you essentially become a guest services representative and have to be prepared to transport guests, help give directions or whatever else is needed.

So yesterday I, along with two of my colleagues, were officially initiated into the exclusive world of Zoomer drivers. And one can’t help navigating the zoo on a nice summer morning once again thinking, “Yep, I’m at work right now.” But the most notable part about learning to drive the Zoomer was not the driving experience itself, but our instructor. Alan was extremely friendly with us, but more importantly, it was amazing how friendly and helpful he was to every guest he encountered. And genuine. It was truly important to him that guests were getting where they needed to go and had the information they needed. I mean, this guy made Mr. Rogers look like the meanest guy on the planet. According to him, he has one of the best jobs at the zoo.

Which leads me to the point of this post. Nearly every encounter I have with staff, especially those who work out and about “on grounds,” from guest services to horticulturists to keepers to curators – a common theme is a passion for their job, and a respect for the animals and the institution. I’ve been fortunate enough to participate in a couple of behind-the-scenes tours so far, and nearly just as amazing as the animals is the love that the keepers have for them. For them, it is a privilege to take care of these animals. For instance, I recently visited our butterfly lab where a group of staff and volunteers work tirelessly on a conservation program for Oregon silverspot butterflies and Taylor’s checkspot butterflies. This is tedious work and the keeper just lit up at the opportunity to share her program with us. I mean, the only time I get that excited is when they have Ben & Jerry’s on sale at Fred Meyer.

Anyway, I don’t know when the shock of it all will subside, but I’m happily going with it for now.


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