So there I was, setting out on another journey.
U.S. 30, the highway that links Atlantic City to Oregon, had just turned 100. My travel assignment was to write about the part of it that was in my Pennsylvania back yard. To pan for historic or quirky gold, the kind of neat stuff the average motorist would be too rushed to ever pick up on.
For me it was all fresh. I’d never been down that road before.
Not that long into the ride, I found myself on a taste trip back to my childhood in the um, 60s. An old-fashioned ice cream shop that took me back to my days at the Jersey Shore boardwalk.
The supposed homemade ice cream was so-so. Like the shore, there was miniature golf. But there was no beach. And no rides. The big attraction was an honest-to-goodness caged bear.
The sight was so unexpected, it took my breath away. If this had been a real zoo, I still wouldn’t have felt good about it, but she might at least have had some playmates and better digs.
“Little Ricki” wasn’t so little. But her cage with concrete floor was. She barely had room to move.
What was even more shocking was, no one else seemed shocked. A few stopped to look in, on their way to the golf.
According to the sign on her cage, she had been there for much of her life. (When I met her, she was 16.) Like it or not, she had to be used to it. And the sign was so upfront about it. Was I the only one there who thought this was all wrong? And if not, how could this have gone on for so long?
So I asked her owners what the deal was.
I was told it was perfectly legal. She was born in captivity, they said. It’s all she knows and she has a good life.
Where else could she go? Would she be any happier? What could I do, at this late date? I touched on it in passing in the story and then let it drop.
I’m glad some other folks — like actor Ricky Gervais — didn’t. Because of their efforts, Little Ricki is now out of solitary and at a wildlife sanctuary in Colorado. She’s said to be doing a lot better.
As least she has more of a life for the rest of her days.