1:29 PM EST, December 20, 2012
Twenty years from now, I will tell people I was present at the creation.
One evening last fall, my colleague Jason Toraldo walked into my office and asked if I could troubleshoot a problem he was having on Facebook. He had recently put up a page for a small business he owned and wanted to connect it to his personal account.
I'm reasonably tech savvy, but I wasn't prepared for what I saw. A nervous pig dressed like a middle-aged man, in slacks and an argyle sweater, was entangled in a pine tree and a string of colorful lights. A yellow bulb protruded from his mouth as his right hand — errr, hoof — grasped the power cord. Below the cartoon logo ran the words: "Pork 'N Pine Christmas Tree Service."
By now, you might have heard of or even seen Jason. Last December, he was profiled in The Sun and Baltimore Brew. He says that around this time, an NPR producer contacted him about an interview, and the national program "Fox and Friends" asked if he might deliver a tree to its studio in New York. Neither of those conversations turned into segments, but a short Associated Press story made it at least as far as Frederick.
So here's what happened. Monday through Friday, Jason and I are hall mates at the Johns Hopkins Center for Talented Youth, a program that works with academically advanced school-age students. But a stable 9-to-5 is not enough for him. He's always had an entrepreneurial streak.
"I wanted a Christmas tree lot," he says, and he started calling around close to where he lives in Federal Hill. One of his good friends told him that, if he ever found a space, his father was looking to sell pulled pork. Jason couldn't find a lot, so he decided to deliver the trees and the sandwiches instead — hence, "Pork 'N Pine." The trees come from Hale Tree Farm in Harford County, this year Harborque in South Baltimore made the sandwiches, and he delivered both on a bike with a trailer attached to it while blasting Christmas songs from a powerful little speaker in a fanny pack. If the client was farther afield, he used a truck or SUV instead.
Last year, Jason sold 19 trees in four Maryland counties. This year, he sold 47 and is now done for the season, but I tagged along for one of his early trips.
When I arrived at his house three weeks ago, he was fully suited. The next delivery was already loaded onto the bike trailer, but he wanted to show me the backyard — his workshop, so to speak.
"They're kinda hulks," he said, pointing to the dozen or so six- to eight-foot Douglas firs. "Yesterday, I had to take one up four flights of stairs." It's one of many hazards that come with the job. "The suit is only one season old but is already feeling the effects ... I was having some drooping issues."
Some of his roommate's friends crashed with them the night before, and as we walked back through the living room, two twenty-somethings, a man and a woman, looked happy to wake up to Santa Claus. A few minutes later, I hopped on an extra bike that was stashed near the front door, and we were off.
Drivers honked and waved as we pedaled along Fort Avenue. A young woman leaned out of a passenger-side window shouting, "Hi, Santa!" Jason gave her a hearty, "Merry Christmas." Pedaling behind him, I felt like a giant black elf on patrol. During the half hour or so we were on the street, only one guy seemed disturbed by what was happening, as if it was all just too much to take in. But he was an anomaly. Otherwise, the reactions ranged from charmed to ecstatic.
Jason carried the tree up a long flight of roof deck stairs and into the apartment of Marilyn Agro, a very happy repeat customer. He had four more deliveries that day.
On the way back from that trip, I wasn't tired. I hadn't done anything but observe and take notes. Still, I had trouble keeping up with him. Now that the tree no longer weighed down the trailer, Jason flew through the street without the least bit of effort — smiling, waving and letting the wind whip his fake beard.
Lionel Foster is a freelance writer from Baltimore. His column appears Fridays. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org. Twitter: @LionelBMD.
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