Santa is kind of like FedEx

Thing 2 (who’s 7 now) is having doubts and asked me the other day whether Santa Claus is real.

I asked him what he thought, and he said he wasn’t sure but that he didn’t see any way that one man on one sleigh could deliver all those toys to every kid on the planet in just one night.

I said that’s not how it works.

I explained that Santa used to deliver all those toys personally. back in the old days, when the population was a lot smaller, but that he uses a lot of helpers these days.

Santa is kind of like FedEx, I said. One truck couldn’t possibly deliver all those packages to all those homes and businesses in all those countries in one 24-hour period, I said, but a fleet of trucks and planes certainly could.

I said Santa runs the operation. He’s like the CEO. The toys are made by the toy companies, not elves. These days, the elves run the warehouse and oversee distribution.

The toys are delivered first to Santa’s headquarters at the North Pole and then, on Christmas Eve, they’re flown on big cargo planes from the central warehouse to regional distribution centers all over the world and then to local distribution centers, where the toys are placed on trucks and driven to people’s homes.

That’s a lot easier and a lot more efficient than trying to pile all those toys on just one sleigh, I said. The delivery truck drivers drink the milk and cookies and send any leftovers to the North Pole, where Santa shares them with the elves.

Thing 2 thought about it for a moment or two. “I don’t get it,” he said.

That’s OK, I said.

Image
In this 1927 photo, Santa Claus (left) receives his pilot’s license from William P. MacCracken (seated) and Clarence M. Young of the U.S. Department of Commerce. PHOTO: Library of Congress

My cousin’s make-believe hog farm

Drawing of a Hampshire hog

My mom’s cousin died a couple of weeks ago. He was my cousin, too, but he and Mom grew up together and were about the same age, so I think of him as her cousin. I didn’t know him well, but I always liked him, and I’ll never forget the story he told about the time he threatened to open a hog farm and slaughterhouse in his backyard

Morris lived out in the country. I don’t know how many acres he had, but it was a big backyard, big enough for a hog farm, anyway.

Some developers bought the land behind his and applied for a change in zoning so they could put up a subdivision. The county said OK, as long as the developers built a berm around the subdivision and planted enough trees to give the surrounding homeowners some privacy.

The developers built the berm but planted only a few trees and called it a day.

Morris didn’t like that. He complained to the county and the developers, but they didn’t do anything. The developers said they’d followed the letter of the agreement with the county and they weren’t going to waste time or money planting any more trees.

Morris didn’t think that was right.

He lived out in the country, on land that was zoned agricultural, so he went to the county and pulled a permit to build a hog farm. Then, he paid a guy to make him a big sign that he mounted on his side of the berm, positioned so everyone who came to look at lots in the subdivision could see it:

Coming soon: HOG FARM and world-class SLAUGHTERHOUSE!

Ands he listed his phone number.

Pretty soon, the developers called.

You’re bluffing, the developers said.

I just pulled the permits, my cousin said. They’re on file at the courthouse, if you want to check.

You’re not really going to build a slaughterhouse, the developers said.

Sure I am, my cousin said. It’s gonna be great, too. State of the art. Gonna have a few hundred hogs, make a lot of money.

Pretty soon, the developers sent a crew around to cover every square in of that berm with trees, and Morris pulled down the sign.

The Accidental Tourist: A literary guide to business travel, basically

It’s been a few years since my college girlfriend loaned me her copy of The Accidental Tourist, but it’s a book that’s stayed with me — not because of its theme of embracing life and moving outside your comfort zone but because of what it taught me about how to pack a suitcase.

Anne Tyler’s book is about a guy named Macon (William Hurt in the movie), who writes passport-sized travel books for “accidental tourists” — business travelers, mostly, who have to leave home and want to make the trip as painless as possible.

Of course, the point of the book isn’t to give travel advice. Being an accidental tourist is really just a metaphor for Macon, who divorces his wife (Kathleen Turner in the movie) after their son is killed, only to get involved with a free spirit (Geena Davis), who brings him back into the world.

I think that’s what it’s about, anyway. I don’t really remember much about the plot. What I remember, every time I take a business trip, is the travel advice:

  • “Bring only what fits in a carry-on bag. Checking your luggage is asking for trouble.” This is absolutely true. Since I read the novel, I think I’ve checked luggage only a couple of times, and both times, it got lost.
  • “One suit is plenty…. It should be a medium gray. Gray not only hides the dirt; it’s handy for sudden funerals and other formal events. At the same time, it isn’t too somber for  everyday.” One suit (I go with dark gray), a couple of shirts and a couple of ties, and you’ll be fine. I’m told it’s different for women, that they’re expected to wear something different every day, but I’m a guy, so no one expects anything of me, fashion-wise. One suit is plenty, and only the shoes you’re wearing.
  • “Always bring a book, as protection against strangers.” I used to bring a book. Now I carry a tablet. Either way, it’s good advice and worth following, even though it works only about 50% of the time. I don’t think I’m a rude traveler. I’ll smile, say excuse me and engage in small talk while we’re getting settled in, usually something like, “Boy, they don’t give us a lot of room, do they?” but then I’m done. I’d rather read. It’s amazing, though, the number of people who don’t notice or deliberately ignore basic social cues such as their seatmate’s refusal to make eye contact or his responding to their questions and comments with a simple, “Uh-huh.”

You might disagree and think I’m a jerk because I don’t want to talk for a couple of hours to the random person wedged into the seat next to mine, and that’s fine, you might be right, but trust me on taking only one carry-on bag.