Pulled Pork And Christmas Trees Go Hand In Hand
Santa takes many forms throughout the holiday season: there’s the work party Santa, the parade float Santa, the illustrious mall Santa. In Baltimore, there’s Santa atop a cargo bike carrying several hundred pounds worth of Christmas trees, trailed by the scent of slow-cooked pork.
From the last week of Thanksgiving through the week before Christmas, Todd Coleman and Mike Santoro dress as St. Nick, load up to eight Christmas trees on their bikes and pack a cooler full of pulled pork sandwiches. The duo run Pork ‘N Pine: a local legend of a business that delivers Douglas firs and BBQ to your door.
The two get their trees from a farm in York, Pa., and their sandwiches from local caterer HarborQue. On a recent bitterly cold Saturday morning, Santoro loaded the final trees of the year onto his bike and mounted a pink, paper mache pig atop it. It looked a little sorry: one of its ears is dangling off.
“I just found that in a dumpster this morning,” Santoro quipped, calling it a metaphor for 2020.
The two were worried the pandemic would slow their business. But the opposite happened, Coleman said. Pork ‘N Pine has sold 260 trees and about twice as many sandwiches this year.
“Everyone's just Googling like delivery for everything now,” Coleman said. “So Christmas tree delivery, we're the first thing that pops up in Baltimore. So people are just like, ‘this is weird, but you guys popped up on the Google.’”
After mapping out their final route of the year, Santoro prepared the duo’s last vital feature: an eclectic, mostly punk Christmas playlist, blasting out of a boombox. They have just one rule: no Mariah Carey.
“You can only listen to ‘All I want for Christmas [Is You]’ this year so many times,” Santoro said.
Once Santoro hit play, the pair, and this reporter, took off on their bikes into the cold morning, Santoro and Coleman wearing Santa suits and face masks: Coleman wore one behind his fake beard, Santoro wore one with a Santa beard print.
As the two biked throughout the city, Baltimoreans collectively lost their minds. City residents rolled down the windows of their cars, shrieking with glee. Some stopped in their tracks and laughed. Many pulled out their smartphones to record the sight.
A few miles later, Santoro and Coleman arrived at Liz Graham and Elena Gaeta’s house in Pigtown, as a punk version of “Feliz Navidad” pulsed through the air from the boombox.
“Hello! Merry Christmas!” Santoro shouted. He handled the pulled pork sandwiches, while Coleman unstrapped a tree from his bike. In normal years, Pork ‘N Pine touted tree setup as part of their package of services. This year, it’s optional, and everyone must wear face masks.
Graham and Gaeta were decked out in festive masks, eager for their tree. They said they hired Pork N Pine to brighten up an otherwise gloomy holiday season.
“We got pork sandwiches out of it, so that helped,” Graham said.
After Coleman set the tree into a base came the usual question -- could he pose for a picture?
“You don’t get to come out of the house dressed like a mascot and not get pictures taken,” Coleman said.
The three stood before the Fraser fir, which stretched seven feet tall. Afterward, Coleman was hit with another standard question.
“Do you guys just literally drive the bikes through the city?” Graham asked, skeptical of the Pork ‘N Pine bikes, which lack a motor. It was her first time hiring the service, which was founded in 2011.
“Sixty miles every Saturday!” Coleman said.
The biking Santas said their goodbyes and delivered a few more trees before arriving at the next home. This time, Santoro did the honors, lifting a six foot tree over his shoulder and into the Oroczo family’s row home near Patterson Park.
“Hello, Merry Christmas!” he shouted, Santa affect on display for Cecilia, age five, and Rosa, age three. “How are you?”
“We're good,” their mother Angela Orozco said. “We're surviving!”
The family are repeat customers. It’s hard to beat pulled pork and punk Christmas music, Simon Orozco said.
“We were worried they wouldn't be doing it because of the pandemic,” he said. “So then I looked it up and I was like, oh yeah, they're coming this year? Awesome.”
With that delivery, the biking Santas have finished the season -- one they said was defined with covid puppies, covid babies and socially distanced photos.
The two have day jobs, and while they turn a profit from Pork ‘N Pine, largely operate it to spread some holiday cheer throughout the city. This year, that shared joy took on a more poignant meaning.
“It feels really good to be able to give this to people,” Coleman said.
“This year feels even more rewarding than any other year, because it has just been such a bummer,” Santoro concurred. “A tree and a smile mean more now.”
Usually, to celebrate their final delivery, the pair hit up a dive bar before throwing a massive party. This year, with city bars and restaurants closed to curb the spread, they’ve had to make other plans.
“We're going to get a bottle of mezcal and get to the worm,” Santoro said.