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The Suburbanite
  • Erin Maroon: Santa delivery isn't all child's play

  • Every Christmas Eve for the last three years, my husband has suited up with the elves of the Portage Lakes Kiwanis Club to deliver presents in the area. But his suit isn’t red, and he doesn’t get to touch the presents. As a law enforcement officer, his suit is gray, and it’s his job to make sure Santa stays safe.

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  • Every Christmas Eve for the last three years, my husband has suited up with the elves of the Portage Lakes Kiwanis Club to deliver presents in the area. But his suit isn’t red, and he doesn’t get to touch the presents. As a law enforcement officer, his suit is gray, and it’s his job to make sure Santa stays safe.
    Along with other law enforcement officers in Summit County, my husband drives a cruiser, lights flashing, behind Santa’s sleigh to ensure motorists don’t get too close. Santa rides out in the open and is completely exposed to the elements: snow, rain, sleet, wind — and passing traffic.
    There’s a lot of just sitting in the car and waiting at many stops. Children love to sit on Santa’s lap, and parents love to take pictures from every angle. We don’t do much until Santa moves on to the next house. The neighborhoods are always easy.
    While the Kiwanis does a fantastic job of arranging the deliveries so children don’t have to cross the road, there are a few places where Santa stops on a well-traveled street with hills, curves and blind spots.
    That’s where it gets tricky.
    The law enforcement officers become important team members on these roads. You may see them stopping traffic, waving people through or asking drivers to switch lanes. It’s dangerous. And it’s not fun to watch. Because while the children are sitting on Santa’s lap and having the time of their lives, I’m watching my husband in the middle of the road at night, hoping people see him and heed his instructions.
    The first year before we left the garage, our Kiwanis leader outfitted him a flashlight and a reflective vest.
    “You’ll definitely need this,” she said with a chuckle. “I’m serious. It’s usually great out there, but sometimes people are crazy.”  
    We laughed about it later, because the first few years were easy. The weather was relatively mild, and the main roads were traveled without a hitch. My husband took to bringing his own reflective vest, two different flashlights and a flashlight that strobes red when you press a different button ... just in case.
    Last year, the first two pages of the delivery sheet were all houses on a curving, hilly road, the same one we’d been on the previous two years. Halfway through the first page of stops, my husband got out to direct traffic. He let a handful of cars cross into the wrong lane to go around his cruiser. He had just let the last car go when a large van came zooming down the hill in the opposite direction, heading right toward my husband, who was in the middle of the road blocking traffic, just as he was told to do. I watched in slow motion as my husband’s white flashlight turned to flashing red strobes, and I heard him yell “Stop!” over and over. He wasn’t moving, and the van wasn’t slowing. I gaped in horror, powerless and praying “pleasestoppleasestoppleasestop.”
    Page 2 of 2 - And it finally did, sliding to a stop just inches from my husband’s outstretched hand. I am shaking just remembering it. By this time, I was out of the car, ready to fight.
    The driver rolled down his window, mumbled a meek, “Sorry,” and drove away — much more slowly this time.
    Sorry for what? For not seeing the flashing lights all over the road? For not paying attention behind the wheel? For almost clipping the kids hovering on the road? For almost running down my husband?
    I don’t know if the driver was drinking, texting, talking, reaching for something, zoning out or just plain not paying attention, but I was so angry at him. How could he be so selfish?
    We got back in the car, where I was coming unglued.
    “I’m OK,” my husband said, trying to console me. “I honestly didn’t think that guy would stop. We’re almost done with this road, right?”
    And we finished the rest of the deliveries without incident. We met some really nice people who appreciate what the officers do each year and thanked him for keeping their children safe as they visited with Santa.
    This year, my husband is bringing all of the traffic necessities of the past years, plus a brighter vest and a specialized traffic cone for flashlights. Hopefully, that will help.
    But he needs your help, too. If you’re driving in the Portage Lakes/New Franklin/Coventry areas this Christmas Eve night, please pay attention. Slow down. Don’t drink. Don’t text. Be patient. Be prepared to spend a little extra time getting from Point A to Point B if Santa shows up on your route. If you see flashing lights, please respect what they mean and obey any instructions you’re given by an officer. Their wives want them around for next Christmas Eve.