Years ago, during the last big recession, when I was laid off from my (really fun) job as a cameraman (cameraskirt?) & PA on Bob Izumi’s Real Fishing Show, I quickly discovered there were absolutely no jobs in TV production (especially for someone with my level of experience) – so decided to bartend, move home and save my pennies to do that Europe thing. Best decision I ever made; I ended up staying (in London) for nearly 8 years. I met my husband there, bought my first house, had my first child, landed some terrific jobs and did some exciting travelling.
When I first arrived in London, I stayed for 6 weeks then went off backpacking by myself. Many friends thought I was crazy to go on my own, but I’m so glad I did…I answered to no one, saw what I wanted to see and met some terrific people along the way. But there were some drawbacks to being alone. In Bern, a man followed me through the market area, in and out of shops for about 45 minutes. I finally turned around, yelled “STOP FOLLOWING ME!!” This, surprisingly, worked. He just shrugged his shoulders and loped off. Then there was the hostel in Lucerne where a Bosnian guy told me he would “have me before the end of the night”. No, no you won’t buddy-boy. But the most bizarre, and in some ways, scariest thing that happened to me was my visit to the Berlin Zoo.
The plan was to catch an overnight train out of Berlin and head to Cologne. I had put my backpack in a locker at the train station, but had hours and hours to kill with hardly any money… The Berlin Zoo happened to be right across from the train station, happened to be open and happened to be cheap. Decision made. It was early evening, but it was November so getting dark quickly. No mind – I made the first left and went straight into the monkey enclosure. I love the monkeys and can watch them for ages. By the time I left the building to check out the rest of the zoo it was pitch dark. I thought, well, surely the lights will be turned on any minute…so started walking. As I got further away from the light of the monkey house it became clear that no lights were coming on. And there didn’t seem to be one other person around. All I could think was that the zoo is closed and I’ve been locked in for the night. It was so dark at this point, I literally had to inch my way up the path. Once my eyes adjusted to the dark, I saw that I could make out the outlines of animals… holy crap…they weren’t even in cages or behind glass! Squinting I could see about a 6 foot ditch was all that separated me from the animals. What kind of animals, I hadn’t a clue. A few looked like antelope, but could have been gazelle, gnu, hell, they could’ve been horses for all I knew. To my left looked like lions or jaguars, maybe large bushes, no way of telling for sure.
Panic set in at this point. Were the animals hungry? Would I accidentally wander into their areas? Where were all the frickin’ people? Were there German zoo staff watching me via security cameras laughing? Finally, in the distance I saw a light. Turned out to be the beaver house, which was open. Believe me the irony was not lost, no matter how scared I was. At least I had a place indoors I could sleep and sympathetic creatures to hang with, if it came to it.
After a while, I thought I’d better man up and ventured back out to try to find the main gate. Inch by inch, I made my way there. The lights were still off and there was still no one around, but I was free! As I made my triumphant exit, I looked around to see if there was any zoo staff around. There was, but they were busy selling tickets to an Asian couple. Part of me wanted to go warn the people – there are no lights on! You’ll be alone! But the pissed off part of me won out, so I just walked away, relishing the thought that they’d soon be enjoying the animals by moonlight as I did. At least they had each other; and, of course, the beavers.