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I had the most enjoyable, unplanned, day yesterday spending some twelve hours participating in "Santa Con.". This is an annual gathering of people dressed as Santa Claus held in a number of cities throughout the U.S. I had never heard of it before stumbling across the very start of Portland's event shortly after 11a.m. Saturday.

I'd started out from my hotel rather late in the morning, braving the piercing winds and bitter temperatures to walk north to Pioneer Place, a large undeground shopping canter in the heart of downtown. After discovering the location of the movie theater and that I'd missed the beginning of "King Kong" by ten minutes, I decided to eat an early lunch. I had a turkey sandwich at California Crisp, my favorite eatery from my September visit. However, they were out of cranberry sauce - the best part.

I then took the MAX to the Skidmore Fountain station in order to check out the famous Saturday Market. After spending some time wandering around looking at the various booths and smellling the aromas of the international food market, I happened upon several Santas standing under the Ankeny Arch. A very pretty female Santa explained that this was the staging point for Santa Con. She invited me to join in the fun and presented me with a Santa hat. Every few minutes, it seemed that the number of red-suited men and women multiplied exponentially.

As the number of Santas increased so did the level of hilarity. There were many traditional Santas, but there were also Mexican Santas with huge sombreros, Elvis Santas with gaudy sunglasses and massive sideburns, department store Santa rejects, and all kinds of pretty female Santas and elves with short skirts and fishnet stockings (these were my favorite Santas of all).

For an hour or so, as Santas continued to arrive, the group took pictures of each other, danced to amplified music in the square, waved to the trains arriving at the adjacent station, and laughed at the spectacle of it all. With the number of costumed Santas approaching 300 or so, we began our "tour" of the city. We first marched up and down the rows of Saturday Market booths underneath the Burnside Bridge. Climbing up the stairs to Burnside, we walked west through Chinatown (picking up at least two Asian Santas along the way) before making our first beer stop - a strip club called Cabaret. The site of over 300 Santas and elves (about an even number of men and women) packing a dive T&A bar was nothing short of surreal.

We only spent a half-hour or so there before our "leader" (a Santa with a painted clown-face armed with a megaphone) had us move on, reminding is to tip generously. We then headed to the waterfront park near the Japanese Historical Plaza where we danced to Christmas music and had the Santa Olympics (events included the Christmas tree toss and the ever-popular fruitcake catapult into the Willamette River - quickly eaten by the seagulls and sturgeon).

The Santas then began walking west again into Downtown. Stops included yet another stripclub, the lobby of U.S. Bancorp Tower, and Pioneer Courthouse Square where we met even more Santas. A massive dance party then entertained the many surprised non-Santas before we once again began the Santa march. Everywhere we walked in Portland, cars would honk and Santas would wave back. One memorable photo op stop was outside PGE Park Stadium where the Portland Beavers (formerly the Albuquerque Dukes) play. A dinner stop was included in the meandering itinerary (I didn't eat, spending the time there speaking to some of the cuter of the female Santas) and we even got as far west as 23rd Street in the Northwest District. Somewhere in the Pearl District, one of the Santas at the head of the pack knocked on the door of an extravantly-decorated house and we sang "Jungle Bells" to the surprised occupants.

A late stop saw the army of Santas sitting underneath a bridge overpass. A big movie screen was set up and we watched a Santa Con video presentation consisting of Christmas movie clips. One of the highlights for me was our parading through Powell's - the world's largest bookstore.

After an entertaining stop at a bar called Matador, we seemed to lose a lot of the Santas on the way to Fez, a huge multistoried club somewhere north of Burnside around 10th or 11th Street. A couple dozen of us Santas wound up on the too level where a very good band from Seattle was playing (I never did catch their name). We danced to the music for a while (well, I was mostly bobbing up and down at this point) until I decided to call it quits around 11:30p.m. I had lost track of my Santa buddy (Shelly, who had given me the Santa hat all those hours before and who had been my arm-in-arm partner throughout the day as we strolled the city streets) and was beginning to approach my alcohol limit (about five beers these days). I bid farewell to some of my fellow Santas and began the long cold walk back to my hotel; at least the downtown city streets here are fairly safe so I had no worries.

Being a Santa for a day in the midst of hundreds of other Santas was a lot of fun, a real hoot. It also reaffirmed my feelings that most Portlanders are extremely friendly and that I'm making the right decision by moving here. And for next year's Santa Con, I'll be prepared with my own Santa suit

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