It was early Christmas Day and Maghan Stallings was forced to wait to find out what Santa Claus had brought him. The villain was a four-letter word: work.
The 18-year-old cashier at the Shell Food Mart at Security Boulevard and Woodlawn Drive was among the retail workers, bus and cab drivers, health care professionals, media workers, police, firefighters and others who didn't get the chance to share Christmas with their families.
Some didn't mind; some did.
"It feels OK, except for not being around my family," said Stallings, who didn't want to work the holiday. He planned to open his gifts as soon as he got home.
Peter Lee, who manages the food market, said the holiday did sweeten the attitudes of the customers who trickled in. "It's been kind of interesting," Lee said. "Everybody is in a good mood, which is different."
Stallings and Lee planned to get off about 4 p.m. to salvage the rest of the holiday with their families.
Down the road at the Woodlawn Volunteer Fire Station, business was also slow. Firefighter Kenny Batson, 22, said he volunteered to work Christmas because his girlfriend, an ambulance attendant, had to work.
"I didn't want to sit home watching TV, when I could do that here," he said, adding that Christmas "is like any other day, except a lot of people are at home relaxing and enjoying themselves. It's not that bad."
Because of their schedules, Batson said, he, his girlfriend and her family opened presents at 8 p.m. Christmas Eve and ate a pre-Christmas dinner. They planned a real Christmas dinner for yesterday afternoon.
"Someone has to work," said Gregg Holland, 25, a Chesapeake & Potomac telephone operator.
"In this type of job you have to pay your dues," Holland said.
Many businesses don't stop for the holidays.
The March Funeral Home on East North Avenue was open and had nine remains on view yesterday afternoon, said receptionist Lora Hargrove. "People do come in to view the remains of the deceased," even on Christmas, Hargrove said.
At radio station WWIN-FM, programmer Tomasa Ushry was mixing Christmas songs with the station's usual urban contemporary fare. She said she was thrilled about working on Christmas.
"I don't mind working on Christmas. I kind of enjoy it, because I love playing the music," she said. "I just like being here."
On Druid Hill Avenue yesterday afternoon, Ralph Comegys, 42, a Baltimore Gas and Electric customer service worker, said he volunteered to go into work at 7:30 a.m. to give people with families a day off.
His reasoning wasn't pure altruism, however. He saw green.
"It's more money for me," Comegys said.
At the John Wesley United Methodist Church on West North Avenue, Christine Gott, a cook, was helping feed 100 poor, hungry people instead of enjoying the day with her family.
"I don't mind, because if I am helping someone else, my living is not in vain," Gott said. "I enjoy doing for other people, especially for people who are less fortunate than me."