Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Just Ducky

I wrote this up for the Convention and Visitors Bureau website. Too bad I didn't take my staff photographer!

Thursday after school, I decided to take Satchel (7) and Jiro (5) down to the Peabody Hotel to see the famous ducks. When I explained to the boys that we were going to watch as the ducks got out of their pond, walked to the elevator, and then rode up to their house on the roof, their eyes brightened and they asked, “How do the ducks push the elevator buttons?”

This was the first of many questions. How many ducks were there? What kind? What did their house look like? Could we ride in the elevator with them? How did they get a pond in the hotel? I assured them that all of their questions would be answered once we got there. I personally hadn’t seen the ducks in twenty years, so I knew nothing except that they come down at 11am and they go back up at 5pm everyday.

The Peabody offers valet parking and there is metered parking on the street, but we opted to park in a nearby garage. On the walk over I explained to the kids that the Peabody was a very fancy hotel and that they should be on their very best behavior. As we approached the entrance, Satchel saw that the welcome mat had ducks on it. “Wow, they are famous!” he exclaimed. Once inside, both boys got quiet and Jiro whispered, “It is fancy in here.”

I was already glad we came.

I directed them towards the marble fountain in the middle of the lobby bar and we circled the ducks to get a count. “Four?” I said. “Five!” Jiro corrected me, pointing to one that was camouflaged against the marble. “This is not a pond,” Satchel said, adding, “There are four females and one male.” The male had a green head so I felt pretty confident informing the kids that the ducks were mallards.

There were a lot of people enjoying beverages at the surrounding tables and a few tourists milling about like us. I thought about sitting down and ordering a few drinks, but all of the tables with a good view of the ducks were taken. Since it was only 4:00pm, I suggested we go on the roof and check out the ducks’ house. Riding in an elevator to the roof was an easy sell and the boys darted towards the line of elevators.

Once inside the big question was why we pushed “S” for the roof. (We later learned that the “S” stood for skyway.) The elevator was quite full and each stop was a tease. “Is this it?” the boys excitedly asked. When we finally made it to the top, the boys bolted out of the elevators and out of the glass doors and onto the wide, open roof. “Cool!” they shouted.

It was cool. The weather was great, we were the only people there, and we had an amazing view of the city and the Mississippi river. After looking over the railings, we followed the signs to Duck Palace, which is on the backside of a palace fa├žade. When the boys saw the 20 x 5 foot glass enclosure they were a little under-whelmed. “This is it?” they asked. Inside there was a mini-Peabody Hotel and a small fountain, but I can only imagine what the boys had dreamed up in their minds after seeing the lobby of the Peabody for the first time!

After exploring for awhile we went back down to check on the ducks. The lobby was starting to fill up, so we went on the Mezzanine to survey the scene from above. Once we saw the Duck Master walk over to the fountain with his red carpet and mini stairs, we bolted back down, afraid that we were going to miss the whole thing!

Turns out the ducks’ exit is quite a production. The Duck Master, Jason Sensat, rolled out the red carpet, set up ropes alongside it, and gave the kids the best seats in the house before doing a 10 minute presentation on the history of the hotel and the ducks. (They actually started out as a practical joke by some hunters!)

Once the official talk was over, the Duck Master moved a board he had placed between the fountain and the stairs, and the ducks came parading out. They stopped right in front of where the kids were sitting, shook off a bit, and then proceeded to the elevator. Surprisingly there were way more adults than children present, and every one of them had a camera. However, the flashing and carrying on did not seem to ruffle any feathers.

Once the ducks were out of sight, we raced to another elevator and went back up to the roof. The ducks were already inside their house, but the boys enjoyed watching them play around for a bit. Meanwhile, Jason happily hung around and answered questions. Just by eavesdropping we learned that the ducks came from a farm when they were one year old. Their flight feathers were clipped, but they grow back. They spend one week training with the previous group of ducks before going on their own for three months. When the standard three month tour of duty is over, they are sent back to the farm and eventually released into the wild.

And yes, they lay eggs, but they don’t hatch and no one eats them.

As the sun set, we said good-bye to the ducks and the Duck Master, had a brief stop in the wonderfully clean rooftop restrooms, and made our way back to the car. Satchel asked if I thought he could do his American history presentation on the ducks and Jiro asked how the ducks could be famous if they didn’t make any art.

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