Think Santa's the only person who has to work Christmas? THINK AGAIN! A bevy of Portlanders work the holidays on a regular basis—and hey! As it turns out, it's not so bad. What follows are interviews with just a few of these hard-working holiday employees who make Christmas a bit brighter for the rest of us.
Betsy May Storey is the manager at Beulahland, where she's pulled more than one shift behind the bar on Christmas Day. (But be advised, drunkies: This year Beulahland will NOT be open on Christmas.) ALISON HALLETT
MERCURY: How many times have you worked on Christmas?
BETSY MAY STOREY: Probably like three years, but we close on Christmas now. For a while it was on a volunteer basis—if we wanted to work we could.
Why would you volunteer to work Christmas?
Because it was fun. It's like the day of the misfits—it's everyone who doesn't have a place to go. It's more of a party vibe than a regular day at the bar. And the money.
Is the money significantly better?
Yeah. It's Christmas! You're buying people drinks a lot more, they're tipping more.
What's the best thing about working Christmas?
It's that family vibe... you reinvent your own family holiday in a place where's there's booze and cigarettes. It's also the people you work with on that day, even more than the customers. It's like you're in the shit together—you just have to put your head down and get it done. You work in a bar long enough and those are the people you want to spend the holiday with anyway—the people you work with every day, and stay up 'til four in the morning with four nights a week.
What's the worst thing?
Getting your ass handed to you unexpectedly. Being so busy and being completely unprepared for it. I've worked Thanksgivings, I've worked Christmases, and sometimes they're really slow and sometimes it's madness. It's completely unpredictable.
What's your best story from working Christmas?
It was probably like two or three years ago. My coworker and I volunteered to work, but it was just the two of us—there was no cook, no barback. We had our head cook make us up three casseroles we could heat up and serve. We opened at 4 pm, and it turned out we were the only place that was open in like a 7- to 10-mile radius. And suddenly it was completely slammed... the place was completely full, and it just kind of digressed to such a point that there was no way for us to even help anyone. But everyone was having fun watching us struggle. There was one point, it was about 7 pm and we were gonna be open until 4 am, and [my coworker] just looked at me and said, "We're fucked." And she grabbed these two pint glasses and just slammed them on the floor... and there was a lady who was a regular, and this little shard of glass went into her eye. And suddenly our joke wasn't funny anymore. But she stayed! She didn't leave! She said it was the best show in town. We bought her so many drinks.
Surprise! Crime never takes a day off—not even Christmas. And that means some cops don't get the day off, either. And after 18 years with the Portland Police Bureau, Sergeant Pete Simpson has worked his share of holiday shifts. Usually, he says, he finds something to enjoy about it. DENIS C. THERIAULT
MERCURY: What are the best and worst things about working on Christmas?
PETE SIMPSON: The best thing is that people start out the day a little friendlier than usual. They wave and say "Merry Christmas." The worst thing is having to respond to the family fight in the afternoon—after everyone has had too much eggnog.
What kind of spread, if any, gets put out at the precincts for officers who work Christmas?
The precincts have potlucks for all three shifts, so anyone who has to work gets to enjoy a holiday meal. Lots of officers are masters with a Traeger grill—so usually the food is pretty darn good. In years past, the police union has paid for officers' meals at predetermined restaurants in each precinct. Most of the shift is spent out on the road as usual.
How do you navigate family obligations/parties while on the shift?
Navigating family obligations depends on the shift. Some morning-shift officers will get the family up early and celebrate Christmas before work. Graveyard officers will get home, celebrate Christmas, and then go to bed. Generally families work around your schedule, which often makes for a unique, non-traditional Christmas Eve or Day.
What's the weirdest thing that ever happened to you during a Christmas shift?
My first Christmas as a police officer was 1993. I was a shiny, brand new policeman, and my partner and I went to Emanuel Hospital on an assault call. We talked to female victim who told us a long story about how she and her boyfriend were at a bar drinking and playing video poker. She went home and he followed shortly after, continuing the fight. He started beating her and she fell down under the tree, where she noticed the present she got him for Christmas: a brand new pocketknife. She grabbed the knife and stabbed him in the side, then escaped out of the trailer and called for a ride to the hospital.
We left the hospital and raced out to the trailer in deep St. Johns, where we found the boyfriend on the floor, knife in his side, barely alive. He went to the hospital, then to jail. She was treated and released without charges.
It made for an interesting story to share with my friends and family.
HOMELESS SHELTER EMPLOYEE
Daniel Roby has been working holiday shifts at various homeless shelters across Portland for six years. Now an outreach coordinator at West Burnside's Portland Rescue Mission, Roby looks forward to Christmas with his second family each year. ALEX ZIELINSKI
MERCURY: How did you end up working on Christmas?
