Riding the Elephant

When I was about eight, an elephant came to the Delta Fair.   She also walked the parade route, carrying "Baby Jack" Allen, DJ and local radio personality on KBXM.  If you looked hard enough through the DDD archives, I believe you could find the picture of a smiling Baby Jack waving from atop the pachyderm. 

Two teen-age guys were hired with a proposal only slighty better than the one Fay Wray got in "King Kong".  "How would you guys like to get paid to be in the parade?"  They got clown costumes, big shovels and even bigger wheelbarrows, and they followed the elephant.

Tarzan_and_jane On arriving at the fairgrounds, we found that elephant rides were available, for a very reasonable fee. We used to spend Saturday afternoons watching Tarzan (aka Johnny Weissmuller) ride the elephants.  Who could pass this up? 

I joined the very long line with my money clutched in my hot little hand.  When my turn came, I was miraculously at the front of the line.  We climbed a wooden stepladder and mounted.  Being first in line, my seat was on the elephant’s neck, just like Tarzan, like the mahouts, the place that was just made to ride on.  It was like riding a horse, only so much better.  I was the lord of the jungle, lord of all I surveyed.  The elephant’s handler gently led her around in a circle, occasionally giving her a light touch with his ankus, saying "Come on, Kerry, come on girl."  "Is this your elephant, mister?"  "She’s mine while I got her."  I felt like Sabu and I didn’t even know who Sabu was.  It was wonderful.

As soon as we dismounted, I rushed to rejoin the line for a second ride.  Alas, I found myself in the middle of the six or eight riders this time.  This meant I was riding somewhere about the middle of Kerry’s mighty back.  It was a mighty back, but it was a little boney.  Imagine a two-by-four placed on edge atop a four-foot diameter culvert.  Pencil-lead sized wires protrude at random every few inches. I had on short pants.  All I could survey was the back of an unwashed head.  Perhaps I was filthy and sweaty myself, but certainly the boys jammed together with me were.  It was miserable, and I didn’t line up for a third ride.

Ever since then, when an elephant ride has been available at a circus or zoo, I’ve taken advantage of it, but it isn’t the same.  First of all, you climb some sturdy platform with hand-rails and an attendant.  Then you are helped onto the howdah with its cushions and guardrails and safety chains. You’re on top of the elephant, sure, but you’re riding the saddle, not the elephant.  The other riders are little kids.

It’s not the same.

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