Christmas Day seems to be the last sacred work holiday for most employees working in the retail, food, and service industries — for some anyway.
Back in the 1970s, I worked several Christmases at the old Butler’s 76 gas station on Santa Fe Drive in Encinitas. Back then, one never found anything open expect for gas stations and convenience stores. It wasn’t until the 1980s that drug stores started staying open. And not until a decade ago could one find grocery stores open.
I remember one Christmas at the station, I towed in an old man off the freeway. He had an off-the-showroom looking '65 Cheville sedan, same color as my beat up ’65 Chevy El Camino. His fuel pump failed on his way from L.A. to visit his daughter’s family in San Diego. There was no way I could get him back on the road on Christmas Day. I drove him to the Encinitas Greyhound stop and he took a bus back home.
I had my reasons for wanting to work on Christmas, besides the extra money. Now, in 2014, I wondered why others might be working on the one day most do not.
Lindsey was working the early morning news desk at TV’s San Diego 6. She said, “I was just scheduled to work today as my regular day.” Even though it was a slow news day, for TV news, every day is a regular day.
Carrie, a long-time clerk at the Encinitas Vons store on Santa Fe Drive said she celebrates Hanukkah. “I don’t work [on Christmas] just for the extra money, I do it so others can have it off and celebrate with their families. I volunteered for this,” she said. Vons will ask for volunteers to work holidays, before assigning shifts.
One of four state lifeguards on duty along San Diego’s coastline, Cole told his boss he was available to work Christmas. Unlike other jobs, the state doesn’t pay extra for holidays. He’d be patrolling Carlsbad and Cardiff beaches from 9:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m., and then enjoying a family dinner after.
“Normally we have a lot of surfers and people using their new water toys, and a lot of people walking their dogs,” Cole said. Big waves were pounding the beach and were all blown out, so there was no one in the water.
Flo, from Rancho Santa Fe Security, guards a 25-acre private park in Cardiff by the Sea. She said she had been off for a week and this was her first day back. The company let her start an hour later, at 9:00 a.m., so she got to see her grandkids open presents. She even got to leave home later than usual because there was no traffic on southbound I-5, and she said she flew down the freeway.
Stephanie works as a server at Capt. Keno’s restaurant on Coast Highway 101. She said it wasn’t busy in the morning. It was her regularly scheduled day to work. In the early afternoon, the restaurant was getting set up for their Christmas buffet dinner served to the homeless and those wanting a hot meal. But she had to leave at 3:00 p.m. to go to another regularly scheduled job at a local hotel.
Alan, owner of the La Paloma Theatre, said Christmas has become a huge day. “Historically we’ve done well,” he said. His current showing of Awake, a documentary about the life of Self Realization Fellowship founder Paramahansa Yogananda, drew a big crowd on Christmas Eve. He had two Christmas showings scheduled at 4:00 p.m. and 6:00 p.m., backed with an 8:00 p.m. showing of Ben Affleck’s Gone Girl.
After my career at the gas station, I worked at the Santa Fe Drive 7-Eleven. The owner at the time was Vance Van Vessler. He would come in at midnight and work 24 hours straight, each Christmas Day, so none of his employees had to. When he sold his store a few years ago, he had worked 33 consecutive Christmases.