As his wife whips up a latte in the kitchen, Charley Carlin uses the opportunity to hand his guest a business card.
“I carry these with me all the time, year round,” he says.
Instead of the usual name, title and place of business, this 4-by-6 card features a painted image of Santa Claus modeled after Carlin, a longtime Atascadero resident.
“The directions are on the back,” he says.
A flip of the card reveals a simple message: “Be good!”
Not surprisingly, Carlin hands out more of these cards after Thanksgiving – when he dons his red hat for the first time in his official capacity as North County Santa. But with his thick white beard, rounded belly and approachable smile, he is “recognized” year-round. No matter where he travels, he gets the celebrity treatment, even if no one knows his actual name.
Instead, he’s Pape Noel in Chile, Jólasveinn in Iceland or, most often, just Santa.
“I get recognized no matter where I am,” said Carlin, who recently spent 40 days traveling the Baltics – with a Santa-esque pass over the Arctic Circle – with
his wife, Anet.
And, of course, he doesn’t try to avoid the attention.
“I wear a lot of things that are red anyway,” he says, wearing a shirt featuring dozens of red chili peppers.
Carlin will take up his usual Santa duties in Paso Robles this year, appearing at the Vine Street Victorian Christmas Showcase, the Christmas Light Parade and his temporary house in City Park.
In photos from the 70s, Carlin looked like he could pass for a member of a Laurel Canyon rock band. But his hair began to turn white at 40, and — like Tim Allen in “The Santa Clause” — he has seemingly morphed into the jolly elf. Given his striking similarity to Saint Nick, about 15 years ago, Anet first offered his services as Santa to the holiday parade in San Luis Obispo.
The two met decades ago, when Anet, a relocated Texan, taught theatre in San Luis Obispo.
“He was my student at Cuesta College and hit on me,” she remembers. “I said, ‘I am your teacher!’”
Ten years later, she finally relented.
“Please don’t represent me as a cradle robber,” she pleads, to which Charley quickly responds with a smile: “Or me as a grave robber.”
Charley, who went on to earn a degree in computer science and mathematics from Cal Poly, became a computer expert, working for many years as a senior computer support staffer at PG&E. Anet was a player in the local arts scene, becoming instrumental in the formation of the popular PCPA theatre program in Solvang and the Great American Melodrama and Vaudeville in Oceano. For a few years, the two even hosted regular theatre performances in their backyard. The Brickyard Theatre, with 12 performances a year, raised money for local non-profits, including Hospice of SLO.
Of course, it makes sense that they’d be giving – this is Santa Claus, after all. And, for Santa, charity isn’t just local. The Carlins have also raised tens of thousands of dollars to build a Tibetan school for girls in Northern India.
“I’m out to make the world a better place,” says Charley, 68, just like a Santa character in a Hallmark Channel movie.
Luckily, he married someone with a similar sentiment. Anet, who became a Buddhist in 1963, speaks fondly of helping girls in India get an education.
“The idea of doing something to help children that far away is like a dream of mine,” Anet says.
The school is located amid rugged terrain – and often snowed in. Yet, the couple still plans to visit sometime within the year, even if that requires some
“I hiked the Himalayas when I was 50,” Anet says. “And I’m 78 now.”
A look at their home reveals that this is a couple that values travel – and art. And, of course, some of that art includes depictions of Santa. No matter where they go – be it Russia, Sweden, Greenland or Germany – they try to pick up Santa mementos.
It’s sort of like research.
“We’ve been checking to see how Santa is portrayed across the world,” Charley says.
But for now, they’re sticking to North County for the holidays. And once Charley dons his official Santa digs, he’ll get mobbed by little kids, whether it’s at the popular Vine Street event or the local grocery store.
“In December, it might take an hour to get a loaf of bread,” he said.