The Aquarium In The Mall


Me in the middle of a circular fish tank at the Aquarium.

“Do you want to go to the Aquarium in Schenectady?” Jackie texted me.  “We can feed the stingrays.”  Definitely! I wrote back. We made quick plans for the weekend, meeting up in the parking lot of the Saratoga Mall where we both worked together over 20 years ago.

From there we drove 45 minutes to the Rotterdam Mall, home of the VIA Aquarium.  The mall felt dead, but the Aquarium was very much alive. I don’t think it’s big enough for most people to spend two hours in, but Jackie and I did.

First thing we did was make our way to the touch pool to feed and pet the stingrays. We paid extra for this opportunity and each received a small paper cup with raw fish cut into strips.  The woman who gave them to us told us to hold the fish between our fingers and put our flat hand into the pool up to our elbows.

I didn’t know what to expect, but within moments of reaching my hand into the water, a silvery gray stingray swam up to me and pressed its wide mouth to my hand.  It was a soft gentle suction that wrapped around my hand and pulled the piece of fish into its mouth.  Unlike the chickens who peck at my hand or the donkeys who grab a treat with their teeth, neither making much physical contact, the stingray’s soft mouth was like a silky handshake.

I let my hand trail along the stingray’s back and tail as it swam away.

Later, because of my experience with the stingray, when we walked through the plexiglass tunnel and watched the three-foot-long sharks swim over our heads, I had a sense that I knew what their skin felt like. I guess because their skin looks so much like the stingray’s skin. And that changed how I experienced the sharks. Because now I wasn’t just about seeing and reading about them, I had a new sense to add to the equation.

I think of places like the VIA Aquarium as the sideshow.  The Main event being a place like the Boston Aquarium, that Jon and visited a few years ago. And as much as I love a big expensive flashy aquarium, I also loved this small and quirky aquarium.

Maybe because I didn’t expect much from an aquarium that’s located in a dying mall and so was pleasantly surprised.  But it’s also that these sideshows, whether an aquarium, museum, or park are always less crowded and more intimate. There’s no reason to rush through because there’s less to see, so you can take more time with what is there.

I have no doubt that Jackie and I spent more time watching the lobsters (there were three different kinds) and took more time to find the snails in each tank than we would have if there had been more fish tanks or an octopus at the aquarium

We were both hungry after looking at all the fish, so we walked through the mostly deserted mall to the very spare food court and had surprisingly good falafel.

Sometimes less really is more.

Jackie wrote about our trip to the Aquarium and posted some really nice pictures on her blog creativejourneywoman.  Just click here to see it.


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