Beer, Peanuts, and everything else about the Stadium Experience. Except the game.

Wednesday, May 27, 2009

Green Hats

  • Florida: 6
  • Phillies: 2
  • Sold: 144 beers/42 water
The Phillies know how to do a promotion. When they hand out a freebie at the gate, it isn't to the first 10,000 or the first 20,000 to show up, it's everyone. Tonight was "Irish Heritage Night," so everyone got a free green "Phillies Shamrock Cap" with a little four-leaf clover on the bill and a Phillies "P" front and center. On the back: "ProAir HFA/(albuterol sulfate)/Inhalation Aerosol." Which cap everyone, Irish or not, dutifully wore as if it were a late May St. Patrick's day. This handout was part of "Teva Respiratory Asthma Awareness Night," which didn't seem to generate as much buzz or appreciation, and no one handed out free sandals as part of the promotion. But "Teva" in this case appears to refer to "Teva Specialty Pharmeceuticals," a subsidiary of a Pennsylvania-based generics manufacturer, not the maker of neo-hippie footwear. Even without the supposed shoemaker's involvement, it was a strange mix of promotional partners: a pharma company pushing an asthma inhaler via free cap on Irish heritage night. Are the Irish more prone to respiratory problems than anybody else?

Vendors are strictly forbidden from swiping any swag during these promotions, but I got mine when a saucy warhorse of a woman tried to buy a beer off of me for four dollars. "See?" she said, clutcing four singles and the cap in her hand. "It's all I have."

Throw in that hat and you've got a deal, I said.

And the deal was struck. I plan on making it part of my Phillies uniform from now on, though I'm still keeping my standard-issue Citizens Bank Park cap on hand as a backup, just in case I get scolded for breaking protocol.

Monday, May 25, 2009

Four Steps to Proper Lifting

  • Marlins -----5
  • Phillies -----3
  • Sold -------- 5 cases beer
My Philadelphia employer, Aramark, helpfully posted the following instructional flier:

Note how this focused laborer carefully regards his assigned parcel, as if considering the mysterious contents of the Ark of the Covenant! Then, following with impeccable form and careful grip, raising the fragile box to waist-height, maintaining the object's line ever-close to the body, employing the larger gluteal and femoral muscles with effortless grace. Such balance, such poetry, when man and implement become one! A performance worthy of the great Vasiliy Alexeev, surely.

Much of this has nothing to do with the vendors. I "size up the load" by shouting "Two cases!" handing over $324 to Karen the cashier, grabbing the tub, and popping it up on my shoulder as I race out the door, trying not to hit anyone on the way out, or slip on the beer-and-ice sludge that has formed outside the door. Maybe things are different in Washington state, whose Department of Labor & Industries produces this how-to guide. I would very much like to get my hands on that guy's puffy chef's hat, though.

Friday, May 22, 2009

Battle of the Beltways?

  • Orioles: 4
  • Nationals: 2
  • Sold: 4 cases of beer/40 peanut, Crackerjack
The crowd arrived late, the beer was lukewarm, and the overall atmosphere a disappointment. I'd actually been hoping that this would be a real runaround, packed house affair, but I should have known better. Only the Red Sox will be filling D.C.'s park this year.

Instead the seats were still pretty empty by the time the game started, huge swaths of exposed blue plastic left waiting for asses to fill them. D.C. has always been a late-arriving crowd, particularly on Friday nights. I like to think it's everyone still chained to the desk, busy worker bees trying to clear it for the weekend, but I think it might just be traffic.

It took until about the third or fourth inning for the place to fill out a bit, and then when it did, the O's people came, bringing orange to the blue stadium, and watching their team win. In the upper deck, there was the usual dummy up there, that one guy from the visiting team who had to stand up and address the crowd screaming, "Orioles! O's rule!"

Which is pretty ridiculous, since they're in last place in their division. They rule nothing, and neither do the Nationals; the Nats are the worst team in baseball. So there was nothing for anyone there to really gloat about.

My response: "My terrible team is better than your terrible team!"

