I thought about all the wrapping paper flying all over in the houses that I passed coming in to work just before 7 a.m. on Sunday, Christmas Day.
On the one day that this country comes closest to standing still, I’m going to work. And I’m not alone. Since I had to work, I decided to catch up with a whole bunch of other people who were at work, too, and give them a chance to talk a bit about the whole experience, or, at the very least, break up the boredom.
For me — and several others I talked to Sunday — this was a matter of volunteering for a shift. After all, someone’s got to do it. Reporting is becoming even more of an around-the-clock job than it used to be. You never know what’ll happen, and when, but people want the constant updates. Unlike several reporters here, I’m not newly married and I don’t have young children, so I thought I’d help others enjoy the day.
As the only reporter on duty, the day began with some “cop checks,” looking into things that had happened since our overnight reporter left earlier Sunday morning. Sure enough, we had a two-alarm fire early Sunday morning at Applecroft Apartments on 19th Street, and so I put in a call to Lawrence-Douglas County Fire Medical for more information.
And in so doing, I encountered one of the first few folks also working that day. Joe Hoelscher, a division chief, was actually working past his shift to create the report on the fire.
“It’s what it is,” he said of working the holiday. “Somebody’s got to do it.”
He was very helpful — and even called me back later when he determined a damage estimate for the fire, and said was heading home around 8 a.m. or so.
“My kids are in their 20s,” he said. “And they’re at home sleeping.”
I told Hoelscher what I was planning for this story, and he sounded intrigued. He suggested I go beyond the usual sorts of folks who get mentioned in these kinds of stories, like law enforcement, firefighters and health care workers, even though they certainly deserve credit. I thought that was a good idea.
I hung up and continued to make the telephone rounds, talking to our usual cadre of dispatchers who tell us if anything major has happened. Nothing to report in Franklin County, though dispatcher Janet Mills told me she’d been working as a dispatcher for nine years and worked on Christmas on about half of them. Nothing special goes into who works on the holiday, she said. If it’s not your day off, then you work.
“I don’t mind working at all,” she said. “I get off at 3 so I can still sit down with my family.”
I’d read that many Starbucks were open on Christmas — but not the one near the Journal-World offices at Seventh and Massachusetts.
“We are taking Christmas Day off,” a sign read. “Visit one of these nearby Starbucks open on the holiday.”
And then it had a blank with a big “N/A” written on it. I could hardly blame them, though. Downtown looked like a ghost town around 9 a.m. The only other human I saw was a jogger who waved kindly as we wished each other merry Christmas.
I went off to find a clerk at a convenience store, and found 22-year-old Tory Runnells behind the counter of the Fast Lane convenience store at 1414 W. Sixth St.
He’d volunteered, too, as his family usually celebrates Christmas on the weekend after Christmas Day. So he got that off in exchange for working on Christmas Day.
“So far, I’ve just celebrated with my girlfriend and her family,” he said.
And, yes, business was slow. The store carries batteries, which helped bail out a lot of forgetful parents. One person did some extremely-last-minute shopping, even though the pickings for gifts were kind of slim at the Fast Lane. The woman settled on a candle and a Honey Bun. Runnels said he thought it was a gag gift, though, as a fellow last-minute shopper; I’m not sure if it was.
Patrick Avila, a Kansas University student from Garden City, was at the front desk at the Days Inn at 730 Iowa. He volunteered, too. He’s not particularly religious, he said, so he let his bosses and others take the day off while he scooped up the extra hours. Not many people were staying in the hotel, he said, though they did have a few.
“A lot of people that stay here have families in Lawrence,” he said. “But they don’t get along, so they stay here.”
He just seemed happy to talk to someone, and mentioned he’d read the bit online about the Applecroft fire. So that was nice.
If you open, they will come
Business was brisk at the CVS Pharmacy at 23rd and Iowa. I counted eight customers in the store, and the batteries were prominently displayed there, too. People were buying all kinds of items, including Christmas cookies, a cloud pillow (more last-minute shopping?) and some toilet paper. I bet that person was glad the CVS was open.
It was so busy that Alexey Sergiyenko, the store’s supervisor on duty, had only about a minute to talk to me before he had to go help on the register.
“I like working Christmas morning,” he said. For one thing, he said, it means holiday pay.
I always hear about people flocking to movies on Christmas Day, and apparently, that’s true. Jon Ratzlaff, general manager at the Hollywood South Wind 12 Theaters at 3433 Iowa, told me he had a slightly larger-than-normal crew of 14 people working on Christmas, including box office employees, popcorn poppers and ushers.
“When people are hired, people understand they’re either going to work on Thanksgiving or on Christmas,” he said.
In about 20 years of working in the movie business, working on Christmas has never really bothered him much.
“It’s part of the job,” he said.
There are many other folks I didn’t get to talk to — I know the IHOP restaurant opened at 2 p.m. for those who didn’t (or can’t) cook, and I’m sure other places like Chinese restaurants were open as well.
So here’s my shout-out to all of you who were at work on Christmas: I felt it, too.
But now, if you’ll excuse me, my shift is over and I have to go eat some Christmas dinner.