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On reaching Nova Scotia, Peter hurriedly put all the memories of Newfoundland into the shredder. In the land of Trump refugees, he had found a safe harbor and even the bad weather couldn’t curb his enthusiasm. Unfortunately, for him, it was at just that moment, that Santa decided to rejoin the land of the living.
Can you tell me why reindeer are called reindeer? asks Thorsten without looking around.
Instead of answering, the sounds of “I've never been to New York” start to emanate from the onboard Klipsch speaker system and Santa starts to hum along.
As if reading from a brochure, he says: Reaching the coast of Nova Scotia, continue along the waterfront towards Portland, where you can book tickets for a Portland Trailblazers basketball game that will put you right behind the players on the sideline bench.
It turns out that Santa Claus has extremely impressive contacts and he has somehow been able to organize a free suite for them at the Plaza in New York. Santa Claus is as enthusiastic about the star of the Portland Trailblazers, Carmelo Anthony, as Carmelo Anthony is about Santa Claus. There is even a brief moment, when they think that the basketball star might be able to join them, but sadly it was not to be.
A little while later they reach New York by sea. As they entered via Long Island Sound and reached Manhattan Island via the Bronx, the Statue of Liberty and the Freedom Tower cannot be seen, and so the archetypical feeling of ‘Coming to America’ is missing which makes Monty feel more than a little disappointed, especially as it’s his first visit, but his companions notice this, and they promise him an extra-special visit to Liberty Island the very next morning.
Leaving the East River, they drive directly to the front of the Plaza on 5th Avenue. Santa Claus goes all in, dressed as he is in a red velveteen suit with a white lace frill jabot and cuffs, although even in this flamboyance, nobody seems to pay him any attention. The suite offers a wonderful view of Central Park, but this is the only positive, as for the rest, it is a rather musty and overpriced old box. Thorsten is feeling even happier for the fact that he didn’t have to fork out for it, and he with an easy breath, he takes in the view. It was just like he had imagined it from the movies.
In New York, Peter is struck by the overwhelming presence of a Santa at every turn. If we were looking to disappear our kidnap victim, we couldn’t have picked a better place, he joked.
Right, says Santa Claus, but you two are the real foreigners here. I have a special relationship with New York, my best buddy Buddy is even from here.
What, says Peter. You’re trying to tell me that that film was based on fact, not fiction? Isn't all of this so-called holiday just another cynical ploy at money-making?
Look, Peter, I don't mean to abuse your illusion, but I got the job from Coca-Cola. This has only ever been about money.
So how old are you saying you really are then?
Of course, I would expect you to focus on that, you must learn to think differently, you're still trapped inside the paradigm. Still so obsessed with the trappings and allures of modern society, with all the speed and the power and so on. Haven’t you ever watched the film ‘Fight Club’? Hey, before Big Cola kicked in my door, I was strictly small-time, a complete loser. Sure, I handed out some gifts, and was able to reach some people, but it was just a drop in the ocean. I was only fooling myself. I was relegated to the back of the back of beyond. I didn’t realize it at the time, but it took the advent of Free Enterprise to help make me realize that I could be a contender, but hey, enough about me and enough about the past. I want to take a look at the Christmas tree in front of the Rockefeller Center, he said, doing a passable imitation of Austin Powers in The Spy who Shagged Me, and we have just got to go ice skating in Bryant Park. There are still tons of things to do on my bucket list, Baby!
This only cemented the growing respect that Monty was feeling for Santa Claus. That guy has what it takes, he thinks. No matter where they are or what they do, they don't have to pay or wait or queue anywhere they go. It’s VIP treatment all the way, wordlessly, the waiters, taxi drivers and service staff show Santa deferential treatment and always avert their eyes when talking to the big man. Peter tried asking them to explain it, but they either ignored him or simply stated that it was an ‘honor’. They also seemed to show Monty special deference and his presence there didn't seem to bother anyone. Peter put that down to the New Yorkers, who are known to be completely crazy about dogs. Monty is frequently admired and praised everywhere he goes. Even in the three-star temple Eleven Madison Park, he is served with the most lavish attention. Monty takes it all in his stride and congratulates himself on having the good sense to have made this trip with his humans.
The next day they take a jog through Central Park, where that half of New York that isn’t sleeping goes to keep fit.
