Einstein is pacing on a muddy driveway in Bucks County, occasionally stealing kisses from a tall woman, but mostly looking like he’s got somewhere better to be. The clock is ticking on his 15 minutes of fame, and everyone wants a piece: car dealerships, local bars that made drinks in his honor, and even universities that hire him so stressed-out students can pet him before finals. Then there are the nativity scenes. Einstein can’t keep track of all the wise men he’s known, if a camel could keep track of things.
Einstein is a dromedary camel, a “one-humper,” his owner says. His kind is native to Egypt, Africa, and Australia, places where winter requires, at the most, a cardigan. But Einstein, who was born in Florida 11 years ago, took a brief journey in the snow on Nov. 15 after his trailer got stuck on Route 309 north in Souderton, Montgomery County. He was on his way to a Jewish Federation of Greater Philadelphia event at the Kimmel Center. People took pictures, the internet swept them up into its own bizarre storm, and while Einstein never made it to Philly, he made it to something.
“I never knew what a meme was before this,” says Charis Matey, owner of Peaceable Kingdom Petting Zoo in Perkasie. "He’s got about 20 of them now, and one of them is with the Flyers mascot. Somebody posted the two of them together.”
Matey, sporting fresh scratches on her neck from a reluctant groundhog, flashes a dinged-up flip phone to prove she doesn’t know what a meme is.
For $1,000, Einstein will show up for two hours. He’s done company picnics, school functions, fall festivals. Kiss a pig? Why not a camel? People usually pose for selfies or just gawk at the absurdity of a camel standing amid a sea of new Fiat 500s in a dealership lot. Megan Hudock and Matey are using this moment to ask for help because Einstein needs new wheels, something far larger than a Fiat, preferably with four-wheel drive, unlike their van. They’ve created a “Team Camel Tow” GoFundMe page that’s asking for $35,000. The Jewish Federation was gracious, she says, but Einstein has never missed a performance before and it bothers her.
“It doesn’t have to be new, we just need different,” Matey says.
“Some people thought he was abandoned. He wasn’t. Some people thought he was towing my truck. He wasn’t towing my truck. Some people thought he was walking to the Kimmel Center. I could have rode him there and got there faster in that weather,” she says.
When it comes to nativity scenes, most churches and religious groups opt for the smaller critters, the usual donkeys and cows and a chicken or two. Matey has all of those animals. But camels are the real deal, the ride of choice for the three kings who came bearing gifts, though Matey says it’s not so wise for these actors to ride them. Einstein weighs in at 1,500 and eats “pounds” of grain and all the hay he wants.
“It’s scary for the people and scary for the animals. They get spooked,” she says.
Hudock, Einstein’s handler, said she went to school for business, but her passion was animals, so she made a career U-turn back to what she loved. Giraffes are her favorite, she said, but camels are “like one step away, and Peaceable Kingdom has two other ones, Percy and Ding-a-Ling.
“They’re very inquisitive. We have a lot of cattle and they’re often just content to sit in the field and chew their hay. These guys are interested. They want to see what’s going on. They want to be part of the action,” Hudock says of camels.
Both women want Einstein to be part of the action, too, before he fades back into relative camel anonymity like his two zoo mates. They mentioned shirts and Christmas ornaments and Einstein replacing the groundhog as a Pennsylvania mascot. They’re wondering if Gritty can saddle up.
“I really want to contact the Flyers,” Matey says.
On Dec. 22, Einstein will join the Bethlehem Mounted Patrol at their annual holiday fund-raiser.
“They’re giving him an award for bravery,” Matey says.