Return of Austin's Trail of Lights and the "Almost Bad Santa"
I got a call from an old friend last week asking if my brother still sponsored an annual bus tour of Austin Christmas lights. This party bus tour always culminated in a visit to the Zilker Park Holiday Tree. I laughed and replied that it had not occurred in years and we both swapped stories about the raucous annual affair. The conversation reminded me that after a hiatus of several years the Austin Trail of Lights had finally returned. Though Austin managed to avoid much of the economic downturn, it was still felt and for a time, the Austin Trail of Lights was a casualty of the times. Thankfully, the tradition has returned and can be enjoyed by everyone no matter your age! While there, you need to check out the Zilker Park Holiday Tree which has been a tradition for years.
I am also reposting an edited version of an article I wrote in 2008 about the Holiday Lights Bus Tour that my friend was talking about! PLEASE...bear in mind, this took place in the last century when I was much younger, unattached, uninhibited and obviously...unsupervised!
Tale of the Zilker Park Christmas Tree & the "Almost Bad Santa"
Many years ago, during the Holiday Season, my brother and his friend Rell Rice would rent a bus to tour Austin and look at all of the various holiday lights and decorations. A theme party of sorts and an annual affair, the bus was filled with all types of people in the party mode and stocked with snacks, a couple of kegs of beer and other assorted party favors. I think Wild Turkey may also have been involved. For several years I had the duty of taking the role of Santa Claus and dressing the part. It may seem silly to some of you but I was single and more mischievous back then and you have no idea how many girls want to get to know Santa...But I digress. After touring various decorated areas in town the last stop of the party bus tour was always the celebrated Zilker Park Holiday Tree.
It was on my very first occasion as the "Party Bus Santa" that we pulled up in one of the nearby parking areas and began to unload for the short walk to the Zilker Park Holiday Tree . It was a chilly evening and everyone was feeling frisky and "in the spirit" and Santa was having a field day hearing from the girls about who was naughty and what they wanted for Christmas etc. One of them told me that the reason Santa was always so jolly was because he knew where all the naughty girls lived! Stopping at the back of the bus ( which operated as our refreshment stand) we all refilled our cups with beverage and I lit up a cigarette. (Yes...I used to smoke many years ago but quit in 1986). Then with a young lady on each arm, I began to lead the lively crowd to the tree and I have to tell you I was thoroughly enjoying myself. When suddenly, (it's always "suddenly" in these stories) I noticed some sort of commotion across the distance between us and the tree. It appeared to be a group of elves shouting and waving madly and they seemed to be heading for our group. Confused at first, I was suddenly struck by the shocking realization that they were not elves but...CHILDREN! In a blinding flash I forgot about the party, the girls, the revelry and panicked. I was having fun but I KNEW I did not want to ruin a child's innocent view of SANTA CLAUSE!
Okay, I may have been a frisky Santa out partying during the holidays but I was and am a decent person! I quickly stomped my cigarette and shoved the beverage into the open coat of one of my companions who screamed when the cup spilled its frigid contents. The stampede of kids was nearing as I frantically rubbed the lipstick from my face on the front of the blouse of my other new friend who could not stop giggling. Just in the nick of time, I managed to get it together and shout HO HO HO to the children who were excitedly gathering at my feet. I was so nervous and sweating like a politician in church as I patiently listened to all of the three dozen or so kids while nervously eyeing their parents to see if I was doing alright. Eventually everyone went back to the tree and several of the parents said thanks for being such a good sport. You cannot imagine the relief I felt when we got back on that bus and I have to say, "Mischievous Santa" also scored "good guy" points with my companions and that's always a good thing!
If you live in Austin and have never been to the Zilker Park Holiday Tree or will be visiting during the holidays, you need to do yourself a favor and visit. It is truly an icon of the holiday season in Austin Texas. It's a lot of fun, silly and refreshingly simple. Just enjoy it and maybe even some freshly popped kettle corn, funnel cakes or hot chocolate that are sold in nearby booths. These days you will want to leave the eggnog and other adult beverages at home as the park has rules and for good reason. I would not want to take the chance of meeting a rogue Santa who might not have the same ‘crisis of conscience" and do the right thing at the last minute!
No matter what is going on in the world with all of the daily challenges and tragedies, I pause and realize that, again, I'm grateful for Christmas this year and I hope you are too! Season's greetings, I wish you the best in the New Year!