Thank God for the rains that help wash the garbage and the trash off the sidewalks, they hear someone say in passing.
Fortunately, most of the people here are only interested in themselves, says Carmelo Anthony, who suddenly materializes out of nowhere. He is wearing old-skool roller skates, not inline, and he dazzles with his disco moves.
Wait a second, what are you doing here? asks Peter and then humorously, we’re not worthy, he says in mock deference.
The Trailblazers can go on without me. I'm going to Chattanooga with you.
Great, says Thorsten, who makes a quick calculation of the floor space available in the ‘Silver Arrow’. It’s going to be tight, he says, but you can always roll along behind us if you want.
No, I’d rather not, these are for the disco over at the Wollman Rink.
The disco is on hold, says a wiry lady with long hair and a stern look who is blocking their path.
Peter and Thorsten do a double take and then punch each other in the ribs. It’s, they giggle, it’s …
Yo Steffi, says Carmelo Anthony to Steffi Graf giving her a warm hug. Guys, say Guten Tag to my German teacher.
Everyone obediently says hello.
Aren’t you going to meet me at the rink?
Hey, it’s Winter, Carmelo. Roller skates summer, ice skates winter. So, what are you guys up to?
Sightseeing first and then we take a drive with my man Santa to visit his friends at Chattanooga and bring them some Christmas cheer from the Black Forest.
Ok, sounds good, so you can take me with you?
Of course, says Santa Claus stepping forward to introduce himself. By the way, my backhand slice doesn't work just the way I want it to. Perhaps you can explain it to me on the way?
Do you play tennis? Carmelo asks Steffi.
Used to, but it’s not what I’m about now.
They wave for a taxi to take them to the next item on their bucket list.
The rest of the morning is spent in admiration of the bustling juggernaut that is New York. Their group is growing exponentially, thinks Thorsten, we’ll need to switch to a tour bus if it keeps going like this. They take a trip to view Manhattan from Brooklyn Heights, fly around all the sights in a helicopter, almost get stuck on an antenna on the UNO building, eat loads of bagels, donuts, and hot dogs, and stare in fascination at the steam pouring out of the gullies from deep underground. Of course, they also bought the mandatory I love Gotham T-shirts and who can resist those fabulous fake Rolex watches.
By the way, says Santa Claus to Peter, that person we spoke about has requested an apartment on the Upper Westside with a view of Central Park. Your copywriter is not encumbered with a lack of modesty, is he?
No, says Peter, he's megalomaniacal and believes that he’ll receive the Nobel Prize for Literature in 2036, simply because his sisters’ tarot cards prophesied it. He can’t even write good prose. It’s crazy!
The trip now officially over, they all pile into the Silver Arrow and travel in the direction of the Hudson.
Driving via the Lincoln Tunnel to New Jersey, then west on Interstate Highway 78 and making the obligatory stops to pay the tolls is nobody’s idea of fun. They notice that the further they travel from New York, the bigger the cars, the hats and cola bottles. At Harrisburg, in an open field, they spot a tennis court, where Steffi Graf does an impromptu demonstration of how to swing a neat backhand slice for an appreciative audience.
At some point they reach Harrisonburg, where they stop and have dinner with Deanna S. Read, the mayoress, an old friend of Santa Claus (asparagus and rhubarb, for those who want to know). The tavern they are eating in is a little rough, but you won’t find better anywhere else, she says just as the first beer glass flies against the wall. A fight breaks out, and a glass shatters off the wall right next to Peter. As it turns out, he was not the intended target, that honor belonged instead to a guitarist who had raised the ire of the audience. It’s a sad fact, that even today, in the land of Babe Ruth, not all Americans are able to throw a Ball™. Despite the altercation, everybody is having a good time and the food is excellent. Hey, you should apply for a job as Santa, says someone to Santa before noticing Steffi Graf and Carmelo Anthony sitting at the table. No way, they shout before hurriedly running back to their table to tell their friends. It’s not long before the whole tavern has assembled around the celebrities to have their pictures taken.
Of course, you're dreaming, and your dream just came true, says Carmelo being deliberately cheesy. They love it, says Thorsten. That’s the Holiday season for you, says Santa in reply.
