Penguins on Parade: Making Friends at the Georgia Aquarium

Listen to Penguins on Parade:

On Christmas Day in 2013 I was wheeled out of the Georgia Aquarium by two very nice people. One was a man named Met, as in I “met” you today, the day your back spasmed so intensely that it numbed your leg and rendered you  paraplegic. The other was a woman named Halle who insisted on offering me an entrance voucher for a future visit, as I had only seen two exhibitions before my visit was cut short.

Between winces, I let her know that I had no plans to return. Ever. And she nodded her head and smiled even though I was being unreasonable.

Penguin Whisperer

Before being carted away, I was standing behind the glass of the penguin exhibit. I was transfixed by two very adorable birds who could not stop staring at me. They both intermittently switched eyes, seemingly to get a better look at my hat.

From the reflection on the glass, I noticed how ridiculous I looked waving at these penguins and turned to walk away when I noticed a clear tube at the center of the exhibit with some kids in it. My eyes searched wildly and found a crawl space under the exhibit that led to this clear tube and once you reach it, you can stand for a full 360 view of the penguins.

Down the Tube(s)

Moments before I met Met.

So, I went through it…

and nothing happened. I mean other than the pure joy of being eye-to-eye with a bird in a tuxedo.

So, I went through it again…

and as soon as I crouched down, I felt a flash of lightning down my spine. With my legs completely numb, I relied solely on my elbows to pull me through the space, past the children and other small adults, as if I was in a marine having a war flashback. I made it out and told my girlfriend several times to send for help until she realized that I wasn’t kidding.

Sea Swallow Me Whole

I was flat on my back when Met arrived at the scene of my demise. I watched him as he opened and set the locks on the portable wheelchair he brought with him and in doing so, I became hyper-aware of his slim figure.

When he helped me into the chair it was as graceful as accommodating the Stay Puft Marshmallow Man into a baby seat, but he didn’t once complain or, worse, call back up. And it would’ve been less embarrassing if he would’ve taken a running start to push me, instead of having to incline his body so steeply that he could’ve been a back-up dancer for the Smooth Criminal video, but nonetheless he got me rolling.

He was soft spoken and reassuring. He even tried to make small talk about CSI: Miami when he discovered where I was from. And when I reduced his favorite TV show to an hour-long waste of time, he found it in his heart to forgive my rudeness.

I meant to send Halle and Met thank you cards, in addition to a letter to the Georgia Aquarium commending them on their quick response, but sadly adding to my impoliteness, I never did.

Return to the Scene

It only took five years (and the fact that I now live 15 minutes from the Georgia Aquarium) to return. And Halle was right to be concerned that I had only seen two exhibits. I missed out on the beluga whales and the whale sharks, as well as the seahorses and the corals, and everything else that is held in ten million gallons of water.

While I’ve never again stepped inside the penguin tube, I continue to return to the Georgia Aquarium and even bring all my out-of-town guests with me. It’s my way of saying thank you to Halle and Met for being so kind to a mortified and ill-mannered stranger more than half-a-decade ago.

If You Go…

Location: The aquarium is located on 357 Luckie St. and everything you need to know is on their site. Parking is complicated, but available. And there’s also other parking lots nearby, plus it’s adjacent to World of Coca Cola and the Civil and Human Rights Museum, so you can make a whole day on Luckie Street.

Encounters: If I would’ve signed up for the Penguin Encounter on my first visit, I could’ve avoided the tube, the embarrassment and ruining Christmas, while having the opportunity to pet an actual penguin. There are other encounters you can sign up for that are well worth the additional fee.

Preferred Seating: If you’re wondering if the additional fee ($5) for preferred seating is worth it for the Dolphin Presentation, I say yes.

2020 is the Year of the Shark: A new gallery dedicated to sharks is being unveiled in late fall. Potential shark species under consideration include hammerheads, sand tiger sharks and sandbar sharks, oh my. No word on if a tube will be included in the design.

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