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

Monday, June 29, 2009

HowieCast: From the Hart

  • Red Sox: 4
  • Orioles: 0
  • Sold: 115 Corona Lights
Now that I've risen high up on the Camden Yards list (#37 of about 60), I have an outside chance of getting beer during the bigger games. Yesterday I should have taken Heineken, but I made a mistake and took peanuts instead. Which can be the most fun of vends, but it hurt my take-home total for sure. "Listen to me," Shakey energetically told me before tonight's game, starting to amp into his frenetic game-time persona. "The name of the game is beer. Maybe once in a while something else beats it, but nine times out of ten beer's gonna be the thing to take."

So tonight I picked the only downstairs Corona -- $5.75 for 12 ounces, instead of $6.75 for 16 ounces of Bud, Coors, or Miller. Neal snagged the only upstairs Corona ticket, and it wasn't long before he dropped down to my level and nabbed some of my sales.

But neither of us was in the big money: he sold three and a half, I was just short of 5. "Kinda tough on you when you don't find a rhythm," he said.

Yep, I said. Never found a choice spot in the crowd either. All I was doing was running around drilling for core samples -- home plate, outfield, baselines -- and never hit any ore.

After the game, I caught Howard Hart while he was checking out and recorded him discussing one of his favorite books, The Denial of Death by Ernest Becker:

Sunday, June 28, 2009

The Double Pour

  • Nats -- 5
  • O's ---- 3
  • Sold --- 101 bags of peanuts
Two bad teams, one middling game, and a passel of peanuts pitched to patrons, and just another day at the ballpark. Event 114 is in the books. But there are other things to cover.

After having to pour almost 14 cases of beer at the Kenny Chesney concert yesterday, I think now would be a good time to offer a step-by-step guide to mastering a critical time-saver: The Double Pour. Two cans at once, poured from one hand into two cups held by the other. Tricky at first, but a big help once the beerman gets better at it. You'll need two things. First, a church key; also, some beer. In this case, the King of Beers:

Such an iconic label Budweiser sports!

Beer cans fit into the carrier tops up, like this, with a cup holder sticking up from the side:

Slide the pointed end of church key fully under the tab of the first can:

Turn hand over, popping the tab of the beer:

Using the sharp end of the church key, punch a hole across from the mouth of the can. This will provide aeration, allowing that tasty golden fluid to exit with less turbulence and minimal foam:

Don't forget to push the tab of the beer back down; it can also get in the way and foam up the works:

Set beer down and perform this same set of tasks with a second can. Set second can down next to the first, aligning the mouths in parallel:

With right hand, pinch two cups from the top of the stack:

Press bottom cup into bottom of heel of left hand:

Grip bottom cup with left pinkie, pull top cup out and place diagonally across left hand, centered at the base of the left index finger:

With cups in place, back to the beer. Lightly grip both cans, right index finger in the middle, with right hand:

Raise mouths of cans to the lips of the cups. Remember to tilt the cup, so the frothy treat slides calmly down the sides, limiting foam:

Keep pouring.

Almost there. Cups are now upright, and cans turned upside down to get out every last bit of that amber treasure. Don't Short-Pour.

Turn cans over and replace in beer carrier:

Serve. Subtly beg for tips.

My technique has been adapted from that of the great Sun Trick, and learned from obsessive repeat viewings of this video:

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Red Sox III

  • Red Sox: 3
  • Nationals: 9
  • Sold: 15 cases of beer, 17 nut/Crackerjack, 28 water

Finally, the breakthrough game. Not for the Nationals, who won big, but for my sales. Got there early, rolled through four pre-game cases, and kept moving it through a fairly long seven innings. Predictions by one vendor that the visiting Bostonians might have tapped their travel budgets, resulting in down sales, proved untrue. It was Thursday, the weather continued to hold nicely, and a third straight stadium attendance record was set. I've never sold so much beer at a baseball game: 15 cases, providing almost all of my $445 in commissions, and with the tips I was up close to $700 territory. Quite nice for three-and-a-half hours of work; the best hourly rate you can get short of degreed professional work, or swindling. And as much fun as you can have standing up.

"Is it always like this?" asked one Bostonian as I furiously popped the tops off a series of bottles.

Not at all, I said. You should be here for the Cincinnati games, when it takes me all night to sell what I just unloaded in the past 20 minutes. And those twenty minutes went on over and over again, dropping two cases of Bud Light on one row, heading back to the support room for another 48, handing those out (and moving so aggressively my fingers were scraped and bloodied on the bottles sharp crimping) , collecting bonus money for it, and doing it over and over again, apron pockets fattening as the night moves on.

