Santa Hangs Up His Cap
By Julie Horner
Santa knows everyone. “When I was in the home video distribution business I got to work with Gene Kelly, Frank Zappa, Tommy Chong and Cheech Marin, Charlie Daniels, Dennis Hopper…now that’s a story right there.” He remembers seeing Leon Redbone at the Catalyst. Standing at the bar later, he recalls hearing the musician moving through the crowd, “Step to the side, step to the side.” Redbone took a spot next to him at the bar. “I was surprised at how short he was. Shaking his hand I remember how soft his hands were. Leon said, what do they call you? I said Tuz, it’s good to see you. And he answered back, ‘It’s better to be seen than viewed.’”
Vince Tuzzi is Santa Claus. “This is my 41st year performing this character.” He started back when his beard was black with a program run by the City of Santa Cruz. Then used white theatrical paint to make it white in those days. When they discontinued the program, Tuzzi turned his appearances into a boutique business for himself as a career Claus. His beard now is white as the snow.
For a decade Vince has been an institution with the Santa Cruz Holiday Lights Train at Roaring Camp Railroads in Felton. Dashing from head to toe in Norman Rockwell fashion, his role was to make his way through the vintage excursion cars taking photos with families as the train rolled through city streets. “I had to get from the front of the train to the back of the train in 45 minutes,” he said. “It was definitely a workout”
Because of the pandemic, the cherished Holiday Lights Train is postponed until 2021. At 72 with an aching back – and a heavy heart – Tuzzi realized it was time to retire from the railroad. “It was wonderful working for Roaring Camp. Most of all, I will miss the children, seeing their beautiful faces. If only you could see them though my eyes”.
At Roaring Camp, “I got to play the character as I wanted,” he said. “I made sure my mustache was smiling and the belt buckle on my coat was in the center for the perfect photo op.” When Macy’s decided not to have Santa in the store this year because of the pandemic, “that’s what changed my mind. Maybe I should do the same.” There was talk about doing a Zoom, a virtual Santa. “I’m just not that kind of Santa,”
Santa’s regular appearance at Mountain Feed and Farm Supply in Ben Lomond has also had to evolve with the times. Instead, Tuzzi worked with legendary rock n’ roll photographer, Fred Arellano, to create a lifesize cardboard standup of Santa which will be displayed at Mountain Feed through December. “I’ve been performing Santa there for years,” he said. After the crowd left one year, he remembers asking the owner’s daughter, who was probably 7 or 8 at the time, what she wanted for Christmas. She answered, “I want you to be happy.”
Ordinarily, when not decked out in red velvet and faux ermine, Tuzzi enjoys singing and playing guitar with his band Cruz Control or playing ukulele with the Ukulele Club of Santa Cruz, all of which is sidelined or relegated to monthly Zoom sessions for the time being. During the CZU fires, Tuzzi streamed six mini concerts from home on Facebook and plans to do another livestream on Sunday, December 20 starting at noon. He leans toward the storytellers like John Prine, Guy Clark, and Jerry Jeff Walker whose songs of heartache give him goosebumps.
Tuzzi, his band, and the man in the red suit are resilient. “Once covid is over, Santa is definitely coming back.” He advocates wearing a mask to save lives and says, “I have the feeling that things are going to be okay…time will tell.”