Wankie the Elephant and the President

May 27


Roger Wright

Roger Wright

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Nobody Told Him . . .Connecting President Bush with Wankie the Elephant


The wind blows where it chooses,Wankie the Elephant and the President Articles and you hear the sound of it, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes.

John 3:8

I know a place

Ain’t nobody cryin

Ain’t nobody worried

Al Bell with Mavis Staples

“I’ll Take You There”

As the hulking giant moving van lumbered east on Fullerton Parkway in Chicago; a tiny Cessna 150 plane, feather light and fragile, took off from an airport near Lancaster Pennsylvania and headed south towards Washington DC..

President Bush, cocooned in a phalanx of black SUV’s snaking their way out of the District towards Patuxent Wildlife Preserve in Maryland, was thinking about what he’d have for lunch.

So was Wankie, the last remaining African Elephant at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

Perched at the wheel of the giant moving van that puffed and snorted slowly past the gracious old city row houses lining the Boulevard just west of the Zoo; the Driver downshifts and rolls to a stop at Clark street at the exact same moment that the flight instructor in that tiny Cessna looks out his window to the right and sees a mammoth Black Hawk Helicopter loom so close that it’s as if the bright blue spring morning had turned pitch black with just a snap of the fingers.

And in that snap of the fingers, a long buried memory of a bass line in a song springs into the flight instructor’s mind. He looks across the student pilot as the roar of two F-16 Fighter jets—even scarier than the Black Hawk zoom up about a Cessna wingspan on the left. His mind goes blank except for the bass line of the buried song. The flight instructor freezes. Shuts down cold. Except for that bass line.

As the student pilot instinctively takes full command of the tin can airplane now being guided by the Black Hawk and the all engulfing roar of the Fighter jets,

the driver in the truck cab rolling slowly down Fullerton Parkway snaps on the radio and there is the same bass line filling the head of the frozen flight instructor.

A bass line set down long ago in Muscle Shoals Alabama by a man named David Hood under the watchful eye of Roebuck “Pops” Staples and his daughter Mavis—with words that don’t even begin to trace perhaps the finest seconds of bass guitar in rock and roll soul music:

Oh. . . .mmm

I know a place

Ain’t nobody cryin

Ain’t nobody worried

Ain’t no smiling faces

Mmm no no

Help me, c’mon, c’mon

Somebody help me now

I’ll take you there

In the cab of the truck, the driver lurches the rolling house of a vehicle forward across Clark Street in time to the song. In the Cessna, the Flight Instructor hears the bass line and just stares straight ahead—book ended by the Black Hawk death machine on one side and the apocalyptic roar of the F-16’s on the other.

Back on the ground in Maryland, behind the tinted window of the lead car in the President’s convoy; a man who’s name is unknown by every single one of the 23 people in that convoy—including the president-- adjusts the mirrored sunglasses up on his nose, runs a hand over his blond crew cut, and reaches over to turn down the radio just as Mavis Staples sings:

I know a place

Ain’t nobody cryin

A beeping sound heard only by him prompts him to take a gun metal grey cell phone the size of a credit card out of his pocket and hold it to his ear. He listens for 5 seconds and then says “No.” into the piece of cold steel.

President Bush thinks that a pulled pork sandwich would go down fine. Especially with a tall cold one. Then he shrugs to himself and thinks---he’ll probably get tuna fish. Right after the bike ride. It’s best that way. But damn-- for some extra spicy barbecue. . . .

Back n the truck in Chicago, the driver pulls into Lincoln Park Zoo’s unmarked service road a couple hundred yards from the gleaming bright shore of Lake Michigan.

While President Bush thinks about barbecue, Wankie, the African elephant – the intended cargo of that moving van---is just starting to eat. It will be her last meal at the Lincoln Park Zoo.

A quick glance at President Bush’s face, framed in the supple black leather behind the tinted windows of the armor plated, black, SUV; and one can see the animated facial tic delight that comes from just the thought of that tangy Texas barbeque.

