Wednesday, December 22, 2004

High-Tech St. Nick

Today we went to the local mall (as you read this post, bear in mind that this is NOT a big mall), in part because I wanted to give my three-year-old the opportunity to visit Santa - a relatively simple goal, don't you think? Just wait your turn in line, watch your kid sit on Santa's lap, maybe take a picture or two, and that's it. No big deal, right?

Well, now they've made it into a big deal. We arrived at Santa's booth, and initially, it looked promising. The line was rather short, maybe a dozen kids, so I thought, "Great, this won't take forever." But wait a minute - why was the gate to the waiting line closed? (I knew Santa wasn't out feeding his reindeer, either, because when we were eating lunch in the food court, Santa had passed by, evidently heading back to his post.) And who was this gal sitting at a table by the gate? And what's the big idea with the "Santa Pager"?

"Oh, it's about a 2 1/2 hour wait. You can sign up for a pager, and then when it's your turn, you'll go with a small group," I was informed.

Hold on a minute - I'm still trying to process this modern way of seeing Santa.

"It keeps the lines down, and you can spend your time around the mall instead of waiting in line," the gal replied.

But 2 1/2 hours? C'mon, even the most popular roller coaster ride at Six Flags has a shorter wait time. How many kids are waiting to see Santa, anyhow? Or do they all have Calvin-sized wish lists that have to be read in excruciating detail?

Nope, it doesn't make sense. Even if the line snakes several times around Santa's booth, there's no way that it's going to take 2 1/2 hours, especially when you consider that all those kids are going to be accompanied by at least one adult (who is taking up space in line but not going to be sitting on Santa's lap....)

What does make sense? Here are my cynical (disillusioned?) interpretations of this high-falutin' method of waiting to see Santa:

1) The pagers are a convenient way to make sure the parents $pend more time in the mall - and more importantly, they are free to roam about the mall and $pend more than time $$$$ (I believe this to be the most plausible explanation.)

2) Children (hey, most adults my age and younger would fall into this category, too...) lack the patience, discipline, and attention span to wait longer than 5 minutes, let alone anything in excess of 15. 2 1/2 hours is enough to drive them mad (in the British sense of the word, as well as the American). So much for teaching our offspring to overcome their baser instincts. So much for "patience is a virtue." (Actually, this explanation is fairly plausible too, at least on the surface. But I doubt the mall is providing this service out of the goodness of their hearts, any more than they play music in stores to entertain people. No, it's to get people in a good mood and help them relax so they $tay longer and $pend more.)

So, I walked away from Santa's booth. Try explaining to a three-year-old why she's not going to be seeing Santa, especially after you've been mentioning it to her. I felt bad about it, but I was even more put out by the whole concept. Fortunately, our three-year-old was easily distracted enough by the promise of romping around in the mall's kiddie play area, so I was probably more let down than she was. But this incident has got me wondering: Do the Jaycees, or the Lions, or any of those civic groups still do a Santa for the kids? Where else can a child go to see Santa, without having to go to the mall?


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