But I might have been wrong on that one. O's win, Nats stay bad, and a listless crowd shuffles out at the end of the latest installment of a pretty subdued rivalry.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

'Peanut Dude' Dead

-- Pirates: 4
-- Nationals: 5
-- Sold: 72 beer, 69 peanut/Crackerjack

Not very often a ballpark vendor makes national news, but it happened today: Arnie "Peanut Dude" Murphy died. Known for the accuracy of his long-distance tosses around the seats at Houston's Minute Maid Park, he was clocked at 42-mph on a peanut toss, was a six-time Aramark All-Star Vendor and was named "Best Ballpark Vendor" by the Houston Press. I'd never heard of the man before (and I disagree with the assertion that he "may be the most famous peanut vendor in America" -- that honor goes to the Dodgers' Roger Owen) but he was apparently institution enough to be memorialized by National Public Radio's All Things Considered.
So in my mind, I dedicated tonight's vend to the Peanut Dude, buy selling as many bags of peanuts and Crackerjack as I could. Plenty of kids' groups on Family Night added up to three loads sold, on top of the beer, tossing those bags deep into the sections -- drawing attention from the rest of the group and stoking sales -- though with perhaps less accuracy than earned the Peanut Dude his fame.
** Note: Photo stolen from Flickr, which noted that it was in turn stolen from a book called Working at the Ballpark. Ain't free content great?

Wednesday, May 20, 2009


  • Pirates: 8
  • Nationals: 5
  • Sold: 102 beers / 47 peanut, Crackerjack
So right after the worst sales day of the season, comes one of the better ones. Still a sparse crowd playing a small-market Pirates, but sales were up. The reason was limited competition -- the Portables were closed.

The problem with Nationals Park is that what's good for the team's overall business isn't necessarily good for the Beerman's business. Old stadiums follow an old model of design, where the concessions stands are wedged below the stands, requiring a trip into the dark tunnel and into a dungeonous hallway to load up on beer and food. Since this takes you away from the game, the beerman performs a welcome service. At newer stadiums like Nationals Park, though, the lower bowl is laid out below a wraparound concourse that offers unbroken connection with the game. At the top of the row is the Beerman's competition: the Portable Beer Unit. Just head to the top of the row, and there it stands in molded plastic upon casters, capable of chilling hundreds of bottles of brew at a time while offering gracious views of the field. There's no reason to rely on the vendor when the portable is there, so it's a good night when they're closed and the vendor can pick up those sales.

People always ask me if I'm excited about the New Stadium, and if the New Stadium lived up to my expectations, and isn't the New Stadium just beautiful? Well, not anymore, not really, and not at all. I'll get into my aesthetic judgments later, but when the layout of the place itself cuts into my sales and minimizes my reason for being there at all, that creates an ugly situation.


Monday, May 18, 2009

Neutron Bomb

  • Pirates: 12
  • Nationals: 7
  • Sold: 24 beers, 17 peanuts/Crackerjack
This is what the ballpark looked like, attendance-wise, during the middle of the third inning on a fine weather night:
It's a late-arriving crowd, no doubt, but there's no traffic excuse on Monday night and this was as good as it got. The lower seats were overfull with vendors, so I beat a retreat to the high reaches where this shot was taken, and it didn't get much better, and I ended up doing something I rarely ever do: I gave up for three full innings and watched the game while chatting with another vendor from the upper concourse.

Just bitching, basically, about the slapdash appearance of the ballpark, the abundance of vendors for the small crowds, and the penny-pinching rapacity of the Lerner ownership.

"This place was a big money-grab," said Glenn. "From the high-priced beer, to the ridiculous rates to enter the President's Club, and plenty else. And people got turned off to it; that's why season tickets are down 25% this year, and you can see the result." He motioned to the empty grandstand.

"Here's what to consider: this team isn't as bad as they seem. They're actually a couple of years from being pretty good. But what's gonna happen when they are good, and still no-one shows up?"

That's enough to chill the vendor's heart.

Friday, May 15, 2009

Tip Differential

  • Phillies: 10
  • Nationals: 6
  • Sold: 156 beer, 38 peanut/Crackerjack
Back at Nationals Park from Philadelphia, it was as expected: a smaller crowd, late arriving, plenty of visiting Philadelphians, and lower beer sales than two and a half hours up 95. What I'd forgotten was exactly how good the tips are in D.C. Just last night in Philly, the numbers worked out this way:

Philly: 10.5 cases of beer sold / 122.75 = $11.70 tips per case
D.C.: 6.5 cases of beer sold / 135.25 = $20.80 tips per case

And these numbers skewed inward: Philadelphia's tips sometimes average out to less than $10 a case, and D.C.'s sometimes get as high as $23 a case. Maybe it's D.C.'s wealth (and to be fair, some of it is the extra nuts and Jack that adds to the tip rate), or Philly's working class fan base,*** but Washingtonians say "keep the silver" before reconsidering and handing over an extra dollar to top it off, while in Philly their hands are out without prompting, ready to receive full change -- and that stray quarter -- off a $6.75 beer. It's more fun to get in the flow by really moving product in volume, but I gotta remember that the pay difference between the two isn't as great as it seems when the relative cheapness of Philadelphians is considered.

