By Tim Whyte
So I spent a good portion of Monday night driving through residential neighborhoods, blasting music at concert-level volume via a pair of massive speakers mounted in the back of a pickup truck.
No one got mad at me.
And, even though I was being followed by a sheriff’s patrol vehicle all night, I didn’t get pulled over, nor was I cited for disturbing the peace.
You see, they give you the benefit of the doubt when you’re leading Santa Claus into town.
That was my role on Monday night as The Mighty Signal took its turn manning the Castaic Lions Club’s Santa Float (www.castaicsantafloat.com), visiting a variety of Castaic neighborhoods so the kids could hop up onto Santa’s lap and tell him their most heartfelt Christmas wishes.
I’d never seen the Santa Float before, and you know, it was pretty damn cool.
I had the privilege of driving the “music truck,” a beefy red pickup with off-road tires that goes in advance of the Santa Float to each of the evening’s stops, blaring Christmas music to alert residents that Santa’s arrival is imminent.
Funny. There’s no such advance warning on Christmas Eve. Santa’s much more sneaky then. Probably because he has a lot more ground to cover.
Signal owner Richard Budman rode shotgun with me and helped navigate. Richard was a vital participant, because he was buying the pizza for the Signal staffers and the Boy Scout volunteers who were serving as Santa’s helpers that night.
It occurred to me that my 17-year-old daughter Brooke would have hated this particular duty — she loves Christmas, but not the music. Humbug, Brooke!
Anyway, for me it was a hoot to tool around the neighborhoods, blasting the music and watching families emerge to meet Santa and, in many cases, to donate to the Lions’ food and eyeglass drive for the needy.
The float is a 22-foot trailer, originally modified from a boat trailer in 1989 by Jeff Preach of the Lions Club. It’s sponsored by quite a few local businesses, and the Lions have it decked out with a mini Santa’s village, complete with reindeer on the rooftops. (On one of them, a glowing red nose. It’s either Rudolph the red-nosed reindeer, or Drunky, the oft-forgotten 10th reindeer who isn’t trusted to lead the sleigh on Christmas Eve…)
Santa and Mrs. Claus ride in his sleigh mounted high on the back of the float. It looks a little precarious up there, but it held steady all night long.
We had the aforementioned sheriff’s escort (thanks, Deputy Reyes!) and a couple more chase vehicles with helpers performing various roles in support of the visit by Kris Kringle (traffic control, food donation collection, candy cane reloads, etc.)
It’s a really cool hometown kind of thing, and it’s only in Castaic. The kids ate it up, and the parents did, too.
We made a total of eight stops — and at a couple of them, mini block parties awaited.
Based on the statistics from the first stop, where dozens of kids met Santa and only about four of the really little ones cried, I set the night’s over-under at 24.5 for the number of kids who would cry when they met Santa.
Can’t be 24. Can’t be 25. Because then, if it was EXACTLY that number, you’d have a push. And no one wants that.
It seemed like a pretty reasonable betting line at the time. The sports book at the Westgate Las Vegas wouldn’t have disagreed. It’s common for some of the youngest visitors to Santa to get a little spooked by the big guy in the red suit, but once you get to be 3 or 4 years old, you’re old enough to know what’s at stake, so you make sure to have a more jovial relationship with the jolly old elf.
“Don’t piss off Santa,” they teach you in preschool, and it sticks.
So, you need to gauge what percentage of the kids fall into the “really little” category and are thus more prone to declare themselves not quite ready for this whole Santa’s lap thing. Because they just don’t know yet.
The vast majority of the kids were wholly happy to meet Santa — I noticed one little girl even brought a written list of her Christmas wishes and made sure to carefully review it with Santa, line by line, in case he needed any clarifications. Very efficient!
I suspect that kid probably followed up with an email.
Still, I knew some percentage of the tots would take one look at The Bearded One and want to leap right back into their mothers’ arms.
I know I did.
Wait. I didn’t mean that how it sounded.
Anyway. Santa, who bore a striking resemblance to Signal Managing Editor Perry Smith, wanted in on the over-under crying kid action.
He took the under.
It turned out he was right — maybe because he tried to be nicer and a little less intimidating on the subsequent stops, but also because it turned out the first stop had the biggest crowd, which skewed my odds-making efforts.
Final tally: just 11 kids with the waterworks, out of hundreds who visited. It was a successful night for St. Nick.
But still. I’m wondering if Santa fudged the numbers, tilting the odds toward the “under” like a dirty NBA referee.
Wouldn’t THAT be a major Christmas scandal?
Tim Whyte is editor of The Signal. His column appears Sundays.