This is what I'd been hoping for during those dull slow vends of April and May, when I felt like more an intrusion on the sightlines than someone doing anyone any good. The constant motion and compressed sense of time is the fun part. "Here, take this, you're working hard!" is something I'll hear once in a while when getting a hefty tip. But it's the easiest back-breaking labor I've ever done, when time is a factor and fingers are raised to order the next row up, and the next row after that, until I can't even get to them at all before running dry. How can it be work when it's this much fun? Sometimes I can hardly believe I get paid to work at the ballpark.

Beerman Neal was so excited he called me up after midnight to compare notes. "Tonight felt like RFK!"

And it did feel like those three years when the team was new in old RFK stadium, especially the first year, when those home games would draw audiences that were thrumming with excitement about being there, at seeing something new! The team brought in long-suffering baseball afficianados who'd tired of the drive to Baltimore, and the novelty lured curiosity hounds intrigued by the hype of the new team. The numbers were bigger -- I remember hitting 13 cases of beer on only the third time I'd ever vended, and an average Tuesday night was 8 cases -- but it was also the newness of it all. And the newness of suddenly finding a bucket of brew in my hands, and feeling as if was attending the biggest party in town, seven nights a week when the team was there. And coming home so wired I couldn't get to sleep for hours and staying awake into the balmy nights.

The past three games were like that, and they're what I'd hoped the new stadium would be. I'd heard the Baltimore vendors talk about five straight years of Camden Yard sellouts: every night was another dozen cases and a wad of cash in hand, and that endless happy sweaty labor. But that began to draw down a dozen years ago, when Camden's novelty started to fade and the team started a streak of 12 straight seasons of losing that has yet to end.

But Nationals Park's sellout streak lasted exactly one game -- the game after last season's opener was cold and half-full -- and it became clear very quickly that this was no Camden. Nationals Park has seemed on almost every game night like a reception occupying twice too large a banquet hall, and suffered for the empty remaining space, with conversation made difficult from all the echoing. Parties gain energy from bumping elbows, when we're crammed in all at one point. Baseball games too.

And the sad part is, even as I was in the middle of it tonight, I could see it ending. We won't have a Nationals game like that again this year. They'll be back on Friday, July 3rd against Atlanta, an Independence day weekend which will be pretty good (but which I'll miss altogether for vending, to be at a family event), but after that it will be back to sparse crowds and three loads of beer during the weeknights. Down from the cloud.

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Red Sox, part II

  • Red Sox: 6
  • Nationals: 4
  • Sold: 11 cases of beer/25 peanut, Crackerjack
I'm sort of at a loss for who to root for here, honestly. I'm a homer by nature, always rooting for my town's team, and in principle as a beerman for the home team. Better for sales that way -- keep the majority of the people in the seats happy, and they throw money that much faster. But the talk about this series' attendance is true: the place has outdone itself every game in packing more people in than ever, and this is shaping up to be, in effect, a home series for the Sox. My best off-the-cuff guess is that at least two thirds of the people here are rooting for the 'visitors,' maybe three-quarters of them. So the latest Nationals loss came as another boon to the beer sales.**

I've gotten better at just about ignoring all that, and just moving that beer around, all the way up to 11 cases of it tonight. Just about the same as last night, but on a night that was far slower for everyone else. Showing up early and staying downstairs helped out plenty.

**Another reason to root against the Nubs was the asshole I had to deal with tonight. Brushed him with a Crackerjack bag, then immediately apologized with "Sorry, tight quarters here" and he looks me dead in the eye and says, "I don't give a shit if it is. I paid for this seat." Really pulling a domination thing. We went back and forth, with me protesting that it had been an accident, and him telling me I'm shitty at my job, and so forth, until he'd dragged the worst out of me and I'm telling him he's a boorish jerk and semi-intentionally dropping a bottlecap on his shoulder while serving behind him, to which he retaliated by tossing his apple core into my bucket. Really great self-control on both our parts. The woman behind him noted what a dickhead he was being, and said he'd told her son to "Shut the fuck up." I looked at the kid and he was about 12 years old, and wearing a kelly green Sox jersey. The dipshit guy was wearing a Nationals cap, and was apparently levying his loser's frustration on the kid. The worst person in a packed stadium, and he has to be rooting for my team.