DANIEL ROBY: I realized that it's more than just a building for them to be in—it's being a second family for these people. The emotional need of these guests really keeps me coming back.
How is working on Christmas different than any other day at the rescue mission?
We really amp up the resources to make the holiday special. Instead of a buffet, we have restaurant-style serving, decorations, and movies. It's very merry!
Are the residents treated any differently than those who are just there for the night?
Yes, a little. Our 40 residents are given presents and a more long-term feeling of home than those who just stop by. We also know them a lot more than the others, so it's our job to fill that slot of family.
What's the best part about working on Christmas?
It's important for our guests that they're with someone that they know—that cares about them. I can tell it means something more to them, and that's what matters.
And the hardest part?
The reality. Since I see these folks all year round, I know their stories and why they're removed from society. It's one thing to spend a day with them, but having a long-term relationship with these people makes you realize that you can't entirely make up for the things they've lost.
Any special memories from Christmases past?
We're one of the only places open on Christmas Eve. I love every year when we have all of our guests in the warm chapel relaxing and watching It's a Wonderful Life when everything else is closed.
Holly Morgan knows a lot of folks. As Holly Hotbox, she's been the backbeat of Portland band Thee Headliners for well over a decade. Holly's also been a cab driver for Radio Cab for almost seven years, so she knows a thing or two about working on the same day as Santa. COURTNEY FERGUSON
MERCURY: How do cabbies feel about working on the holidays?
HOLLY MORGAN: Most people absolutely don't want to work it—they want to spend it with their families. I started a tradition working on the holidays in Seattle, because my mom passed away on Christmas. My brother and I went to the Comet Tavern, and we got shithoused. So after that, we would get drunk or work. For me Christmas was a moot point—but I've tried rebuilding it over the years.
Are you working on Christmas this year?
Not this year. I am going to work on Christmas Eve, but I have [worked] on it a bunch. It's really lucrative. There are fewer cabs so more work for the drivers who are working. Massive pity tips. People will gift you things. They'll run inside and bring you food, like plates with turkey dinner.
Any drunken Santas in your cab?
[Laughs.] Lots! Especially during SantaCon. Last night, I picked up a gaggle of Santa's lady elves and they were wasted. I had to cover my ears 'cause of the shrieking. I don't know if Santa would approve. Life is just a comedy record that just spins around and around.
Any sexy cab time?
When you pick up drunken people, some of 'em will hit on you. So I say, "No honey, I'm just here to drive you." But one time, I let myself slip. This guy was really cute and it was his birthday, so I made out with him for a minute in the front seat. He was really cute.
MOVIE THEATER EMPLOYEE
When he isn't playing Captain Kirk in Trek in the Park, Adam Rosko works at the Roseway Theater. Hey, guess what two of the busiest days of the year are for movie theaters? Thanksgiving and Christmas. ERIK HENRIKSEN
MERCURY: How long have you been working at the Roseway?
ADAM ROSKO: For a little over a year. This'll be my second holiday season here.
Do you like working on Christmas?
As long as I'm able to spend time with people at some point, I don't mind it so much.
What's the best part about it?
We get a nice holiday pay bump, so there's an added incentive. Also, customers are friendlier than usual. They understand the situation.
Okay, so what's the shittiest part about working on Christmas?
Aside from working on Christmas? I guess it would be explaining to the people close to me I have to work on Christmas.
Do your loved ones resent you for it?
I have to please not only my family, but my girlfriend's family, so there's a little more juggling with time when there's a job thrown in to boot. Most of the time it's cool, but sometimes there are relatives disappointed because, of all the family I interact with on the holidays, I'm the only one who has to work.
Do a lot of families come in on Christmas? And is it obvious these families are miserable and going to films in order to avoid speaking with each other?
Earlier in the day it's usually the family members that are ordered to get the hell out of the way of the other family members [who are] making the holiday dinner. Later, it's anyone and everyone with either a turkey- or ham-stuffed glow, trying to decide if popcorn is a good idea.
Steph Stricklen has worked in TV for 13 years, now anchoring KGW's Live @ 7 newscast. She is an international superstar. SARAH MIRK
MERCURY: Who's stuck at the TV station working Christmas every year?
STEPH STRICKLEN: In this business, someone's always gotta work Christmas. You know when you get into it that you're working every holiday. Move to a larger city, a larger market, and the cycle repeats itself. You're back at the bottom of the totem pole. Our main anchors may not be working Christmas, but they worked many, many holidays when they started out. There are also people at KGW who will volunteer to work to get the opportunity to show off what they can do.
What does the station feel like on Christmas Eve?