*** Also baffling geographically, when thrifty Philadelphia is to be found wedged between tip-thick DC/Baltimore and New York City, a real tipping town.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Solid Outing

  • Dodgers: 5
  • Phillies: 3
  • Sold: 252 beer, 6 soda
Yesterday's game was a downer because I didn't make the most of it. Again, I spent too much time downstairs -- the whole game -- leaving Beerman Joe to serve Coors to the right upper deck by himself. The result was sad: I usually outsell Joe by a case, but I lost to him last night by two full cases. I went to bed kicking myself.

And woke up still pissed about it. But I made a comeback during this 1:35 pm game. I left the lower deck behind after the first, then ran around like a headless chicken with double-loads the rest of the day, hitting the 300s right by the room, going long down to the end of the 400s usually last to be served by roaming vendors, then picking a 200 level section at random to test the waters there, and dumping a case in about 5 minutes flat. By the end I'd passed out over 10 cases, a best for me this year. The result, by the time the time wound down and the last pitch of the 7th ended up in the catcher's glove: I'd beaten Joe by two and a half cases. I was redeemed, and had finally shucked off bad habits, and all was right with the world.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

Falling Behind

  • Dodgers: 9
  • Phillies: 2
  • Sold: 168 beers, 6 sodas
When attendance figures are checked, it turns out there aren't many teams that can fill a stadium on a Wednesday night. The Phillies can. 43,000+ filed into a stadium, and selling started strong, better than last night. A home-team homerun helped the mood as long as the score was 1-0.

Then the mood of the crowd settled somewhat, and declined, and the sales slowed to a trickle. It wasn't until I checked the score that I understood: Dodgers winning 7-1. This blog isn't supposed to be about the game, but the game can affect the vend, and Phillies' audience is particularly sensitive to the team's fortunes. When they're up the money's flying, when they're down, they fold arms and get pissy, and the money stays right in the pocket. I lugged around two cases for over two innings -- last call included -- and had to return five beers to the freezer. A letdown.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Dollar Dog Night

  • Dodgers: 3
  • Phillies: 5
  • Sold: 144 beer, 6 soda
Most Mondays in Philly is designated "Dollar Dog Night," when a hot dog that normally would set you back $4.50 is only a buck. There are a couple things this leads to:

  1. Overconsumption. People who would be perfectly satisfied with a couple of dogs for them and the wife tote around trays with five and six dogs. There's not much savings, but they feel like they're getting a value because they're gorging on three times as many weiners for the same price.
  2. A younger crowd shows up, drawn by the value. Dollar Dog Night essentially becomes a College Night like the one in Baltimore.
  3. Because of the younger crowd, in-seat beer sales are disallowed, all the vendors assigned to work out of the upstairs commissaries are moved downstairs. Sales end up being down for each vendor because we're all packed into the lower bowl, and I end up selling aluminum bottles of Bud Light instead of Coors.
At the end of it, I managed six cases, and the usual weak collection of tips from a cheap Philly crowd. Back to Coors tonight.

Sunday, May 10, 2009

Mother's Day

  • Yankees: 5
  • Orioles: 3
  • Sold: 164 pretzels
Visiting relatives this morning left me running a touch late out the door to Baltimore, and unexpected backups on 295** sealed my fate. I showed up late to the vendor callout and had to wait until the end of the list before I got to pick. No selection, actually: I was given an assignment to sell pretzels on the lower deck and had to make the most of it.

Pretzels are terrible, really, overall the worst thing to sell in the stadium. They connote no nostalgia, evoke no associations to the game, prompt no tips, and are cheap -- three bucks apiece -- so the commission payout is lower. A bad deal for vending all around. My standard call for them is, "Fresh Hot Pretzel!" but they're not really fresh. They're pulled out of a big cardboard box, spread them out on a baking sheet, spritzed with a butter spray and hailed with excessive amounts of large-granule salt (so that they appear excavated straight from a salt mine), and tossed in an oven for ten minutes or so. I tote around 30 at a time in a metal box reading SUPERPRETZEL on the front, heated by a little can of sterno.

The real magic is that out of this method, and of such poor materials, is crafted such a tasty item: ideally browned to a shiny light crust on the outside housing a doughy, chewy interior. Add mustard -- and de-salt to a more consumable sodium level -- and you've got a meal. Sort of.

"Buy your Mom a pretzel!" didn't really work as a call, so I had to call it a day after 167 sold.

