07 September 2009
University of the District of Columbia
18 Nov 2008. Quietly integrated and hidden within the city lies the home of the UDC Firebirds, near the headquarters of charitable playground builders KaBoom!, do-it-yourself pottery shop All Fired Up, and salsariffic Uptown Tavern. They like to make buildings out of concrete on this campus.
Trevor and Ish, UDC students and interns at the Smithsonian National Zoological Park, had heroism in their hearts and wildlife in their convertible. An okapi and a giraffe, specifically.
For its 75th anniversary, the National Zoo was unveiling a new habitat for its "Hoofin' it to the Serengeti" exhibit. The guest of honor for the day was to be Michael Babatunde, prime minister of the okapi capital of the world, Zambia. A week before the unveiling, the zoo's ungulates up and died. Did they contract some rare horse flu or eat rat poison? Who knows. The zoo director was horrified at the prospect of showing nothing but an empty, though slick looking, faux watering hole.
Trevor felt bad for the zoo director and saw this as an opportunity. He decided to help. He called his friend at the Frederick Animal Park in Maryland. Then he enlisted Ish.
"I work in the aviary, Trevor. There's not many hoofed mammals in with the birds."
"No, I can get the animals. I just need to borrow one of your parents' cars. They're still in Hawaii, right?"
"Virgin Islands. Which car do you want? My mom's minivan or my dad's Firebird?"
"Ish, we need to get an okapi and a giraffe to show to the prime minister of Zambia, so obviously, we need to arrive in style. Let's take the Firebird."
Trevor's contact at the Frederick Animal Park came through. He had two tranquilized juveniles ready to go on the Saturday morning. He made them promise to have them back the next day for their weekly checkups.
The okapi went in the trunk. With the backseats folded down and the cargo net up, Trevor and Ish could keep an eye on it while restrained. The giraffe was a litle trickier. It was laid across the folded down seats, buckled in.
Ish drove, windows down, headed southeast on I-270. Ish's afro and Trevor's shaggy moustache flapped in the wind.
Trevor said, "We're gonna be local celebrities. What're you gonna do with all that prestige? I'd like to do some time with the Peace Corps or the foreign service."
"Um, travel around? Haven't really thought about that kind of thing, but west Africa sounds kickin'. I'd like to go there."
The cars in front of them slowed.
"Whoa, slow down, Ish."
"Where's this traffic coming from?"
"Football is on Sundays. And it's the offseason."
"Well, I don't know."
"It's only ten AM. We got two hours."
"I know, but still."
Forty minutes of normal traffic and an hour of construction detours later, they crossed into District territory on Connecticut Avenue NW.
"We're FINALLY moving! Suck, that was RIDICULOUS."
"Just get us there, Ish. I think the giraffe is moving."
"We were planning on being at the zoo an hour ago."
"I don't want it in here when it wakes up. A bee in the car is bad enough. Can you tie its legs? Look for some string or something."
"That's what I'm doing. All...I...see...under the seat...I have jumper cables and bungee cords."
The giraffe squealed weakly.
"Get the freaking bungees on it! Is the okapi moving too?"
"Calm down! One thing at a time! Don't worry about the okapi, it's stuck in the trunk."
Trevor wrapped the bungee cords around the giraffe's front and back ankles. The giraffe stuck its head between the driver and passenger seats. It started tonguing the gearshift.
Ish pressed his body left. Trevor pressed his body right. They both froze.
They pulled away from a traffic light. The Firebird reached 15 mph before groaning for second gear.
"Ish, hurry up!" said Trevor through gritted teeth, still giving the giraffe space.
"That thing is gonna bite my hand."
Trevor pulled the lever on his right to flop his seat forward. The giraffe moved its head back. It started chewing on road maps sticking out of the passenger seatback. Ish shifted the slimy gearshift into 2nd, 3rd, and 4th in three seconds. They pulled into the employee parking lot. The lot was full so Ish parked along the curb. He reached for the emergency flashers but in his shaken state he accidentally released the trunk door. The okapi fell out and galloped into the park. Tourists shrieked.
Trevor jumped out. "Get a wrangler for the giraffe! I'll get the okapi!"
Trevor didn't answer. He didn't know.
Shoot me, thought Trevor, running through the crowd in his olive shorts and khaki shirt. There goes my spot in the Peace Corps. I don't even know how to wrangle an okapi.
But Prime Minister Babatunde did.
The Zambian entourage fled from the animal's path. Babatunde stood fast. He whipped the scarf from his neck and around the okapi's. With a flick of his wrist, a knot appeared in the scarf. He held the scarf in one hand and placed the other on the okapi's withers. He ran alongside it. As he slowed his pace, so did the okapi's.
Trevor caught up. He saw Babatunde's colorful garb and rightly assumed he was the big guy.
"I am so sorry, sir. I didn't mean to put you in danger."
"Danger? Do not be silly. It is just a baby. Where did it come from? I heard many animals died from a disease."
"Me and my friend brought it from another zoo for this event. I wanted to surprise my boss but everything went to hell."
"Not at all, young man. Please, sit with me."
Babatunde sat down cross legged on the concrete. Somehow he induced the okapi to lay down as well. Trevor joined him. The Zambian groupies came around too.
"What is your name?"
"Trevor van Ness."
"Let me ask you, Trevor van Ness. Did anyone else bring extra okapi? Did anyone else even consider the idea of extra okapi?"
Ish and a few other zoo employees came to stand behind Trevor.
"Is this your friend here?" Babatunde pointed to Ish and his fro.
"Yes, that's Ish."
Babatunde spoke something foreign to his aides.
"You will be honored at the ceremony that you just saved. I will see you in a few minutes."
He stood up with the help of his aides. He handed the okapi over to a zookeeper and walked off.
"Trevor, is Zambia in west Africa?"
"Eh, won't be picky."
A newspaperman picking up the story wanted to give the audacious youngsters flashier names than 'students' or 'zookeepers'. Since he couldn't be sure of the spelling of okapi or giraffe, he went with their makeshift animal transporter. Looking at the hood, the name Firebird was clear even to the illiterati.