[00:00:00] Speaker A: Today we'll be talking about Tom Petty Rolling Rock Beer and how they impacted my youth. We're going to be making a stop in Santa Claus, Indiana, the only town in America named after St. Nick. We'll talk about a few of my favorite Christmas things and debuting a segment we're calling Ask Chris Anything.
Hi, I'm Chris Rodell. I've written stories and features for just about every major magazine or publication in America. This is the Use All the Crayons podcast where I'll share those colorful stories with you.
I miss Tom Petty. And I miss Rolling Rock beer. Every solemn holiday dinner prayer, it is always my custom to conclude the grace with "And God, if you see Tom Petty, please tell him we all really miss him", because we do. Dead since 2017. Petty was 66. He was the first big adult rock concert I ever saw. It was 1978, I was 15, and I've loved him ceaselessly ever since.
True story. Petty went on to embrace the persona of Charles T. Willberry, Jr. One of the five Willburies from the supergroup the Traveling Willberries. By cool coincidence, the second show I saw as a kid was the Electric Light Orchestra, led by founder Jeff Lynn. Lynn went on to in 1988, become Otis Wilbury and Bandmates with Petty Bob Dylan, George Harrison and Roy Orbison. So the first two concerts, I saw two of the five Willberries, which makes me very cool. Bullshit story. Not satisfied. Being very cool, I now tell people that after Petty and Lyn, I saw, in order, Orbison, Harrison, and Dylan. So I lie and say that in one year and at the age of 15, I saw all five Willberries long before they knew they'd even become Willberries.
But that's just another artful lie. Dylan and Lyn, by the way, are the only surviving Willberries. With each tick of the clock, it's looking less and less likely we're going to see a credible Willberry reunion. As for Rolling Rock, I'm not going to try and make myself look more cool and create some wild lie that I began drinking it in the fourth grade, back when the horny high school girls began inviting me to their makeout parties. No, that was Jenny cream ale. But Rolling Rock played a significant role in my party youth. Drank it in college and drank it in the divey bar that was right next door to the Nashville Banner when I worked there from 1985 through 88. In fact, at the Nashville Going Away party, the tables were crowded to the point of hazard from all the ponies. I had no idea at the time that I'd soon be moving to Latrobe for what now appears to be the rest of my life and would become an avid consumer of the hometown brew. So when, in 2006, Anheuser Bush was buying up Rolling Rock and moving the brand to New Jersey, me and my fellow guzzlers at the bar that used to be The Pond were outraged and determined to take action. We decided we would boycot Budweiser and other Anheuser Bush products until we brought the beer giant to its knees. But we didn't say it would happen overnight. Maybe we should have said the beer maker was hiring spokespersons who supported transgender rights. Over the years, I've told people who ought to know that I believe in my heart that one day Rolling Rock will return to Latrobe and resume its rightful place as one of America's great heirloom niche beers. They tell me I'm crazy. I ask them when they stop believing in miracles. It's poignant how during the holidays, we wish things would never change. We want all the old traditions, all the old familiars, all the old rockers and all the old beers.
I hope this holiday season we can embrace new traditions, new artists, new brews, because they tell us one day the savior is miraculously coming back. I hope he brings Tom Petty with him and that Tom is carrying a case of Rolling Rock ponies. That's my kind of miracle.
[00:03:38] Speaker B: Okay, Chris, so how did you get your start?
[00:03:41] Speaker A: I was a poor student in everything but English in high school and in college, I started at the school paper at Ohio University, and I had an interview at The Nashville Banner. And the guy read through all my clips were supposed to be humorous clips. He didn't make a single budge a facial reaction. He didn't laugh or anything. And he asked me one question. He sat there. He had, like, a voice I couldn't an accent I couldn't recognize. It was so deeply Southern. And he said, how long were on the school paper? I said one year. He goes, What'd you do the other three years? Drink beer? I said, yes, sir. And he said, Good, I did it for four. He hired me on the spot. And then I've just always enjoyed writing and got a kick out of writing things that people like to read. And it's been a really fun life.