I actually saw a few families out there, not unusual for any Sunday, and a few more mothers than normal. It reminded me of a Mother's Day a few years ago, when Howard Hart, a lifetime vendor with a voluble streak, took note of it in the loadup room:

"When you go back out there, you'll see out there in the seats a couple of little old ladies sitting there in the shade about a third of the way down the baseline -- just a couple of them together in nice flowered dresses and big hats -- and you know they never go to the baseball game normally, don't even know anything about baseball, never would even be out otherwise except that it's Mother's Day, and you know that this is a special day for these sweet older ladies and it's's nice, y'know?"

Saturday, May 9, 2009

Tossing Peanuts

  • Yankees: 12
  • Orioles: 5
  • Sold: 197 bags of peanuts
A big turnaround tonight. I was one of only two peanut vendors at Camden, so plenty of room to roam with a big satchel of peanuts slung over each shoulder. An easy vend because they're so light, and their association with the game ("buy me some peanuts and...") make them an easier sell: $3.75 for a 6-ounce bag. Call out "Big Bag of Peantus Here!" and hands pop up from all sides. Good for flow.

Better yet, you can toss them around to customers. Makes it more fun, and draws interest from the spectators. After some mishaps (I once tried for a long shot and ended up smacking a 70-year old woman in the head -- she was not pleased) I've refined my technique and can hit with reasonable accuracy up to about 35 feet away. The secret for me is going with an underhanded toss. Getting the right amount of elbow into it for a real overhand pitch throws too many variables into the mix.

People love it; every now and then a guy (and it's always a guy) will call clear over from the next section, holding out an open hand to receive a long toss. I like it even though my nerves kick in, and as long as there aren't any elderly people nearby I'll indulge him. Call over to him to make sure he's ready, and let everyone in the flightpath know there's about to be flying peanuts whizzing overhead, then let loose. That plastic bag pops out in a hard reverse spin and heads out over the rows, getting smaller and smaller until it whaps my customer in the palm. Crowd entertained, customer satisfied, and I keep the five dollar bill. I'm no Roger Owen of course, that legendary Dodger Stadium peanut man whose talents allow him to toss two bags behind the back and have them split with accuracy to two different customers, but it's energizing.

By the end I'd sold 6 and half 30-bag loads, not close to my Camden Opening day blowout of 12 and a half loads (everyone was throwing money around then, and I ended up with $320 in tips). I think I missed the Corona ticket on the board instead and made a bit of extra money, but I only regretted it for about half a minute. There was more money in a second-tier beer on a Saturday night, but the decision has to do with the difference between money and fun.

Friday, May 8, 2009

College Night Disaster

  • Yankees: 4
  • Orioles: 0
  • Sold: 98 beers
It was Camden on a Friday night, Yankees in town for a three-game series. The makings of a great night, so potentially good I skipped Friday night in Philly to be there. What I didn't heed were Beerman Neal's warning: that College Night could hurt the whole thing.

Themed nights are supposed to be clever ways of getting asses in seats that would otherwise be empty. If you're going to have a Gay Night, do it on a Tuesday. Stitch n' Pitch (a charming RFK promotion that invited local knitting enthusiasts to work on their wool sweaters while taking in the game) is fine for a Monday. No one's there those days. But Friday night specials for college kids -- for whom every night is a potential weekend -- is dumb. And this one attracted enough colleges pukes to fill not one side of the upper deck, but just about the whole thing.

That was disheartening enough, but a third-party subcontractor was brought in to provide 15 extra vendors to add to the ranks. There were twice as many beer tickets on the board as usual, a mixed blessing since I was able to get one but terrible since there were twice as many vendors competing for the same customers.

It was bad enough having to card just about every last person in that upper deck (I swear I didn't look as young at age 22 as these collegians did, unless at age 36 I'm aging more than I realize), and getting no tips from people who have barely enough to cover the $6.75 to begin with. Then things got worse. The vending manager racing in, waving her arms to cut off, announcing that there were to be no more beer sales at all in the upper deck. From that point on, everyone had to drop to the lower deck. So it turned out that twice as many vendors were selling to half a stadium's worth of people. By the start of the seventh inning and last call, I was so incredulous at having sold only four cases (when I'd hope to be up to ten), that I took a chance on a double load, praying for a pitching change. No luck: after a brisk six outs, I managed to unload exactly two beers, then had to get it back upstairs. Only the indulgence of a sympathetic elevator operator saved me from having to take six flights of steps.

