Monday, December 19, 2005
Look Judy, it's Santy Claus!
If you live in Portland, I really hope you've had the chance to visit Santaland on the 10th floor of the downtown Meier and Frank store. After this Christmas it will be no longer. This particular Santaland has been one of my yearly holiday experiences since childhood, and I'm really struggling to imagine what next year will be like when the whole thing is gone. Laden with winter coats, mittens, scarves and hats the stuffy elevator ride from the main floor is a test of determination as difficult for grown-ups as it is for the children inadvertently stepping on their toes. The elevator makes multiple stops on it's ascent to the 10th floor, opening it's doors onto floors void of customers where no passengers enter or exit. At the top at last, the elevator spills it's tightly packed riders out into a chaotic inferno of Christmas activity. Santaland. The murmur of adult voices is punctuated by those of children, crying out in glee and in fear of all that awaits them inside. Snaking lines of families waiting to visit with Santa wind their way around the gigantic room. Children press their noses to Plexiglas as they spy on little wide-eyed animatronic elves, repeatedly putting bows on gifts in their dusty workshops. And the very special thing which makes this place unique comes grinding it's way around the room, suspended from the ceiling, earning the attention of every Christmas reveler. The Monorail. Children run for the back of the room, ducking if they must under the archway which separates the riders from the onlookers. There was a time when height was unimportant and I rode many times into my teens, giggling from inside with my friend Sally. Now they are scrutinized for size, climb the narrow wooden stairs in groups of ten with no help from parents allowed, and then are carefully arranged into three cars being very mindful of pinched fingers and squished toes.
From down below a crop of faces can be seen peeking out from the windows of the train. Children clutch their tiny fingers to the wire as they scour the pack of grown-ups for a wave from a familiar face. And then, with a jerk, they're off. The loading platform is left far behind as the train lurches around the room, a chorus of small voices from above calling for the attention of Santa Claus in his chair by the fire. Twice around the room and the ride is over. Children reluctantly stomp down a different set of narrow stairs only to race back under the archway for another ride. When they can finally be pulled away, lunch in the Georgian Room (on the same floor) completes the day. A very "fancy" affair with tablecloths, cloth napkins, and lots of grandmothers wearing hats, even the smallest child feels grown-up in such a place. Waiters bustle, silver clatters on china, and Christmas is just around the corner.