I do a lot of thinking in my car. I find there are few things more relaxing than being cocooned in a vehicle, away from computers or screens, drowning out the outside world with music. It's only then when my mind can wander. It's during these times when I can contemplate the big abstractions in life: What should I be doing with my life? What's the point of life? What's the point of anything? What's—HOLY SHIT, IS THAT A BILLBOARD FOR A REPTILE SHOW?
The billboard is the color of a highlighter—yellow or green, I don't know. It's too bright to tell. Stark, black lettering states that, yes, this sign that is burning into my retinas, my soul and my sense of judgment is the "Reptile Super Show."
I try to be nonchalant when I bring it up at the office, since "falling for billboards" is not a quality I want most people to know about me.
"Are you interested in going to this reptile show with me?" I ask our former arts editor, Kinsee Morlan. I leave to the use the restroom. By the time I come back, Kinsee's already got the reptile show's head honcho on the phone and is securing us press passes (or pressssss passssesssss, I think, because snakes).
I can't blame my wife for being confused and perhaps a little bit perturbed when I—a man with no past interest in reptile shows, who has displayed no desire to attend a reptile show, and has, in fact, previously regarded the idea of a reptile show with fear and aversion—suddenly want to go to a reptile show. For one, we recently purchased a new home and had just moved into it the day before, so this excursion seems like I'm escaping grown-up responsibilities.
And who knows, maybe I am. I tend to lose sight of priorities in moments of stress or duress. In that moment, there's large text in my brain that reads "30-year mortgage" which quickly droops like wet noodles, turns green and slithers away.
Kinsee picks me up with her husband and two kids in tow. On the way, we talk about which reptiles we're most excited to see. The frontrunners are snakes, because duh, but frogs seem like they have a chance to be the sleeper hit.
We drive to the downtown Civic Center. Walking up, we see a man walking toward us holding a reptile show bag.
"How is it?" Kinsee asks.
"Awesome!" the guy says—a blunt, declarative outburst. He says it like he's been waiting his whole life to tell someone how awesome a reptile show is, his end-all descriptor.
Inside the lobby, there's a big tortoise roaming around in a fenced-off section. It's practically the size of a smart car and it moves like its life is defined by pain—not due to how it's treated (which seems well), but just the natural result of being old and slow and boring. There's a young woman inside the enclosure, sitting on a chair, thumbing through her phone. I wonder what trouble you have to get into to be busted down to tortoise duty.
We approach the table to redeem our passes. The guy in charge doesn't want to give us all press access to the show, but Kinsee is steadfast in her demands, and it's cool to watch her haggle for free access to the snake show. The guy relents and gives us all tickets, but not before taking my CityBeat card and yelling after us: "I'll be looking for you in the paper, Ryan Bradford." Let me tell you, it's not a great feeling to be on a snake guy's shit list. Not great at all.
The showroom is packed with reptile enthusiasts, many of whom look like roadies for screamo bands. Man buns are huge here. I see more than one person with a snake tattoo. But overall, people are stoked to be here. SSSSStoked.
Among the first things I see in the showroom are cages and trays of mice, separated by stages of development. On the far right are the newborns—a tray of squirming, pulsating mice fetuses, really. I can't look away.
"What eats these?" I ask.
The lady shrugs. "Circle of life," she says.
Small, round plastic containers cover the tables; the snakes look poured into them—coiled up and ambivalent to their small habitats. The shapes of the containers and the variety of snakes make it feel slightly reminiscent to picking out a specialty salsa at Whole Foods. A man-bunned guy sees me taking notes. "I used to do that," he says, unaware that my notes just say "snake containers = salsa."
"I don't know what I'm doing," I confess. "This is my first time. Why do people come to these?" Besides as an escape from their capitalized Big Life Changes?
Man Bun says that a lot of people here are professional breeders, a habit that he admits is "addicting."
He points to a snake called a Spider that, when mixed with a Butter Banana, can produce the Pastel Clown, a snake valued at $900.
I ask how many snakes he owns.
I meet back up with Kinsee's family at Downtown Johnny Brownís for a post-show meal. Her son shows me the rubber snake he bought and I pretend to be interested, but it's no Pastel Clown so it's hard for me to care that much.
"How was it?" my wife asks when I get home. "Awesome!" I say, surprised at myself to realize I'm only partly joking.