What a disaster. I could have gone to Philly, or at least have chosen peanuts and had some fun flipping them while making a killing.

It might seem from reading this blog as if vending leaves me wrung out, disappointed, unhappy. This has been true recently, but it isn't always so. Vending is a job; it is about the money, but not entirely about the money, not by a longshot. It's about being there and performing a role in a stadium full of people, feeling and feeding off their energy; about having a clearly definable task and throwing yourself into it full force, being called again and again and from all sides, feeling necessary, and moving so fast during the brief time allotted that any sense of time is lost, and a flow takes hold, a flow of sweat and faces and the roaring moaning crowds' emotion hanging in the atmosphere, and two hundred brief energetic conversations one after another, carrying you through the most intense labors and not feeling it at all, instead feeling a sense of elation and connection and -- this may seem an overstatement, but it's not -- transcendance. And it's about being willing to do it again and again, night after night. Top vendors love the money, sure, but I think they're like me and are digging for that extra tremor and shiver on the skin that's the feeling of being alive, and it's why having tonight's circumstances blocking that feeling can turn anticipation into such disappointment. Again, I might be completely going overboard on all of this, and maybe it's just me, but those that don't get this feeling at least once in a while are missing out. We all have our avocations. Some people collect stamps.

Thursday, May 7, 2009


  • Twins: 4
  • Orioles: 5
  • Sold: 60 lemonade
Still too cold for lemonade, and a night game, so I didn't dump but three loads on the people. Also no kids, who love that sugary stuff: they load up 20 cups into a four by five square wire rack, squeeze in a token half lemon and drop the rind carcass in the bottom, fill to the brim with ice, and run the rack under a sugarwater dispensing spigot, filling four at a time. Tops snapped on, straws shoved in the pocket, and I'm ready to sell three dollars of expense for 80 bucks a rack.

Because the lemonade wasn't enough to interest them tonight, I had to jazz it up a bit, shoving the straws under the hats of the kids, walking around with a couple shoved under my own hat, and stealing a line I picked up from the primo lemonade man at Cactus League Spring Training: "Lemonade, lemonade, just like Grandma made!" Works like a charm for a chuckle, even if it doesn't rope them in.

Down near the right foul pole someone stopped me and asked, "Where's the guy who does the shaking thing?"

Then it happened again behind homeplate: "Hey, what happened to the Shakey guy?"

And to them both I told them, "No more lemonade for him. Shakey sells Coors down the third-baseline."

Mark, or Shakey as he's known for his sales style, is somewhat of a local celebrity for selling lemonade at Camden. Most vendors (yours truly included) will tend toward a mostly direct sales approach, holding up the item and calling it out for sale ("Lemonade!" "Hot Diggity Dog, here!"). But Shakey adds a certain brio to it, raising it to the level of performance. He races, and sprints, shouts himself hoarse, goading the audience to indulge and "Get fired up, now!" and asks, "Are you ready to party?" He's a little guy* who can fill a couple of sections at a time with this wild energy.

Though he now applies this approach to beer sales, where the money is, he developed this manic persona on lemonade. As the story goes, he was trying to help a friend out at the ballpark, schlepping loads of lemonade up the high stairs, when someone mildly complained that he hadn't shaken it.

"You want it shaken? I'll shake it for ya!" And, a fit of pique, started pumping it crazily, gyrating his body, vibrating his head, and greatly amusing the customer. His frustrations released, Shakey realized that this -- putting all of himself into a three-hour performance and making it his own -- was how to turn this labor into fun. The kids loved it especially, and it drew plenty of tips from parents happy to see their kids entertained. He's also turned it into a cottage industry; he gets plenty of press, he's got his own website, glossy promotional brochure, and business cards that label him "Lemonade Shaking Guy," and he rents himself and the routine out for corporate events, bartending gigs, and golf tournaments. Good money for being a spaz.

By the end of it, he's lost his voice and wrung himself out completely, night after night, staggering limply back to the stockroom, and trying gamely to keep his eyes open. Now that I've gotten to know him, I realize that this up-tempo act is based on some aspect of his genuinely hyperactive personality.

Shakey and his routine also play some role in my beginnings as a vendor. It was in the months leading up to the Nationals' arrival in DC back in 2005 that I read an old article** in the Washington Post about him and his contribution to the ballpark experience. It was one of those life-changing couple of minutes spent: here was a guy who got to work at the stadium, made a good bit of money for a couple hours' worth of work, and developed a performance routine to add to the whole thing. Then I decided that, by hook or by crook, I was going to do the same thing for the Nationals. Now I work with the guy.

