Remember “Planes, Trains and Automobiles” from 1987? I surely do. I saw this film on Chicago’s North Side with Santa himself.
That’s right. Jolly Old St. Nick almost rolled into the aisle, watching the misguided antics of costars John Candy and Steve Martin. I wanted to climb under my seat. It was horrific and humorous at the same time.
How did this horrendous, but hilarious, holiday memory happen?
My friend, who happened to be an actors’ agent (but who had never actually been an entertainer himself) was inadvertently volunteered to don the Santa Claus suit for the annual company Christmas party. Surely, the entertainment production company could have tapped any number of corpulent individuals for the dubious honor. But no, they asked Bob.
Bob willingly wore the crimson coat and trousers, along with the itchy white beard and the too-tight red stocking cap. He sat in the poofy chair for the entire holiday party, inviting youngsters to climb onto his lap, handing out reindeer coloring books and candy canes and maintaining the jolliest attitude possible.
By the end of the party, Bob was plum tuckered. He was probably dehydrated too, sweating under all that scarlet polar fleece. Apparently, the elves had dropped the ball, neglecting to keep old Santa properly fed and watered for the festivities.
At the first possible opportunity, we made our escape. Still in his Santa suit, Bob followed me onto the elevator of the shiny Chicago high rise office building. We raced for the car and blasted northwards, chasing a mid-December blizzard up Western Avenue.
Stopping at a red light, we saw the movie marquis: “Planes, Trains and Automobiles.”
Santa-Bob swerved into a parking spot with a panache that would make Prancer blush. We bolted from the car to the box office. In a flash, we were seated in the third row from the back of the crowded theater, clutching oversized buckets of popcorn and giant soda cups.
Then the scary part started.
On the screen, the two popular comedians played victims to Murphy’s Law, as their characters (Steve Martin’s executive Neal Page and John Candy’s traveling salesman Del Griffith) faced one wondrous travel woe after another.
Next to me, Santa-Bob bellowed and roared through the 90-minute film. Apparently, he had not used up his inner supply of “Ho-ho-ho” at the company Christmas party. He seemed stuck in a terribly twisted form of evil Santa auto-replay.
Heads turned, all around us, in the historical Chicago North Side movie theater. Fingers pointed. Other gestures appeared as well.
I could hardly wait for the house lights to come on, so we could shuffle into the car and head north – way, way north. Maybe the North Pole would not be far enough.
As we climbed from our seats, I could feel my heart all a-clatter. Maybe I imagined it, but I still swear I heard someone say, “Merry Christmas to all, and to all a good night.”