Under a seasonably gray Christmas sky, with snow on the ground and smoke rising from the railyards across North Fourth Avenue, bartender Joe Juda poured drinks Tuesday for the handful of customers at The Whistle Stop bar.
"Oh yeah, we're open. Three-hundred sixty-five days a year," Juda said.
On a day when nearly every business was dark and the only occasional car breezed through green lights, locals gathered at the few islands of activity still open on Christmas.
Mirror photos by Gary M. Baranec
Crystal Nuhfer of Duncansville, a waitress at Denny’s in Park Hills Plaza, has worked the Christmas Day shift for the past 15 years. With nearly every other restaurant in the Altoona area closed on Tuesday, Denny’s was very busy on the holiday.
At the Altoona Fire Department's Washington Avenue station, a few firefighters watched MTV and ate Christmas cookies from a snowman-decorated box.
It's just another day on the schedule, they said; Tuesday happened to be their shift's turn to work.
"We were watching the 24 hours of 'A Christmas Story' earlier,'" firefighter Michael Falchini said. It had been a relatively quiet day, with a few car accidents but no major calls, they said.
Scheduling around the shift, Falchini said he'd opened Christmas gifts the night prior and planned to visit with family after work.
Firefighter Scott Springer fared well: his wife, Caitlin Springer, sat with the crew after bringing her husband lunch from Sheetz - one of the few food outlets available.
She planned to stay with her husband's crew "until they get a call. Then I leave," she said. "We'll have Christmas dinner afterward."
The Altoona Police Department didn't get to relax: a 17-hour armed standoff, which started Monday afternoon and lasted until Christmas morning, threw off officers' holiday shifts and drew out a state police Special Emergency Response Team from surrounding counties, Altoona Patrolman Erik Stirk said.
"I was supposed to see my little girl sing at church at 7 o'clock Monday, and I didn't get in until 1," Stirk said.
Police arrested the gunman after a morning raid on his house.
"We're calling him The Grinch. He stole APD's Christmas," Stirk said.
Crowds of cars surrounded the few businesses open along Plank Road Tuesday.
At Denny's, a sizable lunch crowd filled the restaurant, one of the handful still operating through the holiday.
Waitress Crystal Nuhfer said she's worked every Christmas for the past 15 years.
"You get used to it. You work around it," she said.
Waiter John Balliet, leaving work at 2 p.m., said he was excited to get home, see his family and open presents - if a little later than Christmas tradition suggests.
Despite having to work over the holiday, Balliet said he's glad the restaurant stays open on Christmas Day.
"Some people who've lost their families come in. ... They're alone at home. They have nothing else to do," he said. "So they come in and talk to you."
Mirror Staff Writer Ryan Brown is at 946-7457.