*His small stature, which I'd estimate at about 5'5", allows him to pull off this aggressive routine. He once told me and Neal that we could never really make it work for us, that at our size trying to shout and yell and flail wildly would only be off-putting, rather than appealingly clownish. Seeing the Shakey routine from my vantage point selling in the same aisle is quite a treat, and I have to acknowledge that he's right about that. While he's shouting "C'mon, let's party! Get a fired up beer!" I could only offer some counterprogramming, stepping by in relaxed fashion, holding the peanuts low in my hands, and saying in a low tone, "Casual, low-key peanuts."

**I feel validated in perpetuating one of my odder habits: reading from the pile old newspapers that I haven't gotten to yet. I've endured some understandable ribbing for this, but I contend that the newspaper isn't really just about the 'news' but also about features, long-form articles, the comics, essays, and columns. There's evergreen stuff in there, and having a yellowed page of a 2001 copy of Post help direct me, four years later, to my current avocation seems to bear this out. At least that's how I justify this obsessive quirk.

Wednesday, May 6, 2009

Apres le Deluge, le Deluge

  • Twins: 1
  • Orioles: 4
  • Sold: 50 cartons Dibs Ice Cream
In Baltimore, a powdery mist fell upon Camden Yard before giving way utterly to repeated waves of driving rain. It pooled and puddled and drained from the spouts, and hardy groups of slickered fans huddled inside for it to blow over. Owing to my low rank on the vendors' seniority list (#59 of about 63 that ever bother to show up), I was selling "Dibs"** in this sloppy environment, and only members of of a few big kids groups bought any of it. Once the kids were covered, a made a lame attempt to drum up some business (or at least interest) among everyone else:

Dibs, Dibs ice cream here
Creamy confection you eat with your beer!

-- before giving up during the second rain delay, then watching the Capitals lose game three against the Penguins.

37 bucks in commission made, 6 in tip, of which 3 of it was tipped out. This has got to end. If April showers bring May flowers, then what do May showers bring?

** Small cartons of chocolate covered chunks of flavorless white ice cream; at $4.50 easily the worst deal of anything I sell anywhere.


  • Houston: 10 [Game Suspended]
  • Nats: 10
  • Sold: 72 beers, 65 peanut/Crackerjack
The band Cake has a line in a song: "I don't that much about Cinco de Mayo/I'm not really sure what it's all about." I'm with them. What is it really, except a marketing opportunity for beer companies? I even heard recently that it's more of a big deal in the U.S. than it is in Mexico, owing to the advertising efforts of Corona brand beer.

A couple of things made this another blown day. First, I forgot my stadium ID (it, being without any identifying photograph, or even my name on it, simply functions as a lanyarded ticket for employees to get into the park) which led to a half hour delay. The security guard recognized me but wouldn't let me in though she's been checking me in for over a year, nor would she fake it because of her fear that the security camera would display evidence that I was showing an old library card instead of the featureless ID. Another security guy said he'd check with my manager in the room but wouldn't let me follow him down there, and he ended up talking to another vendor instead of my manager, and hadn't even gotten my name to drop, so no one came to retrieve me from this hassle.

Anyway, I eventually got in and headed straight up to the big kiddie groups in the upper deck with a double load of peanuts and Crackerjack to make up for the lost time. The second time-consuming hassle that I encountered there is better recounted in the statement I had to write up for management, copied below. It leaves out the high-point of the confrontation, when I addressed 150 schoolkids as a revolutionary, exhorting them that buying a bag of peanuts "is about Choice! You have the choice to buy if you have the money and the desire to buy! Do not let yourself be stifled by the forces that would quash capitalism! It is the American Way!" And raising my fist overhead. But I digress:

During the Nationals' day game on Tuesday, May 5, I transported a load of beer, peanuts and Crackerjack from room 138 up to the 400 level seats on the first base side of the stadium. I made sure to market to the large group of kids in the student group there, since my experience indicates that they maintain a healthy taste for peanuts and Crackerjack. So I'm in the midst of selling to this amiable, energetic bunch of schoolkids, calling out and making them laugh and lobbing softballs of product to them (amid a bunch of parent/teacher chaperones, who were similarly amused), when suddenly a single howling voice of protest bellows out from about five rows down and about 20 seats across.

"No peanuts or anything can be sold to this group!" she's shouting across the rows. "We have too many allergies and you can't sell in this section!" (This is paraphrased closely from memory.)

