"Mr. Robert Levey, I need help, and I need it fast. This situation is getting ho-ho-hopeless."

"Nick! My guy! How're you doin', man? Long time, no talk! Pretty good connection for a transcontinental call, wouldn't you say? Which has it been this year, Nick-o: Naughty or nice?"

"I don't need your wit, Robert, such as it is. I need your counsel."

"Reindeer maintenance ain't my strong suit, Nick."

"But Washington-area traffic is."

"Yeah, I guess you could say that. After all, I have survived rush hour around here for nearly a quarter of a century. What can I do for my favorite man in the flannel suit?"

"I'm thinking of starting my rounds a little early this year, Robert, because I understand that traffic is a nightmare in and around Washington, at just about any hour of the day. I mean, is it true that the subway system starts charging afternoon rush hour fares at 3 p.m.?"

"You got it, Nick, old buddy. And on the day before Christmas, you can bet your sweet bippy -- and all the bippies of all those reindeer -- that rush hour will actually begin sometime around lunch, not only on the subway but also on the roads."

"Exactly why I called you, Robert. I need to know how to plan my approach. Would you recommend that I come down from the north on I-95?"

"Only if you enjoy construction and total confusion. The construction is anywhere, and sometimes everywhere, between Baltimore and Columbia. The confusion kicks in when 95 hits the Beltway. Why does 95 go one way and not the other? Why are there several signs for Richmond but only a couple for Washington? Which is the quickest way to Alexandria? Where in the world is I-270? And other mysteries of life."

"All right, Robert, 95 is out. How about the Baltimore-Washington Parkway?"

"You always were a quaint, traditional sort, weren't you, Nick? No chance, baby. The BW Parkway has been a bad two-lane joke since 1965."

"I could take the Suitland Parkway . . . ."

" . . . . And end up in a ditch. That road was built 60 years ago, you frozen-headed fool. They didn't know about shoulders then. Let me be blunt, Nick. If the sleigh gets caught on the edge of the Suitland, you could flip right over and scatter all the presents in the woods."

"Well, some of the elves were telling me that I ought to try Canal Road."

"The elves were yanking your chain, Nick. One dead battery anywhere south of the Chain Bridge, and you're talking 700,000 disappointed kids."

"You'd probably say the same for Georgetown Pike, over in Virginia."

"(Choke) Nick, not only is the pike nothing more than an overgrown country road, but it would force you to cross into Maryland via the American Legion Bridge. I can't let you do that, Nick. You'd see the look of horror and fear on hundreds of faces. It might destroy your holiday spirit."

"Robert, I am a man who has made a life of divining who really wants what. I hear you saying that St. Nicholas should take a plane."

"You, try to get through the throngs at National Airport on Christmas Eve, carrying all that luggage and wearing those floppy boots? Life is too short for such torture, Nick."

"Perhaps a bus?"

"I think a Greyhound or a Trailways was on time once, back in 1957."

"That leaves Amtrak, Robert."

"Yes, indeed, it does, Nick. And Amtrak will leave you -- in a state of high frustration. First of all, the heat is often blazing away at about 150 degrees. That won't do wonders for you considering all that padding you carry around your middle. Second, the conductors are very strict about noise, so those sleigh bells of yours will have to go on ice. Third, the aisles will be full of college kids who are sure to say: 'We learned in our philosophical discourse seminar that you don't really exist.' And fourth, they'll probably peg you for a street person in that wrinkled get-up of yours. Just try getting a sandwich and coffee at the snack bar without a dirty look."

"So I'm back to the one idea I always thought I'd have to use."

"Which is?"

"Which is . . . . Domino's Pizza."

"Huh?"

"Of course, Robert! The Domino's deliverymen drive as if there's no tomorrow. They run from the curb to the house. They wear those silly orange and blue uniforms, so no one would ever suspect they were working for me. They know the area stone cold. They're used to working on commission, so when I tell them the job has to be finished by daybreak, they won't need to hear it twice. Why, those insulated containers that keep the pizzas warm could even be used to conceal board games and records. How can it miss?"

"Nick, for a guy who has spent his life under a dopey red hat, you're not half bad."