When the freak windstorm was knocking down power lines and toppling giant trees on roofs and cars, Scotty Sorensen was pounding 42-inch stakes into the ground with a sledgehammer to keep the 95-mph gusts from blowing away the tents at his Christmas tree lot in Pasadena.
It was an exercise in futility as the raging winds bent the aluminum poles holding up the tents. It was the same at his lot in South Pasadena where the giant tent — Big Red — was in danger of blowing away and damaging someone else’s property. So he cut through the canvas to let the air out and pounded in the spikes with a regular hammer because he had left the sledge in Pasadena.
By the time he got to his lot in Altadena, even Sorensen was too tired at 4 a.m. to do much beyond surveying the damage.
By dawn of that morning, Dec. 1, the first day he was permitted by the cities to open for business, he faced a monumental mess that would take days to put back in order and many thousands of dollars in new equipment and rented tents before he could ring up his first sale with just two weekends left before Christmas.
“I took the worst hit of anybody I know because I don’t have any insurance like a homeowner. It destroyed my business,” he said last week over breakfast across the street from his South Pasadena lot. “For somebody like me with an outdoor business, it was the perfect storm to wipe him out.”
Is it any wonder that Sorensen was first in line on Monday when the Small Business Administration office opened at 199 S. Los Robles Ave. in Pasadena to take low-interest loan applications from storm victims?
“The bills are piling up. It cost thousands to rent new tents, and it will cost a lot more to buy new ones for next year, but I don’t know if I’m going to go that route. I don’t know if I want to go into debt to the government even at low interest. I might not come back.”
Then, he laughs heartily as he does throughout our hour-long chat every time the darkness of his situation begins to get to him.
“I’ve been saying the same thing every year for 20 years. But I like people, I like doing this. It’s not the money, which isn’t all that great even in the best years. It’s the families, the kids. I enjoy the hard work. I enjoy slinging a hammer.”
Most of Sorensen’s income comes from his career as a private investigator and through his security business — “I always find myself chasing the dollar,” he says with that laugh of his rolling behind his words.
He’s also in the pumpkin patch business. The season for Tahoe Scotty’s Pumpkin Patch and Christmas tree lots begins Sept. 1 when he starts setting up his Halloween sites, and ends Jan. 1 with the cleanup of the Christmas tree sites.
“The pumpkins are better than the trees,” he said. “Fall is coming, and families come and take pictures with their kids; it’s a lot of fun. I like to think it’s a safe and sane place to come, and there’s no complaining, like with trees when it’s dark and everybody wants theirs delivered right now and they are in too much of a hurry to enjoy the moment. I like to deal with people.”
At a time when so many are struggling with the aftermath of the storm, when so many have lost jobs or homes, when so many are living in fear of what tomorrow will bring, when discontent and conflict are so rampant, it’s worth noting this Christmas Day how Scotty Sorensen has survived and kept on going with his chin up.
He knows what it is like to be homeless and sleep under a culvert to get out of the rain, to take chances and fail, to pull himself back together and try again — with a little laugh to remind himself of what’s important.
“You work four months and you make no money, what do you do? You go on. You can’t cancel Christmas,” he said.
“You have to laugh you know. This storm — it’s not the end of the world. You don’t give up. You tell yourself, ‘I’ll be all right, I’ll get through this.’
“Me? I could survive anything. You could put me in hell and I’d end up trying to run the place. I’ll get through this and be here next year. Hey, there’s five weekends to sell Christmas trees next year. I can survive this.”
RON KAYE can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Share your thoughts and stories with him.