As a teenager, I worked in the late, great Midtown Plaza in downtown Rochester.
I worked long hours for mostly minimum wage, interacting with all manner of strange folks. The clientele in Midtown was an eclectic mix of business people and street people. It didn’t help that the bus station was attached to the mall. There was often a palpable sense of danger. Theft was rampant. Winos. Bag ladies. Gangs. There were many people in need. Welfare check days were always very busy. The lines for lottery tickets were often times out the door. If that sounds awful, it really wasn’t. It was a fantastic life experience and I look back on it with great fondness. Both of my parents worked there for a while. My sister and brother in-law had a family business there that I worked in.
The absolute best time of the year to work in Midtown Plaza was Christmas time. They would set up a monorail every year for the kids to ride. Parents would bring their kids to see Santa and also take a look at the clock of nations.
For several years at Christmas time, we would set up a temporary store in the middle of the mall and sell shiny, Mylar balloons with holiday and cartoon characters on them. The balloons sold for two dollars and we sold thousands of them. Teenage me loved every minute of it. As a Jewish kid, I was always fascinated by this big, annual celebration and the general feeling of good cheer. I had always wanted to be part of it and now, I finally was. Not the religious part, of course. I was firmly in the non-believer camp by that point. But just the overall feeling of fun. Basically, I just wanted to be invited to the party.
The first year I was there at Christmas time, I just about got swept up by all of the festivities. With each passing day of the holiday season, the shopping and the crush of people was greater and greater. By the final weekend before Christmas, it was chaos in the mall. An absolute madhouse. I was in retail heaven.
Then, finally, it was the last shopping day before Christmas. Again, absolute chaos. I’m running non-stop. It was exhilarating to see all of these people racing around, getting ready for their big holiday celebrations. In my head, I’m picturing the Christmas trees, the fireplaces going, the laughter, the eggnog, etc. All of the cliched holiday trappings that I had seen for years on TV. And then I’d go home on Christmas Eve, after all of the hustle and bustle of the previous weeks, and nothing. Oh yeah, we’re Jewish. Let’s get some Chinese food. Maybe go to a movie on Christmas. Argh. Such is the life of the non-christian in the U.S.
Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy New Year, Happy whatever else you might celebrate. Here’s hoping 2017 is a better year for all of us. And remember, the Christmas spirit…is not what you drink.
hey, Santa. pass us that bottle, will you?