Monday, December 19, 2011

EscalatorYule 2011: Stave Two.

Santa Claus should never arrive via Fire Truck.

There, I've said it. Someone had to. So often in these modern times, holiday parades and shopping mall arrivals of children's red suited redeemer fail miserably in their presentation of The Man With The Bag. Think on it - every year, this is kid's first real exposure to the figure whom most of the hype of the season is about - at least if you're between the ages of two and twelve.

How cruel is it then, to have a child's memory of the great mans appearance be associated with a vehicle affiliated with screeching sirens, burning destruction, and smoky death? It's especially cruel when, for a kid "going to see Santa" means waiting in a line at the middle of a grotesquely decorated mall, awaiting the opportunity to head up onto a ramshackle platform cobbled together amidst the "Sale Now!"signs and fluorescent "come hither" glow of kitschy/trendy stores and fast food lunch buckets.

He arrives on an emergency vehicle - and sits on a garish throne amid the plastic greenery and over sized glitter balls, all in order to sell eager parents a snapshot of their crying child on a strangers lap.

I get it, I do. Retail establishments host "Santa" in order to bring folks to the stores. It's a decent plot, but is completely lacking in class.

I hate to be one of those "When I was a kid..." guys - but...

When I was a kid - the excursion to visit St. Nick was not just a quick jaunt to the local shopping super center - it was an hours-long Santa Claus Experience.

Yes, of course the retail aspect was still there. It has been since Thomas Nast created the modern image of Father Christmas for Harper's Weekly in 1862. The mythos is grounded in money - but there used to be more to it.

I recall my sister and I heading into downtown Richmond, Virginia to see the store windows, gaily decorated and thematically arranged - usually telling a Holiday story throughout. Sometimes there were animatronic figures, occasinally a massive train set, or a simple yet classy retelling of an age old Christmas fable.

Then, we would enter those heavy doors - and the marvel would begin. As we rode the escalators between the floors of a massive department store (in my childhood, it would have been Thalheimer's - your town may have had a Macy's, Nordstrom's, Goldblatt's, Higbee's, or something equally ethno-pecuniary) - the decorations would slowly come into view. Massive toy replicas dotting each floor, rustic or vintage looking signs pointing "This Way To Santa's Wonderland - - - ->"

Santa was never on the first or second floor, making the search for his territory all the more exciting. The ride on each subsequent, seemingly thinner, older, escalator, another thrilling move in the search. Then, at the top of one of those creaky old moving staircases - we could turn a corner and "Voila!" - you had entered the realm of St. Nick!

He'd be just around a few more corners - and - after a snaking line, which caravan-ed past ornate decor; be it a snowy land of winter fairies, a path through the living plot lines of The Nutcracker, or even a forest filled with life size versions of those creepishly cute Anna Lee dolls - we entered the chamber of the almighty, reindeer wrangling gift giver.

Oh, there was a line - there was always a line - no matter how early our folks brought us to the store (I think those first kids in the queue were probably paid actors, who clocked in every day just to stand at the front of the crowd for a few hours to add to the illusion of anticipation). But, in that line - we'd hear Christmas Carols all around, maybe even be greeted by an Elf with a Candy Cane. If we hit the room at the right time, we might even catch Santa himself arriving via a giant chimney on the stage astride his chair.

All of the sudden, we were in Santa's living room!

There he was - motioning to the Ice Princess who greeted us as the kids directly ahead in line were scrambling to tell Him what they wanted. Then, it was our turn - gliding across the stage, Santa greeted us by name (methinks the tiny microphone worn by the Ice Princess had a part in this) - and gladly welcomed us into his world for a brief moment. He sat there, listening intently to our material wishes, and then - as soon as we'd arrived, a quick smile, twinkle of flashbulbs, and hearty "HO HO HO" would escort us off the stage and into the decorated egress which led us back into the department store, down the garland and holly lined escalators to the ground floor - our flight of fancy taking a halt until the big night when we'd stay up late, but still fall asleep before seeing Santa in our living room.

This was Christmas perfection. We'd met with Santa's minions, held Santa's hand - just days after watching him arrive atop his caribou enhanced sleigh (albeit one powered by hidden motors underneath) during the annual Christmas Parade!

He was real! He was here!

And he never arrived on the back of a Fire Truck.

The Dispatch From Escalatorville
Z.F. Lively - Admiral of Tinsel
King Moonracer - Ruler, Island Of Misfit Toys

EscalatorYule; Stave the Third, coming soon!

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