Santa Claus is cruisin’ to town
CHRISTIANSBURG — Kris Kringle has traditionally been a character with a flare for unique methods of transportation.
While an airborne sleigh guided by eight or nine reindeer on a foggy night may seem like a perfect fit to most people, Christiansburg’s Wayne Akers felt Saint Nick’s ride needed an upgrade.
“Santa should be driving a hot rod,” Akers said.
In 2007, Akers made his Santa debut, cruising the streets and shopping centers of Christiansburg in a bright-red 1932 T-bucket roadster Ford named “Rudolph.” For three consecutive holiday seasons, Akers and Rudolph spread joy and burnt rubber, but in 2010 Akers sold the car and hung up his plush red suit and snow white beard.
The retirement didn’t take, however.
“I missed it so much, I purchased another [hot rod],” Akers said.
Now the 66-year-old retired Air Force master sergeant and former Montgomery County school custodian is back in action for the second holiday season in his new, bright yellow 1929 Ford Model A roadster, complete with a 1932 Ford grill and a souped-up 1975 Chevy Camaro Z28 engine.
Akers said the car produces close to 400 horsepower, or about 300 reindeer power by his estimation.
“When there’s no snow, the reindeer don’t go. … Got to break out the big guns,” Akers said.
From Black Friday to Christmas Eve, Akers said he’ll don the trademark outfit and hit the road whenever the weather’s dry and the mood strikes him.
Once he’s on the job, Akers rarely goes unnoticed as he makes laps through parking lots and tours downtown Christiansburg, amidst a flurry of fanfare.
“I get a lot of waves, horn blowing, and if I stop, I get different people coming up to me and wanting to have their pictures made,” Akers said.
Akers seems more than happy to grant requests and stops as often as possible to listen to wish lists. He even keeps a stash of candy canes on hand for his younger fans.
Though he enjoys making many children’s day, Akers said his favorite part of the job is spreading cheer to a slightly older audience.
“The older folks tickle me,” Akers said. “They’re tired of shopping, they’ve got frowns on their faces, but when they see me their faces light up.”
Mike Cornelison is a member of that slightly older audience, and having recently spotted Akers stopped in a parking lot, he quickly doubled back in his truck to thank Akers for his efforts.
“It’s great seeing you out on the road,” Cornelison told Akers.
While similar positive attention seemed to be the norm as Akers toured shopping center lots, he admitted the occasional negative experience does happen.
“There are some Scrooges out there, but thank the Lord there’s very few of those folks,” Akers said.
The gig has also produced a few very interesting experiences, the most bizarre being a photo request from a lady dressed in a less-than-conservative Mrs. Claus outfit. As normal, Akers obliged.
“I mean, I’m not completely dead,” Akers said.
From young children to garbage truck drivers, more common reactions are the smiles, chants of “ho-ho-ho,” and the jokes that the yellow hot rod was just added to people’s wish lists.
Such reactions are what make the many hours spent and miles logged completely worthwhile for Akers.
“That’s what it’s all about, making people happy,” Akers said.
The Roanoke Times | 381-1643
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