Hey Santa! I owe you one

Editor’s note: The following is an encore presentation of this blog, which originally was written on Christmas Eve in 2010. BizTimes Media and the author wish all of our readers a very merry Christmas and a peaceful and prosperous New Year. We will return with a new edition of the BizTimes Daily on Tuesday, Dec. 27.

Not to be confused with THE Christmas story, I would like to conclude the year with a Christmas story. And a lighthearted, silly little one at that, as a holiday diversion from the gritty issues of the day that are typically tackled in this space.

I’d like to go back to the day before Christmas Eve in 1997. As per usual, the December Wisconsin ground was covered with snow. And as per usual, I had put off a lot of Christmas errands that should have been done earlier in the month.

Perhaps the most important of those errands was taking our two sons, Justin (age 7 at the time) and James (age 4) to see Santa Claus. Now, it was down to crunch time. We’re on the clock.

So, I’m driving down Layton Avenue toward Southridge Mall, where I’m told Santa awaits. I’m regretting it the entire time, as I know the line to see Ol’ Saint Nick is going to be long with lots of other children whose parents are procrastinators. The thought of standing in that line for an hour or two is dampening my holiday mojo. But you’ve got to do what you’ve got do…

We’re stopped at the traffic light, about five blocks from the mall, when Justin suddenly yells from the back seat, "Dad, there’s Santa!" His brother sits up straight in his car seat and screams, "Santa!" The boys are giggling with glee.

Confused, I look out the window, and what do I see? Not eight tiny reindeer, mind you.

Nope, I see Santa. He’s standing in a vacant parking lot full of Christmas trees for sale.

Santa is commiserating with the guys at the Christmas tree stand.

The light is still red. My mind wanders. "Hey, wait a minute," my inner voice tells myself. "The boys think that guy is Santa. The guy is dressed in a Santa suit, replete with the beard. I’ll bet if I just pull in there, the guy will cowboy up and become Santa indeed. The boys will tell him what they want for Christmas. No lines. No mall. We’ll be outta here in a couple minutes. Done deal."

Time to call an audible. I pull into the parking lot. I unbuckle the boys. They make a bee line for the guy in the Santa suit. The guy is confused at first. As I get closer, I give him a wink.

The guy bends down to speak to my fellas at their level. As he does, I see he’s got a flask in one hand, a cigar in the other and a half-opened package of beef jerky is hanging out of one of his pockets. The guy reeks like a toxic musk of brandy, cigar smoke and Lord knows what else. And his suit could use a trip to the dry cleaners.

But for this moment, he is Santa. And he asks all the right questions. He even says, "Ho! Ho! Ho!"

Moments later, my boys are back in the minivan, and I’m driving away with a smug smile on my face. And the beauty of it is I’m driving home, not to the mall. A few minutes later, we return home, and my wife, Kristi, asks, "Well, did the boys see Santa?"

"Oh they sure did!" I reply.

They sure did. And to this day, I owe Santa one.

Merry Christmas to all and to all a good-night!

Steve Jagler is executive editor of BizTimes Milwaukee.

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