Yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus in Santa Barbara, albeit an “accidental” one, and his name is John Dickson.
A few years back, when Dickson’s business phone began receiving calls from children misdialing 1-800-SANTA-CLAUS, he decided to embrace the opportunity by becoming “The Accidental Santa.” Now every Christmas season, Dickson and his legions of volunteers answer the ringing of “little friends” longing to speak with old St. Nick. During the rest of the year, John is also known as “The Restaurant Guy,” the go-to-person for information about dining news in Santa Barbara, which he publishes both on his popular website, SantaBarbara.com, in print each week as a column in The Santa Barbara Independent.
A former scientist, Dickson is a most congenial and down-to-earth fellow, and living proof that a combination of tenacity and ingenuity can bring you a satisfying career — make that two satisfying careers!
As if handling dually demanding public personas wasn’t enough, Dickson found time to answer the Proust Questionnaire.
What is the best thing about being the Accidental Santa?
Without a doubt, it is the love and hope that flows from every child I talk to. In most cases, it is their first time to speak with Old St. Nick, and it is heartwarming to share that special moment with them.
What is your favorite memory about being the Accidental Santa?
One time a little boy from South Carolina called and asked me to NOT come to his home on Christmas Eve. When I asked him why, he told me, “I don’t want Rudolph to poo on my roof.”
What do you consider your greatest achievement?
Turning my hobby, SantaBarbara.com, into a successful business promoting local services. I was laid off from my longtime job as a scientist in 1994 and remember being in the unemployment line on Ortega Street. That was not a happy time. When not searching for work, I spent all my spare time taking pictures and writing about Santa Barbara and posting it online even though there was absolutely no money to be made at the time.
What is your idea of perfect happiness?
I’m a naturally a content person and am very fortunate to have great parents, great family, great friends, great health, a great hometown, and a great day job. So until last year, I would have said simply being vertical is perfect happiness for me. But after decades of being single, last year I married my long-time friend (first for both of us) and I found a whole new level of happiness that I didn’t know was on the menu of life. So today I would say just spending time with my wife makes me perfectly happy.
What is your greatest fear?
There is not a lot that I fear in life, which is not always a good thing. Not being able to provide for your family is a fear many people have, and it is one that helps keep me burning the midnight oil at the office. So let’s put that at the top for now.
Who do you most admire and why?
A geek at heart, I have always loved the sciences, mainly computers, astronomy, cosmology and theoretical physics. I most admire people who have contributed to our scientific body of knowledge, for example Albert Einstein, Carl Sagan, Neil Armstong, Buzz Aldrin, Henrietta Swan Leavitt, Lawrence Krauss, Edwin Hubble, Marie Curie, Isaac Newton, Michael Faraday, James Clerk Maxwell, Annie Jump Cannon, Charles Darwin, Nicolaus Copernicus, Galileo Galilei, Watson & Crick (with Rosalind Franklin) and so forth. The next time they have a casting call for “The Big Bang Theory” please sign me up. Locally the person I admire most is Peter Jordano. A great business man and community leader, Peter well deserves the many accolades he receives.
What is your greatest extravagance?
I have owned every version of the iPhone ever made. Let’s go with “my electronic toys.”
What is your current state of mind?
Peaceful and relaxed. At this very moment, though, I feel sad about what happened to Mallory Rae Dies, the wonderful young lady who was a victim of a recent hit-and-run. I can’t imagine what her family is going through. My heart goes out to them.
What is the quality you most like in people?
Having class, that is, the ability to say and do the right thing at the right time. Being kind to others. Intelligence. Business acumen. Not taking yourself too seriously.
What is the quality you most dislike in people?
Being negative, inconsiderate, or a victim. I bring out my bottle of Drama-B-Gone whenever I see it coming.
What do you most value in friends?
Conversations, the memories we share, and constructive criticism. The most useful feedback comes from your friends.
What is your most marked characteristic?
I’m a good listener and like to learn about others’ life experiences. I’m honest, but not brutally so. People tell me I pop up in Google a lot.
Which words or phrases do you most overuse?
“Sounds good” and “no problem.” In my Restaurant Guy news column in The Santa Barbara Independent, I am stuck in a rut with: “This just in…”
Which talent would you most like to have?
Being able to run a big business. Being a good public speaker and spontaneously witty.
If you could change one thing about yourself, what would it be?
I would budget my time better. I admire people who have conquered procrastination.
Where would you most like to live?
Santa Barbara. I have never actually lived within the city limits. But given that my wife and I currently reside a stones-throw from Home Depot and Costco, I am in no hurry.
What is your most treasured possession?
I don’t own any physical object that I cannot live without. So let’s go with good physical and mental health.
Who makes you laugh the most?
My wife Sharon and my daily email buddies Flip, Wedge, Preston, and Tone. And reading comments on Edhat.
What do you like most about your job?
That I can run it from anywhere with my iPad or laptop. The world is my office.
What is your motto?
“Everything in moderation, including moderation.”