As a vendor working in my stadium, and not having been informed of any restrictions on selling anything in that or any non-premium section [beyond the standard enforcement of alcohol policy] I took umbrage at her declaration of these limitations, and so I ignored them. These kids were my customers, and they -- willingly brandishing their money (emphasis on their in this phrase) and being old enough to alert me to any allergies from which they might suffer -- were the rightful focus of my attention. I informed her of my intention continue my work, right there, where the customers happened to be.

I continued selling with some success, and then much to my surprise, I turned around to find this person has ambled over to loudly restate her disapproval of my selling to these students. To which I vigorously protested my right to do my job while at my place of work. She then declaimed her intention "to speak with somebody." Which she did.

Several points should be bullet-pointed here:
  • There were other patrons, not in any way affiliated with this school, its staff, or its students, seated in these sections. They too had a right to buy from me, not limited by dictate of any single patron, no matter how loudly she may elucidate her claim to impromptu establishment of stadium law.
  • At no point did any of the other parents/teachers/chaperones associated with this group express any consternation over my presence or the fulfillment of my duties.
  • Also, at no point did my antagonist in this drama ever introduce herself, state her affiliation with this school group, or inform me of her position of authority among them, either while hawing across the upper deck, or in face to face contact. I found out in time and from a third party that she was the Principal of the Potomac Valley school. I think this is her.
  • Her approach was purely confrontational, controlling. She never explained her reasoning below the level of an admonishing scold, never spoke to me but at me, as if that section of the stadium was her school and as if I were one of her students. I would not consider visiting her place of work, and dictating to her the terms of commission of her duties. She did nothing to show me similar respect.
Eventually, I was pulled aside by my manager, and spoke briefly to a representative from Levy, who seemed quite level-headed about the whole thing, listening to her complaint as customer (understood by me as necessary procedure in all cases) and simply telling me to stay out of that section for the rest of the game.

Fair enough; I willingly complied, never seeing her again that day. I did pass some of the students on the concourse and by the stairwell; they expressed interest in acquiring some Crackerjack for their very own but balked at the price (a rationale for passing I can respect), and seemed most interested in taking my picture with their cellular phones.

Monday, May 4, 2009

Low Attendance

  • Houston: 4
  • Nats: 9
  • Sold: 38 beers, 24 peanuts/Crackerjack
Back in DC I got to the rainy park late to find a group of the vendors hadn't even bothered to go out. Instead, they were clustered on the concourse counting the number of people in the seats in the first inning: about 750 at that point. This is partly due to the weather, and partly a trend affecting the worst team in the majors. The Nats are currently 28th of 30 teams in home attendance, above KC and Pittsburgh with a little over 19,000 per game. That's paid attendance -- in reality, the no-shows bring the total much farther down. For tonight's game the official box score lists 14,000, but not much more than 3,000 were actually there to enjoy the misty, threatening evening.**

The Vending Manager promptly allowed anyone who wanted to skip to leave without penalty. I hate showing up to a party and not taking at least one dance. So I sold a case and a half before going home. Has the Season Started Yet?

**The record, by the way, for worst attendance at an MLB game during the modern era was achieved when the A's hosted the Mariners -- 653 showed up. The overall record is even worse: 23 watched the Yankees and (Philly) Athletics in Philadelphia in 1916.

Sunday, May 3, 2009

Another Rainy Day

  • Game canceled
  • No sales
The nondescript hotel in Essington I'm staying at with another vendor during this weekend series seems to have a contingent of roadies from the Grateful Dead tour also here. Among them are a few vendors of Grateful Dead tie-dye shirts and Grateful Dead silver jewelry and other assorted Grateful Dead memorabilia. I chatted with one whose room was next door to mine, and it seems a parallel world of travel, and relying on event attendees for sales, and contending with weather. They run more as individual businesses (having to procure licenses, et al.) than we do, though, and I don't envy them their lifestyle, even if they guy next door winters in Thailand between summertime tours.

Summer, at this point in early May, still seems a long way off. All morning the rain came down outside the window, spattering the broken asphalt of a gray parking lot. It would sometimes leave only a light spatter in the big puddle outside for a while, but then resume as a steady pour without every fully letting up, and more on the way from the West. It was five minutes before noon when the man on ESPN announced that the game had been called, and I and my roommate skipped town a few hours earlier than expected, heading into the endless spattering cloud all the way down 95.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

Unnecessary Drop

  • Mets: 5
  • Phillies: 6
  • Sold: 216 beers, 6 sodas
In Philadelphia's ballpark I'm identifiable by a vendor number of "78" in bold red letters stitched to my yellow Russell jersey. Each of us has our own, as if we're members of our own team racing around in parallel competition amid the spectators, and it's supposed to help ID us in the event of a poorly handled transaction or customer complaint. One Mets-supporting numbnut told me bluntly, apropos of nothing, "I don't like that number." No reason, really, just didn't like it, liked other numbers, just not that one. And so you don't, my man.