[00:04:26] Speaker B: How long does it usually take you to write a book?
[00:04:27] Speaker A: To write a book? Well, it usually takes me about 18 hours, but that's just with my fingers on the keys, typing. The rest of the time, I'm looking out a window or going to the bar or having a beer.
[00:04:38] Speaker B: So putting it together, it's 18 hours.
[00:04:39] Speaker A: The actual typing takes 18 hours. There's a difference between writing a book and typing a book.
It took me about two years to write Evan and L In Heaven and Hell, which is 80,000 words, but it took me about six weeks to write the Palmer book and the Fred Rogers book.
[00:04:56] Speaker B: You were diagnosed with Parkinson's disease in 2018. How's that going?
[00:05:00] Speaker A: What kind of question is that? That's a crazy jeez.
[00:05:03] Speaker B: That's what I have written down here.
[00:05:06] Speaker A: How impertinent.
[00:05:07] Speaker B: How's that going? What a blunt way to ask that.
[00:05:12] Speaker A: Well, you've got to learn some manners, young man.
[00:05:15] Speaker B: Yeah, I'm sorry.
[00:05:17] Speaker A: It's going good. I've had, like, the doctor tells me I'm beating Parkinson's, and I say, I feel like I'm distracting it. I said, I feel like I'm in a trapdoor with a rusty hinge. Yeah, but we're all on trapdoors with rusty hinges. I feel like I have been symptom free for a long time, and my goal is to be symptom free for so long that people think I made it up just to get attention.
[00:05:37] Speaker B: Well, it's good you have a good sense of humor about it.
[00:05:40] Speaker A: But people say that they're very sorry for me, and I appreciate their sympathy, but there's worse things you can get than Parkinson's, and I'm eligible for all them.
Like, they're not going to say, well, Rodell has Parkinson's. We can't give him male pattern baldness. That wouldn't be fair, but they gave me that, too.
[00:06:01] Speaker B: Getting dealt quite the card.
[00:06:06] Speaker A: You believe in Santa Claus? Answer no to that in one small midwestern town, and you'll be more than a holiday heretic. You'll be an obstacle to civic advancement. Welcome to Santa Claus, Indiana, population 2,041, the only town in all American named after the jolly old elf dedicated to celebrating the evergreen virtues of Christmas. "It's year round, but we really ramp it up around Christmas," says Melinda Wilkerson of the Spencer county visitors bureau. There are parades, tree lightings, chestnut roastings, and fierce competitions between homes vying to be the best decorated. The town is so crazy for Christmas, every street is named after something involving the holiday. There's Candy Cane Lane, Mistletoe Drive, Arctic Circle and Balthazar, Melchior and Casper drives the biblical names of the three wise men.
Three fire trucks in the Santa Claus volunteer fire department are named Rudolph Dasher Blitzen, and a new EMT vehicle was dubbed Comet. It's almost like the town is striving to become some sort of holiday theme park, which is exactly what it would be if there wasn't already an existing theme park devoted to that very purpose. That would be Holiday World and Splash and Safari, located in you guessed it Santa Claus, Indiana, about an hour west of Louisville. Beth Wilkinson says, since 1852, we've been the only town in America with a postal designation of Santa Claus. The town is also the birthplace home of former Chicago Bears quarterback Jay Cutler and was the boyhood home of Abraham Lincoln. Sure, both those men have historic cheering sections, but neither has the fan base of the big boy with a long white beard. It becomes acute every December, especially at the Santa Claus post office, where postmistress Marion Balbach goes to work. She says, the rest of the year is pretty calm. Come Christmas, it's a whole new ball game. Seems everyone in the world wants to have their Christmas card stamped with Santa Claus, Indiana, zip code 47579. Post office goes from about 10,000 letters a month and one full time employee the rest of the year to five full timers who handle about 400,000 letters in just three weeks. Is she stressed? Does she throw darts at Santa's likeness? Does she hate Christmas?
