Dan Ackroyd in the 1983 movie “Trading Places”: highly intoxicated and eating a salmon fillet through his dirty beard on a city bus. Classic.
Crispin Glover in the 1990 movie “Wild at Heart”: Cousin Dell, who wore the same Santa suit every day, kept cockroaches down his pants, thought Christmas should last 365 days a year and was “more than just a little bit confused.”
Charles Dierkop in the 1984 slasher classic “Silent Night, Deadly Night”: Killer Santa reinforces our policy of NEVER stopping on the highway to pick up a hitchhiker, even old St. Nick.
The late, great Jeff Gillen in the 1983 classic “A Christmas Story”: kicks Ralphie down the slide after warning, “You’ll shoot your eye out kid.”
And of course, Billy Bob Thornton in 2003’s “Bad Santa”: a thieving, amoral sociopath Santa.
They’re all pretty bad in their own wonderful way. But for my money, the worst Santa of all time: Jeff Bobo, 2000 Church Hill Christmas Parade: the Santa who disappoints the elderly.
I’d been covering Hawkins County for only about a year and a half in December of 2000, when Church Hill’s regular Santa apparently became unavailable for the annual Christmas parade.
Even though I wasn’t fat yet, I still checked enough boxes to be acceptable, with the prerequisite round face, rosy cheeks and a jovial demeanor — so the city asked me to fill in.
It was a very cold morning when the parade began its westerly journey along Main Boulevard.
All modesty aside, I thought I was doing great.
High atop the back of a fire truck rolling slowly along, I “Ho, Ho, Hoed” with the best of them and made eye contact and waved at each child individually to make each feel special.
I threw lots of candy and little stuffed toys to all the little girls and boys, and a good time was had by all.
As the floats and trucks reached the end of the parade route around Fairview Avenue, they all turned around and headed back to City Hall for the parade “after party.”
My driver, on the other hand, mashed the gas pedal and continued westbound under the railroad bridge at a fairly high rate of speed.
I wasn’t given any instructions except to do the obvious things a parade Santa always does. I was not aware of any side excursions on the itinerary and had no idea what was going on.
Those who know me would testify I’m never one to complain — much. But the windchill that morning was in the teens. We were going a little bit faster than made me feel safe, and it also got a bit nippy up there.
Imagine a confused Santa high atop a fire truck on a white-knuckle 45 mph ride down the road with no idea where he’s being taken, or if he’ll ever get to see his loved ones again.
Eventually the fire truck pulled into a place called the Church Hill Healthcare Center. The driver stopped at the entrance, grabbed the leftover bag of candy and walked through the front door. Didn’t say a word to me.
Keep in mind, at that point I’m still pretty new to Hawkins County. Never heard of the Church Hill Healthcare Center before that morning and had no idea what it was. Where I come from, nursing homes are called nursing homes.
This must be an urgent care clinic, I surmised. Either the driver is injured or fallen suddenly ill, which seemed unlikely, or he’s dropping off leftover candy for the nurses and doctors, which seemed more likely.
Maybe his wife works there. Who knows?
In retrospect, I should have climbed down from the top of the fire truck to see what was going on. But I didn’t. I just sat there.
And that’s the mistake that has haunted me for the past 17 years.
Up to that point I’d been having that common recurring nightmare where it’s the end of the semester on the day of final exams, and I hadn’t attended a single class or studied.
Since Christmas of 2000, my recurring nightmare has changed.
It now involves lonely senior citizens waiting hopefully for a Santa who never arrives, their faces pressed up against their bedroom windows, teardrops rolling down their cheeks watching as Santa sits shivering on top of a fire truck outside, ignoring them with a confused expression on his face.
Everyone who survived that experience now suffers from PTSD: Post Terrible Santa Disorder.
So there I sat, and after about five minutes the driver came out, again didn’t say a word to me and drove me back to City Hall.
When we got to the parade after party, the mayor and some other city officials came up to me and asked how the senior citizens at the nursing home enjoyed their candy.
I said, “Huh? What senior citizens?”
Well, you can imagine how the mood changed as the story circulated about me refusing to get off the top of the fire truck.
I went from guest of honor to town pariah pretty quick.
The hot chocolate and cupcakes suddenly tasted like ashes in my mouth. I didn’t deserve any yummy treats, and I slinked out of City Hall in shame.
I will accept 95 percent of the blame for the Santa debacle of 2000. Even though I thought it was an urgent care clinic, I still should have climbed off that fire truck and gone inside to find out what the deal was.
But the fire truck driver and/or someone at City Hall has to share 5 percent of the blame for this.
Word to the wise. Never assume your Santa has any common sense.
Draw him a map with graphs and diagrams outlining what exactly is expected of him. And if you haven’t got time for that, just tell him.
If someone had said, “Hey, after the parade you’re going to the nursing home and hand out candy to the patients,” I would have been like, “Great. That’ll be fun.”
Instead, I became the Santa who ruined Christmas.
And if you think that incident has been forgotten after 17 years, think again.
Last year, I was at the November Board of Mayor and Aldermen meeting when the mayor was mentioning the time and date for the upcoming Christmas parade.
Then he looked at me and and winced and asked, “Remember when Bobo was Santa?”
His expression said it all: “Worst Santa ever.”
Jeff Bobo covers Hawkins County for the Times News.