It’s arguably a tradition by now — something Kirk Rockwell has been doing for the last 15 years without a problem, he says.
If you hop aboard the bus he drives in Vancouver, B.C. around the Christmas holidays, you’ll immediately know why.
He adorns his bus with garlands, hangs Christmas decorations from the ceiling, places holiday-themed stuffed toys on the dashboard, and has Christmas music playing softly in the background.
Yet the most noticeable feature is Rockwell himself, decked out in full Santa gear — right down to his red-and-white furry cap, long white beard, and black boots.
But this Christmas, the bus company that employs Rockwell — which you might say has taken on the persona of Ebenezer Scrooge against Rockwell’s Bob Cratchit — had ordered the driver who’s been with them for almost 20 years to stop wearing the St. Nick costume.
One official at Coast Mountain has apparently heard another noteworthy comparison of late.
“…to call us Grinches, that’s not really fair when we do a lot of really good stuff for the Lower Mainland Christmas Bureau and a lot of our employees are really proud of that,” company spokesman Derek Zabel told the Toronto Sun.
“We need our operators to be identifiable to the public and other agencies” for their own safety or in case of any major incidents, Zabel clarified to The Province. “A Santa hat or a tie would be acceptable, a full Santa suit is not.”
Either way you slice it, Rockwell wasn’t taking this sleigh ride lying down — the 51-year-old, self-described “rebel with a Claus” defied the order and went to work on Wednesday driving the No. 27 Kootenay Loop/Joyce Station bus just as he had before this time of year, dressed up as Father Christmas.
“I feel there comes a time when you have to take a stance for something you believe in,” Rockwell told The Vancouver Sun as he left his bus Wednesday.”This doesn’t hurt anybody; I haven’t had any complaints.
“We’ll see what the company wants to do with me.”
TheBlaze reached out to Coast Mountain on Thursday for comment about Rockwell’s decision, then a report surfaced that the company is backing off its edict and letting Rockwell continue spreading holiday cheer by wearing his costume.
“It makes me feel good. It makes my customers feel good,” Rockwell told The Province. “If I can make someone smile and do something good to someone else … that’s all I want.”
Rockwell told The Province that he’s never gotten complaints from passengers or noticed confusion over seeing a bus driver dressed like Santa.
“I’m the person sitting behind the wheel while the bus is moving,” he declared. “People know I’m the driver.”
Zabel added to The Province that Coast Mountain gets numerous requests from employees to wear different items of clothing to support causes and events and wants to be “fair and consistent.” He also told the Toronto Sun that Coast Mountain isn’t anti-Christmas, noting that its reindeer buses have picked up 60,000 dontated toys for kids and raised $15,000 since 1985.
Rockwell told the Vancouver Sun he averages about 65 photos a day as Santa, including requests from “burly construction guys wanting to take their picture with me.”
Passenger Ingrid Iny, who often takes Rockwell’s bus to visit her mother in a care home, said Coast Mountain’s order was “silly.”
“He’s making everybody happy,” Iny told The Vancouver Sun. “They have them in malls and he’s a nice-spirited bus driver. They shouldn’t be so silly.”
Jayce Francis couldn’t agree more. “It’s the holidays,” she added to the Vancouver Sun. “He’s trying to make other people happy and the kids would enjoy it. It’s like us not being able to say Merry Christmas. We have to say ‘happy holidays.’”
“I’ve been blessed to touch some people’s lives in a positive way,” Rockwell told the Vancouver Sun. “If I can make someone feel good, there will hopefully be a ripple effect.”