Under the Sun

On Pines and Needles: Stories From a Christmas Tree Lot

These trees are real.
These trees are real. Robrt L. Pela
click to enlarge These trees are real. - ROBRT L. PELA
These trees are real.
Robrt L. Pela
A man who said his name was Adam was talking about which Christmas trees smelled the best. “The Frasers and the Grand Firs are the nicest,” he explained last Thursday morning. “A tree isn’t as scented after a couple weeks in a heated house. But when you pull one off a freezer truck, man! The smell is very, very nice.”

Adam had been pulling pine trees off freezer trucks for a few weeks now at Valley View Christmas Tree Lot on West Thomas Road. He said he had no real job title there. “I kind of just do everything,” he explained. “Sometimes I pack trees, sometimes I sell trees, sometimes I unload trees, sometimes I deliver trees.”

Occasionally, shoppers didn’t believe that the trees were real, Adam confided. “People come here and touch the trees, and they don’t think these are live trees. And I always go, ‘Yeah, they are!’”

Adam thought maybe Valley View trees looked fake because they were so attractive. Most of them came from Oregon, he said, though he had some Douglas firs from California. “I always tell people, ‘Now, if you put this tree inside a building, don’t put it in front of a window. That will cook the branches. And don’t put your thermostat above 80.”

Yesterday, Adam drove to a Scottsdale Mercedes dealership to reclaim a dead tree. “It was so hot in there. They murdered the tree,” he said. “We brought them a new 10-footer. Hopefully, they don’t cook this one.”

A man who told Adam he’d already put up an artificial tree in his home pointed out that the Mercedes tree was already dead. “All these trees are dead,” the man said, waving his hand at the lot.

Adam considered this. “See, we recut the tree, so it’s fresh,” he eventually said. “And we drill a hole so it will suck up the water.”

Behind him, one of Adam’s coworkers appeared to be napping. “It’s been slow today,” Adam admitted. “We’ve been selling between 14 and 20 trees per day, but on a good day, we can sell 40 of them.”

A man wearing a Snoopy sweatshirt pointed to a Norway spruce. “Mother, I think it’s this one," he said to the woman holding his hand. "What say you?”

The woman shook her head. “Too tall,” she replied.

People drive to Valley View from as far away as Fountain Hills, Adam reported.

“One lady who came from north Scottsdale had been to six other lots. None of those other lots knew what flocking a tree meant. We did. So, she bought this guy from us.” He pointed to a 14-foot pine. A tag hanging from an uppermost branch read, “Hold for Lisa.”

Lisa wanted her giant tree flocked, Adam said. “We put it on a turntable, so we don’t have to walk around in a circle,” he explained. He always tells people not to decorate a tree until 24 hours after he’s flocked it. “You wouldn’t believe how many people just want to decorate it five minutes after a tree is flocked,” he said, shaking his head.

Nearby, a woman scolded a little girl. “Annabelle, what did you think we came here for?” she demanded. “Grandma told you we were going to buy a Christmas tree.”

“Yeah,” Annabelle whined. “But I want the kind with the lights built-in like they have at daycare!”

“She gets like this,” the woman told a man who was sniffing the branches of a white spruce. The man shrugged.

“Our netting is red and green,” Adam said, pointing to a large spool leaning against an empty trailer. “Very Christmas-y. It’s designed so you won’t scratch your car, and you won’t lose big parts of your tree. You don’t want to get home with a Charlie Brown tree. Am I right?”

Adam wasn’t sure how many tree lots Valley View operated. “Maybe 12 to 15,” he said.

Some people bought their tree at the last minute, Adam said. “It’s either because they’re really busy,” he guessed, “or for some people, it’s their tradition. They buy their tree on the 24th and put it up that night. We’re cool with that. We’re open Christmas Eve.”

Out on Thomas Road, an inflatable snowman lay face-down beside the Valley View sign. The man in the Snoopy sweatshirt walked past carrying a four-foot noble fir. “I won’t have to stand on a ladder to get a star on this one,” he said to his companion.

“Good luck getting it into the trunk,” she replied. And then they both burst out laughing.
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Robrt L. Pela has been a weekly contributor to Phoenix New Times since 1991, primarily as a cultural critic. His radio essays air on National Public Radio affiliate KJZZ's Morning Edition.
Contact: Robrt L. Pela