Earning the holiday pay
December 25, 2005
At 10 a.m., Bleeker Street was deserted. A murder of crows fought over bread in the middle of the shadowed road behind the Hotel Jerome.The Times office was also dark and empty. The circa-1985 stereo was playing in the vacant production room. For the first time in my few years here, I’m by my lonesome. Happy holidays.Working on Christmas and the first day of Hanukkah in Aspen can bring out the Scrooge in anyone. So what to do? Why, go find others who share the same plight, of course. Misery loves company.And the company found around Aspen on Sunday showed working on the holiday isn’t all bad. A survey of workers in a few industries found examples of caring, selflessness, apathy and economic sense.A bus driver near the Rubey Park station said the day wasn’t that important to him, and not a big deal to spend it working. He chose not to give his name. A couple walked by the bus with Starbucks coffee. Inside the ubiquitous coffee outlet, eight employees were all busy helping a dozen or so customers.Their manager, Jole Bell, said she didn’t resent coming into the store on Christmas/Hanukkah.
“We’re open every day” of the year, Bell said. Plus, “I just came from Vegas, so I’m used to it.”She said the workers, three of whom were in training, were being paid time-and-a-half, and the doors were to close at 5 p.m., three hours early. One of the workers, Mariana Cejas, a native of Argentina, said she understood working holidays was part of the job.”We need money. We need to take care of our family,” said another employee, Erik Contreras, of Puerto Vallarta, Mexico.Elsewhere around town, while most eateries were closed, Cooper Street Pier and Bentley’s were welcoming customers. And a sign on the front door of McStorlie’s read, “We open at 7 p.m. Christmas Day! Ho, ho, ho.”Inside Boogie’s, Aspen native Noga Vardy said working in the clothing section wouldn’t interfere with her plans.”I’ll still be off work in time to light a candle,” she said.Amid brisk business, Boogie’s retail manager Kimberly Wilson said there was ample reason to be open.
“People are nice, and they’re coming in to spend their holiday cash,” she said. As for working on the day millions consider sacred, Wilson said, “We’re a resort, and people are used to it.”Out at the airport, a Transportation Security Administration screener started to give his thoughts on the matter when a supervisor cut the conversation off. TSA employees aren’t allowed to talk to media, he said. Clearly not a Grinch, he noted the non-al-Qaida nature of the holiday employment questions but said they nonetheless had to follow the rules.Northwest Airlines was more helpful. Baggage handler Fernando Pascual said his family was back in Argentina, so the decision to head to the airport wasn’t hard.”I’m traveling, so it’s not possible to be with my family. It’s just another day because I’m alone,” he said.Fellow baggage worker Bob Sprague of Carbondale said working on Sunday was “my Merry Christmas” to the company and co-workers, especially those with children.”I volunteered because I actually had it off,” said Sprague.He also said that the holiday was a good time to train new workers. Incoming flights vastly outnumbered outgoing ones, and the flow allowed the crew to practice for the busiest times, he said.
About 2,500 feet above the airport, Aspen Highlands ski patroller Terry McShane was putting up the “Highland Bowl closed” sign. The bowl closes every day around 2:30 p.m.McShane, who’s also a paramedic, said he volunteers to work the holiday for the same reason Sprague does: To free up those with families. But there is added incentive.In what is at least a two-decade-old tradition, two turkeys are deep-fried and served in a large meal with all the fixings in the patrol shack near Loge Peak. The meal leaves the patrol fat and happy, he said.As he was stringing the rope across the bowl’s entrance to close it, a few riders rapidly approached asking for one more run. In a giving mood, McShane held up the rope for them. He told them they could have a last run “if you go right now.”The grateful group ducked underneath and went on its merry way.Chad Abraham’s e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org