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Santa's sporty convertible turning heads, lifting spirits Finds delight bringing smiles to many faces

It is a sight that gives a whole new meaning to the term joy ride.

Fur-trimmed red hat and jolly white beard flapping in the wind, this fellow might be spied anywhere from the Kensington Expressway to a street near you, waving and ho-ho-ho-ing from his spiffy red convertible adorned with fuzzy toy antlers.

Yes, it's Santa Claus -- albeit one with a 1960 Austin Healey instead of a sleigh. And a day job as an inventory specialist at Ingram Micro in Amherst instead of making toys at the North Pole.

Don't tell the kids, but the rest of the year Santa goes by the name of Jim Thompson, an Amherst father of three grown children and husband of 36 years to Mrs. Claus, better known as Holly Thompson.

Most evenings during the holiday season, this Santa hops into his lovingly restored little car -- also known as a bugeye Sprite -- and zips about Western New York. Sometimes he meets up with friends from his church to go caroling at retirement homes and such.

He also does gigs for community groups and others. No charge -- though he will take a cookie and glass of milk or cup of coffee.

You could say he inherited the job. His father was a Santa, too. In fact, Thompson had been a Santa sans car for years and years. It was after he bought the Austin Healey and noticed how the Sunday school kids at his church loved to dress it up that Thompson decided to take to the road to spread even more holiday cheer.

"It just brings joy to so many people," he said of his night job tooling around the streets of Western New York, which he has been doing for nine years.

People wave back, all smiles; the police seem to particularly enjoy the sight of the "Santa guy," as some have come to call him.

Kids love him especially, he said. After all, they can tell their friends there really is a Santa Claus -- they have his license plate number to prove it.

And if you don't believe in Christmastime miracles, consider this: One evening not long ago, Santa's travels along car-clogged Transit Road in Amherst brought traffic to a halt. Drivers wanted to pose with him for pictures, sit in his car -- just generally giggle and laugh and wave.

But not one driver honked in anger. Not one. "It was amazing," he said.

"It changes people's attitudes for the rest of the day," he said. "You don't know why. But it is the way life should be."

e-mail: ncervantes@buffnews.com

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