Wankie doesn’t have to anticipate anything. Chowing down happily on bushels of a leafy green looking concoction that it would take a scientist to explain; Wankie is surrounded by another small army of caretakers. Unlike the President’s army---scanning the roadsides for wayward democrats, terrorists, liberal arts graduates and all other forms of the evil woven into the fabric of our world: Wankie’s small army of caretakers are looking straight at her. And they are all looking worried because n the bustle and clatter of the million movements that go into running the zoo; everyone seems half a step behind.

Kevin Bell, the man who runs the zoo---a lifer in the business who never really wanted to do anything else, stands in the shadow of the big exhibit, a six inch sheaf of lab results clutched in one hand, the other hand rubbing his temples –Kevin Bell can feel it. Like a wind that blows where it chooses. A life force wrapped in eons of elephant time that drives the giant creature to hide its vulnerabilities. Elephant’s never look sick or weak. That’s how they protected themselves back on the African plains. They never showed a weakness.

Right up until the moment that the elephant drops.

So while the elephant is still standing upright---the elephant looks great. Wankie looks fine. But Kevin Bell and every single other member of that small army of care knows about her lung problems. Just like they knows the risks of treatment. So it’s Kevin Bell’s signature that’s on the order for that moving van to take Wankie to a zoo in Utah. And he’s ready to accept that. But as he does--a question so loud in his brain that it rings like a steel hammer on the bars of the exhibit “What’s best for the animal? What’s best for the animal, what’s best for the animal?” A question ringing out like that bass line now coming from the trainers’s room to the side of the exhibit

I know a place

Ain’t nobody cryin

Kevin Bell, actually understanding the word accountability, keeps repeating that question to himself. He doesn’t realize that he is whispering the question to himself out loud as if by asking the question enough times, he could somehow physically will the answer to appear.

The air brakes of the semi truck whoosh and groan outside the service entrance. Off to the side, facing some bushes and unseen by the truck driver-- a woman is hurriedly putting her TV make up on, getting ready for tonight’s news report. Rae Lynn Henderson, a name she’s grown comfortable with over the past 2 years, had just been text messaged from her boss back at the Colorado Springs based PDA (People Defending Animals) with the order that if Kevin Bell ignored one more e-mail, it would be alright for Rae Lynn to lie down in front of the semi truck that was taking the elephant out tonight.

As Rae Lynn checked her face, the Secretary of Defense and the Vice President, are joined in a secure conference call by a man who’s name never appeared in any news stories, now sitting in a comfortable book filled room of a mansion in Arlington Virginia, ,and by the blond crew cut, mirrored sunglasses passenger in the lead car of President Bush’s caravan. This quiet collection of leaders were being briefed that the tiny Cessna had been guided in safely by the military air power. There was no threat. It had all been a false alarm. A flight instructor innocently wandering off his path inside restricted airspace. All systems go.

A moment of silence on the call, and the question was asked: “Do we apprise him of the status?” And the man with no name answered calmly from his quiet den in Virginia “I don’t believe that will be necessary.”

And as the call clicked off; the doors of the giant moving van in Chicago swung open and that other small army of caretakers circled the ramp to watch Wankie take one more walk up inside the truck. And here is what the onlooker would have seen if they had watched. Every single one of those people got to tell the elephant that they loved her. Some of them said it out loud, some to themselves, some said it on their faces with their tears. They told her.

And as that love poured out of those people in this imperfect blessed and full of grace world we all live in, another stroller with a wide eyed child came thru the front entrance of the Lincoln Park Zoo for the very first time. A radio somewhere off in the distance plays that bass line

I know a place

Ain’t nobody cryin. . . .

A bass line. Perhaps the finest in all of rock and roll soul.

Later that very same night. In the cab of the truck with the windows open on a clear, starlit Nebraska highway. The driver feels the load shift. And just as the load shifts he too hears the bass line

I know a place

Ain’t nobody cryin. . . .

Like a wind that that blows where it chooses. You hear the sound of it.. Wankie the Elephant goes down.


And they told her that.