Rusty the Red Panda makes a Duluth connectionHalf of the reason for this trip was to attend a meeting last week between African American columnists and several Cabinet secretaries. The other half was a bigger star. No, not their boss. Even bigger: Rusty the Red Panda.
WASHINGTON — Half of the reason for this trip was to attend a meeting last week between African American columnists and Cabinet secretaries Eric Holder, Arne Duncan and Shaun Donovan, along with top Obama adviser Valerie Jarrett.
The other half was a bigger star. No, not their boss. Even bigger: Rusty the Red Panda, who became an instant celebrity in June when he escaped from his National Zoo habitat to end up a mile away in the tony Adams Morgan neighborhood.
Looking for a bamboo latte, perhaps?
“National Zoo animals enjoy snow; Rusty plans his next escape,” someone captioned a YouTube clip last week of Rusty surveying low-hanging branches to find another way out.
Unfortunately, our meeting schedule was jam-packed and by the time I hit the zoo, it was nightfall Thursday and the Asia Trail area had already closed.
“What if I bribed you?” I suggested to someone in a Giant Panda costume.
Hey, this is Washington. But no dice.
So I was resigned to see Rusty next time when, at 7 a.m. Saturday, I found out my connecting flight to Duluth had been canceled. A United gate agent graciously found a later departure and soon enough, I was on the Metro, riding the Red Line to Rusty. He and girlfriend Shama had already attracted a crowd.
“They’re from the Himalayas,” zoo volunteer Ellen Locke was explaining, saying they like cold weather and were probably wondering why Washingtonians were bundling up at a wimpy 30 degrees. Of course I had to say I was from Minnesota, if the ear flaps didn’t give it away.
“I am, too,” Locke said — and regular readers of this column know what’s coming next when I asked her where exactly:
“Duluth,” she said.
I called home to share all this and turned on my cell’s speakerphone. Both red pandas’ ears pricked up, Locke noted; maybe because it was a sound they hadn’t heard before.
Or better, because we were talking about Duluth — a place with cold weather perfectly suited for red pandas.
Hey, Rusty likes to travel. Lake Superior Zoo?