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Troubleshooting in Toyland

(December 2006) posted on Thu Jan 04, 2007

Roberts recalls his visit to a screen-printing shop far north of the Arctic Circle, where the staff scurries about in a mad rush to get jobs printed in time for delivery to its young and eager customers.

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By Gordon Roberts

I recently took an overnight flight from Baltimore to London, landed, had a quick British breakfast of overstuffed sausage, half-cooked bacon, and baked beans in the terminal, and then caught a late morning flight to Helsinki, Finland. There are only a few customers for whom I will endure a hectic traveling schedule such as this. But I've been visiting the operations of Mr. Claus for years now, and it's become a lot easier over time.

A lot of people in America believe Santa lives at the North Pole, but ask any European and he or she will tell you the truth. Santa lives where the reindeer come from, and that's far up north in the hinterlands of Finland, in a province known as Lapland.

Traveling to visit St. Nick's operations can be quite challenging at times. The security is tighter these days. Gone are the days when you are met by a short guy at the railway station and put on a train with an open-ended ticket. Nowadays, things are a little more organized, and as I check into my hotel, I am handed a note with instructions to meet my handler at the Mockba bar—a small, retro-looking, Moscow-type Helsinki dive that serves the best vodka cocktails to its expatriate Russian clientele. Two hours later I am sitting on a stool admiring the Red Army posters on the wall and marveling at the incredible detail that Russian screen printers achieved back in the 1940s. I'd like to meet the man who made those screens.

Soon I am joined by a short gentleman in a strange hat that speaks English with a clipped accent. I have been called upon because there are serious problems in Santa's print shop, and the operation is falling further and further behind every day. The gentleman looks me in the eye, and I can see the worry etched on his face. On-time delivery is a goal that all my customers strive for, but for this customer there is no room for a late delivery. It's Christmas day or nothing. I reassure him that things can be turned around, and we drink to a successful Christmas season.


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