Man About Town: At Christmastime, some snow jobs

But I also discover the answer to Christmas' great mystery: how a plastic tree pan stays watertight after you pile-drive six massive nails through the bottom of it.

"The heat of the nail seals the plastic," says tree wrangler Andy Dalton, a 35-year veteran.

Dalton tells me he can do about anything with his hands — "I can build a boat, I can build a building" — which makes him so unlike the bozos I usually hang with. When they need a boat or building built, they pick up a phone.

What I'm saying is that these tree men are real lumberjacks — Dalton, Robert Aguilar, Travis Nelson, their boss, Scott "Tahoe Scotty" Sorenson.

Leading up to the holiday, they work 12-hour shifts seven days a week, shouldering corpulent firs that are heavy as hit men.

And when they unbail one off the truck, out jumps a tree frog.

"We wanted to ship the frog back to Oregon, put him on a truck and take him back," Sorenson says. "But he escaped."

I'm pretty sure there's a children's book in there somewhere, about a tree frog that gets lost in the big unforgiving city.

A metaphor for the people who come to L.A., then can't find their way back.

A metaphor for me.

Santa drives a UPS truck

You never see David Sedaris pulling stunts like this. He mines emotional turmoil and family dysfunction for his humor.

Me, I hop a truck.

A week before Christmas, I'm in the land of the lucky and the exceptional (the Westside), working a shift with veteran UPS driver Dave Nieto.

"Never been bitten by a dog," he says of his 28 years with UPS. "Never called in sick."

Go ahead, just try to keep up with the fast-walking, fast-talking Nieto as he darts in and out of shops at the Brentwood Country Mart and the stylish neighborhoods of Santa Monica. Within minutes, it's clear why Nieto urged me to stretch, urged me to chug plenty of water. During this day, he'll deliver 250 packages, log 50 to 60 miles.

"We're industrial athletes," he explains.

I'm more of an industrial water boy. Hey, wait up!

Dave Nieto, the man who puts the Santa in Santa Monica.

Meanwhile, down in Whoville ...


Jump to a blog