Stop, Drop, Pick up, Roll: A Christkindlmarkt traditionNovember 19, 2018
By LEANN BURKE
FERDINAND — For Chris Englert of Bretzville, 48, driving a shuttle for Christkindlmarkt is as much a part of Christmas as presents under the Christmas tree.
The frost had scarcely melted off the windshield Saturday morning when Englert fired up the engine of the minibus she’d be driving around Ferdinand all day in what has become a Christkindlmarkt tradition for the Southeast Dubois Schools bus driver.
Englert has been driving a shuttle bus for Ferdinand’s annual Christkindlmarkt — now in its 22nd year— since shuttles were added to the festivities 14 years ago. At the time, Englert had just gotten her bus driver license, and her father, Larry Hamilton of Ferdinand, was coordinating shuttles for the event. Since she could drive a bus and was his daughter, Hamilton figured Englert was the perfect person to tap.
“Once you get your school bus license, everybody wants you,” Englert said.
She wouldn’t have it any other way.
A huge people person, Englert greeted every person who climbed onto her shuttle with a big smile and a “Hi how are you? Where are you from?”
The list of answers to that question is long. Early in the day, people said they’re from Jasper, Santa Claus and Newburgh. By mid-morning, though, the answers widened to include Indianapolis and Louisville. That’s normal, Englert said. The locals all know to come early before the crowds and tour buses arrive. For the out-of-towners, though, Englert is the perfect shuttle driver to get, full of tips and tricks to get the most out of Christkindlmarkt and their visit to Ferdinand.
“There’s a lot of food and wine in here,” Chris said as she dropped a couple from Newburgh off at the Tri-County YMCA, one of six Christkindlmarkt sites.
Then, she explained how to get to the walking trail that would take them to the Ferdinand Community Center and Forest Park Junior-Senior High School, if they wanted to walk. Or, she said, they could hop back on her shuttle.
“I’ll tell you what, you are not going to get lost in the town of Ferdinand,” she assured them.
Playing tour guide to visitors is Englert’s favorite part of driving the shuttle. She also loves being a part of making the festival run smoothly. It’s come a long way since the first year the shuttles were introduced, she said. For that, she credits the town employees and her younger brother, Rob Hamilton, who took over coordinating shuttles from their dad about six years ago.
“It’s the one weekend a year where I get to be her boss,” Rob joked Saturday morning.
In the last several years, the town and Rob have experimented with different traffic and parking patterns to create simple, clear paths for the shuttles and the influx of traffic that comes with hosting 10,000 market visitors in a town with a population barely north of 2,000. Only allowing right turns onto Main Street from market sites was a huge improvement, Englert said.
But the improvements don’t mean everything is perfect. Parking still gets crazy, Englert said. By 9 a.m. Saturday morning, marketgoers were creating their own parking spaces in the parking lots of market sites, shrinking the lane width Englert and her fellow shuttle drivers had to work with as they maneuvered through the town. More than a few times, drivers ran stop signs or cut the bus off.
Englert just shrugs off the distracted drivers. She’s used to it by now.
“Just when you think people do see you, they don’t,” she said.
Englert might spend most of the weekend driving a shuttle, but she still gets some shopping in at the Christkindlmarkt. From her driver’s seat, she browses the outdoor vendors’ goods, and shares memories of jumping off the bus to grab a snack of kettle corn or candied nuts. One year, she recalled, she heard Psi Iota Xi was almost sold out of their county-famous cheese balls.
“I high tailed it in there and got two of the last 10,” she said.
The shortage might have been partly Englert-made. She tells everyone who gets on her shuttle about those cheese balls.
A decade and a half into driving a Christkindlmarkt shuttle, Englert said she has no intentions of stopping anytime soon. She has the house to herself Christkindlmarkt weekend — always the third weekend in November — because her husband, Duane, and sons, Ben and Sam, head out hunting, and her oldest, Paige, is all grown up. Plus, it wouldn’t feel like the holiday season if she weren’t behind the wheel of a Christkindlmarkt shuttle.
“To me, it’s the start of the Christmas season,” she said. “I know we’re still before Thanksgiving, but it puts me in the Christmas spirit.”
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