"Ho ho ho er no, no, no."she insists. "Oh, I just love it. You can't help but share in the happiness of people who've driven six or 7 hours just to mail Christmas cards from Santa Claus. Many of their letters are gallery worthy works of art," she says, "with creative sorts going to extraordinary lengths to stylize elegant envelopes. Others are works of art by tiny artists whose preferred medium is stubby crayon."
We pause this report to remind everyone that they can purchase crayon signed copies of Use All the [email protected]
A team of Santa Claus volunteers, dubbed, of course, Santa's Elves, answers and returns the letters, many of them dusted with cookie crumbs from Bumpy Journey, according to chief elf Pat Coke. Coke says kids from all around the world think if they drop a letter to Santa Claus in the mailbox, he's going to get it. It's our job to see that Santa answers his mail. Really, that's what Santa Claus is all about.
Want your Christmas cards specially routed with Santa Claus Indiana postal designation? Send them in an envelope to the Santa Claus Post office. Santa Claus, Indiana 47579.
What's Bugging Me Today today? I'm troubled by the existence of a dairy product known as half and half creamer. How can two halves be inside one full carton? Neither half full nor half empty, it's a milky mingle. I ask, in what mysterious realm does dairy exist where it can defy the laws of the most elemental fractions mean geez.
I always puzzle over The Sound of Music, a movie that has more to do with Nazis than either Christ or Santa became a Christmas staple. Defends the part of me that seeks a life of logic. But that part of me is puny compared to the sentimental part of me that every year enjoys watching The Sound of Music at Christmas. Here are a few of my favorite Christmas things: stringing tree popcorn while watching Polar Express. It's odd how some things become quirky family traditions. I don't even remember how this one started. I'm not even a huge Polar Express fan, finding the animation creepy and knowing the entire holiday vibe would be detonated when an animated Steven Tyler shows up riding his unicycle. Heck, I don't even like stringing popcorn. It combines both tediousness and self inflicted pain. Yet every year, I look forward to sitting with the girls and watching one of my least favorite movies while doing something I find boring and painful. That's the power of family tradition. I enjoy the Christmas pop in. I always make an afternoon run to stopping in to see friends at work during times when they'd usually resent my unscheduled appearance. I never stay long, but I think delivering what is essentially a living Christmas card is welcomed. Hearing the Kinks play Father Christmas is one of my favorite Christmas things. It's just perfectly subversive. It's about tough children who threaten to beat up Santa Claus if he brings them any more toys instead of dough. And man, the song really rocks. Apparently, it's too contrary for the seasonal sweetness of radio programmers. I never even hear it on satellite radio. Doesn't matter. I'll play it 250 times between now and Christmas. I love listening to old time radio shows on satellite radio. Val and I relish long drives without the kids this time of year so we can hear old Christmas stories told from the golden age of radio. My favorites gunsmoke, dragnet and suspense. I like playing Santa with my crayons book. I make mental notes of people that help me throughout the year who've either been extra kind or shared some personal hardship with me. Then I take them each signed copies of the book. The cheerful little book has made so many people happy, and that makes me very happy. One of my favorite things about Christmas is how the entire world seems to, for even one week, awaken to my leisurely priorities. Work becomes less important than cheerful conversation. Yes. Raindrops on roses, whiskers on kittens, bright copper kettles, warm woolen mittens. These are a few of my favorite things. Just one more, and I'm saving the best for last. Thank God it'll all be over soon.
If you enjoy the podcast. We urge you to complete the podcast Road to Success Triathlon of Share Rate Review tell friends about Use All the Crayons. Thanks to my friends at Headspace Media in the heart of downtown Latrobe. For technical support and for cerebral critiques on how we can make this program better for you, and for doing so in a tactful way that never bruises my tender feelings.