It has taken almost 12 hours, but suddenly they're there. Chattanooga, the city with the most distinctive name. Driving over the Walnut Street Bridge, which they later learn is only for pedestrians, they immediately hear the sound of Glenn Miller's Chattanooga Choo Choo, which was actually the first hit to be awarded gold based on record sales and has been played ever since for over 80 years all over this city. If you’re sitting close to an Alexa or Siri, why not ask her to play it for you or click here.
Luckily, Chattanooga has moved on somewhat from the days of steam locomotion and there is no shortage of electric charging stations to be found. The ‘Silver Arrow’ takes pride of place at a special parking lot for low-emission cars that is conveniently located right in the middle of the city. Their stay there is necessarily brief, because Peter and Thorsten are anxiously anticipating their visit to the associates at their Shallowford Road location.
They are on their way there when the phone rings.
Peter picks up the phone and holds it to his ear.
He listens for a moment before taking the phone away again, we’re switching to video, he says.
The video comes on to show the entire crew from netcare Belgrade, who start to sing Happy Christmas. They don’t know it yet, but their target audience are planning to also make a surprise trip to Belgrade for New Year's Eve.
Is that Steffi Graf? asks head coder Damir after the performance has ended.
Hello, says Steffi Graf waving.
Thorsten tells Goran about the demonstration they had had earlier. Oh, I would love that, I have the same problem.
Steffi Graf pretends to be losing the connection and finally presses the end call button.
Now let's go surprise your Chattanooga friends, she says.
They’ve finally done it. Shallowford Road. We’ve finally made it, they say. It is an especially poignant moment for Thorsten, whose voice is quivering with emotion.
They park up and start to unload the gifts they had brought. Everyone is given something to hold. Thorsten is especially proud of his Christmas tree. However, on the way over to the building, Santa Claus trips over an open utility access point, and snaps it neatly into two pieces.
Santa, himself, is ok, but needless to say, everyone is stunned at the loss, especially Thorsten. They had travelled so far, and this was to be the highlight!
Doesn't help to cry about it, says Peter. We’ll just buy a new one and nobody has to say anything about where it’s from.
They hurry off to buy a new tree and some other supplies, and hurry back to make their surprise entrance. Peter has the German Ravioli and the beer, Carmelo Anthony has a bag full of basketballs, Steffi Graf has some donation forms for her children's foundation and Santa Claus is holding his sack. They are in such a state of excitement, that it takes all Monty’s skill to keep his flock together and shepherd them as far as the front door.
This time they make the decision to properly announce themselves. Thorsten rings the doorbell.
He rings again.
And again, but nothing happens.
Not again, says Thorsten, who reaches out to open the door when at just that moment it is opened from the inside.
Can I help you? asks a frail, elderly woman, who is now looking at them very intently.
We are looking for our colleagues from netcare, says Thorsten. Do you know where they are?
As far as I know they went to pay a surprise visit to some friends in Germany.
No way, says Peter. HOLY COW!!
This very empathic and kindly old woman is curious to hear their story and commiserates after only just hearing a small portion of what they had went through to get there.
Standing in front of the building, they show Teresa how to take a group photo and they send it via group chat on WhatsApp.
Peter and Thorsten immediately get messages and phone calls from their American colleagues who are on their way to surprise everybody at netcare HQ. They almost turned their car around when they realized who was waiting for them back home.
At least Carmelo Anthony and Steffi Graf can now get to enjoy Mauldäschle from the butcher Tremmerlesmaier in Kirchentellinsfurth and Santa Claus finally knows how to do a backhand slice, says Peter. Carmelo Anthony is so impressed with the Mauldäschle that the following year, he pays the Walter Tigers in Tübingen a surprise visit. Peter receives a WhatsApp from his favorite netcare copywriter:
Awesome, my sister has just informed me that Carmelo Anthony will be coming to play for the Walter Tigers next year. Do you think that you could help me to get a season ticket?
Google is your friend, replies Peter by text message, while grabbing one of those vastly oversized American shopping trolleys and starting to fill it with everything needed for a first-class Swabian meal.
Wow, how cool that you stayed the course, but you have now reached the end of our tale. As we all know, every ending marks a new beginning. That’s all for this year, but next year, if you’re lucky, you might just get to learn about just some of the adventures our friends would experience on their way to Belgrade. Until then, may we once again wish you Happy Holidays and an elegant and splendid 2022.