COEUR d'ALENE - You don't have to go all the way to the North Pole to meet Santa Claus.
Look no further than the Kathleen Chevron at 3840 N. Government Way in Coeur d'Alene. The kindly gentleman with the white beard and red hat, indeed, goes by the name Santa Claus.
The snow had just begun to fall late Friday morning as he took a seat in the Chevron's Subway. Santa, 75, of Coeur d'Alene, said he likes working at a service station because he gets to interact with people on a personal basis, rather than sitting in a chair in a shopping mall all day.
"It gives me the chance of dealing with people, which I've always enjoyed," he said. "Here, you're dealing with people one-on-one, directly."
He has played the role of Santa since he was in his mid-20s. He has the authentic long white beard and hair, and a sparkle in his eyes. He said when he was born, his parents also noticed the twinkle and rosy cheeks.
"My dad says, 'Are you thinking what I think you're thinking?' (My mom) said 'Yes.' And they said Santa will be his name. And that's how I got my name," he said. "I live my life that way. I enjoy people, I enjoy doing things with them. And Santa is the nicest, easiest way I can deal with kids."
Santa was born in southern Idaho and grew up in California. He said he moved to Coeur d'Alene from the North Pole 18 years ago when his health began to fail.
"I went to the doctor. He said two things I was going to have to do if I was going to stay around to take care of all my little boys and girls," Santa said. "No. 1, I was going to have to lose weight, which is why I've slimmed down, 60 pounds. And No. 2, I had to find a new home because the cold was tearing my body up at the North Pole. I couldn't stay there any longer or I wouldn't be around to take care of my little boys and girls."
He said he tried different cities for a year or two at a time, and decided to stay in the City by the Lake.
"I remembered how good the people in Coeur d'Alene were, so I made this the place for me to go," he said.
But Santa hasn't forgotten his former frosty home and seasonal duties.
"I make four trips up to the North Pole to check on the elves and reindeer during the year," he said. "The chief elf brings the sleigh down to me here and I leave from here. It takes me 32 hours to do the whole trip. People forget we have the International Date Line."
And he could never forget his favorite reindeer Rudolph, who guided his sleigh through the foggiest Christmas Eve he and the team had ever experienced.
He dons his red Santa hat the day after Thanksgiving and wears it until the day after Christmas. He visits G.W. Hunters in Post Falls in full Santa regalia on the weekends, but even when the season is through, the spirit of Christmas remains with Claus.
"The joy I get year 'round is wonderful itself," he said. "Summertime, I'm still Santa. My badge says Santa. I talk to kids the same way in the summertime as I do in the wintertime."
Santa said his favorite Christmas songs are "White Christmas" and "I'll Be Home for Christmas." He said he enjoys "It's a Wonderful Life" and "Miracle on 34th Street" because they say more about what Christmas really means than any other films.
"People loving people, people caring about people," he said. "It shows how people can come behind you, stand behind you and protect you."
Santa said he also doesn't forget to honor the true reason for the season.
"The spirit of Santa Claus is what it is, the spirit. It is devotion to the Christ child, that's why the gifts are given to the kids, honestly," he said. "I consider myself one of the wise men, who came to venture and see the Christ child. I don't take the religious part of Christmas out of it."
Santa said although the over-commercialization of the holidays is unfortunate, he still wants everyone to remember the meaning of Christmas.
"Enjoy the people around you," he said. "Don't forget that this is what it's all about."