Like a ghost town. The parking lot's wide open, the lights are off at the front desk, you walk down a back hallway to the newsroom where there are, you know, three of you. KGW is awesome, because they'll try to produce specials so more people can take time off. You'll see stations pick up all sorts of feel-good stories. They'll take them, wrap them all up into a beautiful 30-minute special and have a anchor record intros to those stories, put a bow on it, and just put 'em in the can, ready for Christmas. People like watching those feel-good specials on Christmas, anyway.
Is the mood in the station really dreary, or kind of fun?
You'll sing your sob story, "Oh, I'm going into work!" but our station caters a really nice meal, turkey with trimmings. It's all hot, brought in on those trays with flames underneath. Reporters are used to eating fast food and cold pizza, so it's such a treat. The staff just descends on the food. The next day, there's always that one dish that no one liked still sitting there, all crusty in the conference room.
So do you have to work Christmas this year? Or are you a big enough deal that you get it off?
I got off both Christmas and Thanksgiving this year! But I think I just got lucky. Ask me next year. If I get it off next year, maybe I'll have arrived.
Olivia is a dancer and bartender at the Casa Diablo vegan strip club on Highway 30. She'll be dancing from 11 am-9 pm on Christmas Day. MARJORIE SKINNER
MERCURY: How many Christmases have you worked here?
OLIVIA: I've worked here for just over a year, so this is the first time.
What did you do prior to joining the Casa Diablo team? Did you ever have to work Christmas?
I was a general contractor. About two years ago I lost my business, so I started dancing and bartending (which is a really fun job that I'm very thankful for). I worked Christmas many times for many years.
Is working at a strip club on Christmas typically busy?
It really depends, and differs year to year. Sometimes it's only the regulars, and sometimes there will be big parties and people coming in with their families. Christmas Eve will probably be really busy, because it's a Saturday.
Are you guys planning anything special?
[We've been too busy to do] any specials this year. However, we did just add the acrobatic aerial silks. Not sure if the dancer who uses those is working on Christmas... but those are really cool.
How about you? Wearing anything special?
Yeah, I'll probably wear a Santa hat and get a giant candy cane or something! If it wasn't a vegan club I would probably bake Christmas cookies and give them to the customers.
You could always make vegan cookies.
Yeah, vegan cookies. I could! I'm not vegan, but I was pleasantly surprised that the food here is really good.
Dancing to Christmas music: yes or no?
Yes! I will absolutely dance to Christmas music—especially the old jazz standards, like "White Christmas."
Is it rough not seeing your family or friends?
I typically don't have any issue with working holidays. I grew up in a family where my dad always worked on Christmas because it paid double. And I'll be going to a family dinner on Christmas Eve, and another get-together later on Christmas Day. We work it in!
Legendary Krampus is a loveable horned monster that accompanies Santa Claus on his Christmas Eve sojourn, eating and torturing all the bad little children for whom Santa brought no presents. SUZETTE SMITH
MERCURY: What's the best thing about working on Christmas?
KRAMPUS: Umm... Eating the children. Yeah, definitely. Eating their little fatty bits. Children are really fat this time of year.
What's the worst thing about working on Christmas?
Ugh. Santa and his procrastination. You know, we started out as Birthday Man and Krampus, but he procrastinates so bad. I find him by his big sleigh bed, crying his little sparkling eyes out. "Oh, Krampus, how am I going to deliver all these presents? Oh, Krampus, there are so many airplanes." There have been airplanes for decades, dude. I end up spending all my time helping him and have exactly no time to focus on my own preparations.
You have pre-Christmas preparations?
Sure. I sharpen my teeth. I know it sounds easy but I have to sharpen them a lot. Kids are getting tough. Har har. No, I'm serious. Kids are eating too much gluten. Fiber is almost a myth now.
Um. You're from Alpine Country. Where is that?
Germany, Italy... any place with an Alp, really. Now, however, with the advent of the internet, I'm able to go almost anywhere and eat people's children. I'm taking meetings right now for a movie where some teenagers go to a Krampus website and then I come to their house and eat them. It's going to be a trilogy, I think.
I think it would work better as a game show. These blood-sucking LA types aren't hip to my jive. They want me to sacrifice all my principles. I've been Krampus for centuries. Now I'm going to fall in love with Anne Hathaway? I think not.
So, will we be seeing you in Portland this year?
Oh, Portland kids are cool. They're into nature. I'm into nature. Plus a lot of 'em are bilingual. I know pretty much every language because bad kids like to barter. I see a lot of myself in Portland. I was thinking of investing in an eco-loft for the off-season. Maybe I could shoot my TV show here or do a comedy thing like be on Portlandia. Hey, I'm Krampus. I'm trying to keep my options open.
Do you have any "worst Christmas" stories?
Oh, pretty much everything infuriates me. I'm Krampus.
Do you have any "best Christmas" stories?
There was the time I ate the Lindbergh baby. Man. That was one bad baby.