Right this second, grab your phone and see if you've got anything going on Sunday, November 28. If not, and you live in the New York area, have I got a kooky family outing idea for you.
It's the New York Reptile Expo out at the Westchester County Center in White Plains. I know. You don't want a pet iguana. And reptiles aren't exactly cuddly cute little critters that make darling little children like yours swoon. So why on earth would you schlepp the family out to White Plains to look at hundreds of these scaly things, for Pete's sake? I was wondering the same thing when my friend Leila Loring--a fellow mom of boys--swore to me that the Freundlich clan would dig it big time. "No purchase necessary! You can just go and look!" swore Leila...though she admitted she did come home with a four-foot lizard that proceeded to terrorize her household. No doubt, I was about as interested in that prospect as I was about about having more frequent colonoscopies. But there was something alluring about having something somewhat amusing to do on a gray November Sunday, when it's too darned cold to run around outside, most Fall sports are done for the season, and my kids are hooked up to the Playstation as if they're on life support.
So, on the day of the big show, I packed up my extremely perplexed family and hauled them out to White Plains. What we walked into was an alternate universe--a place where latter-day Eves in tight jeans and suede booties swooned over slippery snakes that were longer than my own torso. Where children begged mommy to buy them pets that looked, essentially, like fish with legs. Where food stands didn't dish up hot dogs and hamburgers, but zip-lok bags full of frozen rats and mice.
Truth be told, the kids--and especially my husband Paul--were at first horrified. When Ben spotted the expo model wrapped in nothing more than skanty lingerie and a boa constrictor, I thought he was going to have a stroke. I was, however, smitten with the whole scene right from the start. I couldn't help eavesdropping on handholding couples as they strolled from one stand of creepy critters to the next as nonchalantly as if they were perusing sweaters at Bloomingdales. When I actually started to chat up vendors and shoppers, I was utterly hooked. "This one is a real mush. I hang him from my swing set and he swings along with the kids," gushed one burly guy, as he showed me a snake he had hidden in his backpack. "This one is the love of my life," said one middle-aged blonde as she flashed a snapshot at a vendor. "I couldn't bring myself to bury him when he died so I paid a taxidermist to stuff him. He's hanging in my apartment now." Part zoo, part sideshow, part anthropology expedition...how could anyone NOT love this place!
By the time I rounded up the rest of the Freundlichs, Paul was pretty pale. Ben wanted to get the model's phone number (just kidding). And Noah was begging, pleading, insisting upon getting a painted dragon. We left, thankfully, reptile free. And by the time we got home, Noah's sudden, desperate need for a pet reptile was easily supplanted by our fuzzy, cuddly decidedly nonreptilian dog Ringo. Next year, I fear, we might not be so lucky.
Wanna Go? Need to Know:
When to Go: The next New York Reptile Expo is Sunday, November 28, from 10 AM-4 PM. If you miss that date (or just can't get enough), there are additional NY shows in April, July, and September. The Expo also travels to New England and Long Island. Log on at http://www.reptileexpo.com/ for locations, dates, and further 411.
Getting There: If you're coming from the Montclair, NJ area, you can take the Garden State Parkway North to the exit for 287 East. Cross the Tappan Zee Bridge and proceed from there. This is a pretty trafficky drive so be prepared. I think it took us over an hour. Click here for specifics: www.reptileexpo/nydir.htm
What to Bring: An agreement in writing (just kidding, well, kind of) as to why you are going (sightseeing, pet shopping) and what you intend to bring home (nifty memories, scary lizards, lacerations). Bring lots and lots of antibacterial gel for your hands. Other bringalongs: Camera. Smelling salts.
Costs/Services: Admission charge is $10 per adult, $4 for kids 7-12, kids under 7 are free. There may very well be more than rats for snacks at the Expo but, I dunno, do you really want to eat in a giant reptile house? We pit-stopped at a diner on the way in.
Fear Factor: Shoppers are allowed, to some extent, to handle the reptiles. I guess you or your child could get bitten or strangled. At the very least you could get a nice case of salmonella. As you can see from the photos, I did get up close and personal. What can I say, it's as close as I'll come to living dangerously at this point in my life. Do what feels right for you.