I thought to ask him if he was one of those geeky sorts that had a peculiar affinity for prime numbers, but then I would have had to explain what a prime number is, and he wouldn't have gotten it anyway. Other New Yorkers objected the the $6.75 price point for beers -- the same people who pay two grand for a shoebox space in a tenement -- when it's $9.25 at New York's stadia.

They were really spoiling for confrontation, in the same way they seem to enjoy standing up and jeering the locals when a Met makes it to first base on a walk. A series of similar interactions with these loutish characters reminded me that I really love New Yorkers, but only when they stay in New York. It also added to my poor mood at the way the vend itself had gone.

First, I gotta explain that beyond the basics -- carry a bucket of beer, circulate among the people, advertise via bellowed call, collect money, dispense product -- there are in fact subtleties to beer vending. (Indulge my insistence on this.) A critical area could be called "stadium layout management," or more simply, "Where to Go and When." There's a particular amount of money out there in the seats, unknowable in exact amount, and a certain number of vendors to draw it out of their pockets. Not at vendors make the same amount, and those that pull in the highest commission go where they can get the biggest slice of the pie for themselves.

The simplest thing to do is to sell to the area closest to your home commissary, those load-up rooms dotted on the various sides and levels of the stadium. This obviously saves valuable time. A more advanced move is to weigh the benefits of travel, forgo the nearby customers, and head elsewhere. The Drop (from upper-deck commissary to lower-deck patrons) is a common move, one I'd made a habit of employing in Philadelphia each and every game. I'd started there by climbing up to the vertiginous heights of the sky-scraping 400-level seats, but denser crowds and better tips on the lower level have left me mostly taking the elevator to the right-field bleachers right below. It took more energy to transport, but it was worth it.

I may have limited myself unnecessarily in this approach, though. While I fell back on this trick game after game, I have today found that on sellout days like today, there are still sales to be made up top. I should have changed course about three innings earlier, when a poorly timed drop left me toting two cases of Coors around the long rows along the first base side with hardly any sales to show for it. Competitors hawking Coors were everywhere; each row seemed to have it's own salesman of the Silver Bullet Beer. I was no longer so alone in employing The Drop technique.

I should have identified this and changed course quickly, but a myopia born of habit had me stubbornly continuing to pace the low-altitude rows. Only eventually, when I met whole sections of under-watered buyers in the high-deck sections, did I realize this basic error. For the last inning and a half, I hucked that hoppy stuff in twos and fours at a pace that would have had me happy by the end of it all. But there I was stuck at the same sales total as the night before: 9 1/2 cases sold, and ruing all the more when I found that I'd been out-smarted and -sold by at least a couple of vendors I usually beat, on a kind of sellout day that only happens once in a while. And then the self-recrimination set in.

Friday, May 1, 2009

Friday Night Phillies

  • Mets: 7
  • Phillies: 4
  • Sold: 240 beers, 6 sodas
The difference between vending at desolate Nationals Park and on Friday night in Philadelphia with the Mets in town couldn't be greater. DC is an indifferent baseball newbie, Philly nurturing (if 'nuturance' can be a capability applied to Philadelphians) a 120+ year relationship with a team they alternately love and jeer. Washingtonians tend to order in singles, then sip; the Philly crowd orders multiples, then orders more. Citizen's Bank is jammed on most weekend games, standing room only crowds lining the lower bowl, and ordering plenty of beer.

I'm assigned to sell Coors Lite in Philly, in a restrictive seniority arrangement that has Coors on the middle road above lowly Bud Light -- and even worse Budweiser regular -- and below the stadium's real moneymaker: Miller Lite. It's unusual that Miller would be the big seller, since Bud is the stadium's sponsor, but it's that sponsorship that I think makes the Miller vend so well; with the concessions stands offering plenty of Bud and almost no Miller, the vendors become the main distributors of the stuff. In some ways, with the largest contingent of vendors actively marketing Miller -- calling it out loudly directly to the people, where the mass of potential beer-buyers can witness it being sold in quantity, and herd buying mentality can take hold -- I think Miller has the better sponsorship deal of the two.

Tonight was decent: a little over nine cases sold (with the other half stowed away in the room 205 freezer for sale tomorrow), and a pocketful of tips for my trouble. I'm hoping tomorrow's even better.

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