The impulse is to clock the guy, especially when I'm caffeinated and hopped up on the energy of the crowd, but as a career move it leaves plenty to be desired. There's that old advice to the stage-frightened: imagine the audience in their underwear and you'll be fine. The Beerman's adaptation: when dealing with a prick like that, imagine dumping your bucket of icewater on his head. Then don't do it, and run off and serve everyone else.

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Red Sox

  • Red Sox: 11
  • Nationals: 3
  • Sold: 11 cases of beer/25 peanut, Crackerjack
Finally, a breakout game at Nationals Park. We've had games like this exactly twice since they moved into the new place, both of them the home openers, and the only reason this one was big had nothing to do with the home team, and everything to do with the team they were playing: Boston. Since Boston started becoming really competitive during this decade, they've become the number one team in MLB for away attendance, and we got the benefit of it. Weather was perfect, and I've never served a crowd so ready to drink on a Tuesday night. Between commission and tips, I cracked the 500 dollar mark. And I showed up only at game time, missing out on healthy sales during the six o'clock hour, and wasn't even close to the high sellers in my room. With an energetic crowd and constant sales and a vendor's sense of purpose, it felt like it did back in the days of crappy old RFK.

It's gotta be said that Red Sox fans [Note: photo not mine, stolen from article detailing "Rodent Feces in Red Sox Stadium Food"] have become boorish and smug since the turnaround, though. There was the 8th-grade girl from the school group from Boston earlier this season, who gestured in a rather superior manner to the empty seats on a weeknight and said, "Is it always like this?" In her short life, she's never really known rooting for a bad team that rewards devotion with losses. As in a lot of cases, it was endearing to see loyalty endure failure; less so when it bellows at perpetual success.

In the later innings, in the lower deck's first base side, there was That Guy: the one who's gotta stand up, beer in hand, covered in all the licensed gear, and make a display of his rooting for the guest team. The guy who's sense of primacy is transferred directly from his team winning on the field (plenty could be said of sports fan-dom as a form of modern tribalism, but I'll leave that be for the moment). The guy then turned his attentions to me, for dropping a bag of nuts during the juggling routine.

"Ya dropped it! Yer breaking all the shells when ya do that!"

He might have been right, but I had a point to make. I addressed the crowd.

"You know what Red Sox fans have been resembling more and more in recent years?" I asked. Pause.

"Yankees fans!"

A disapproving ripple passed through the seats, amused but in denial. But there was one guy -- sporting a green Boston 'B' cap -- who silently nodded in acknowledgement. To his credit, a realist.

Thursday, June 4, 2009

True Doubleheader

  • Giants: 5 / 4
  • Nationals: 1 / 1
  • Sold: 89 beers, 81 peanuts/Crackerjack
Once again, as in the night Barry Bonds broke Hank Aaron's home run record against them, the Nationals found themselves on the wrong end of history. After last night's rain delay, Randy Johnson was still trying to get his 300th win, and to best avoid the rains that lingered on through the day the game was scheduled for 4:35 in the afternoon. This made for a modern-day rarity: the true doubleheader. Not a 1:00/7:00 doubleheader that's become common (in the interest of booting everyone out before charging them to come in again for the second game), but a game that had not much more than a half hour between final out of game one and first pitch of game two.

Plenty of people -- probably all of them -- were there to see Randy Johnson win. And the game was the focus of the day's attention, as most everyone filtered out when it was over, the 300th recorded (thank heaven for the base-10 system to get people excited by a number ending in zero). What I felt was that, in being the real focus of attention, the game was a throwback: not a marketing opportunity, not a place to park a busload of schoolkids on field trip, not a chance for tourists to check out the stadium, not a novel place for people to party or to entertain clients. The roiling weather had kept out the riff-raff (a good steady source of my money, let's be honest), drawn the baseball nuts, and the game had taken precedence. I'm not sure when was the last time I felt that the stadium existed to show people games rather than to provide a platform for cross-promotional branding, and the irritatingly gleeful Nat Pack and their limp-armed T-shirt tosses, and the Geico lizard running the outfield with the big-headed Racing Presidents.

As a True, back-to-back Doubleheader, an odd and non-sensical rule was imposed on beer vendors: cutoff for game one would be at the end of the 7th as usual, then sales would resume the moment that first game was over. For two innings only, sales would be cut off in the interest of alcohol control. Not enough time for anyone to really sober up if they had to, but since no one was really drinking it didn't matter anyway.

Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Rain Delay

  • Giants: X
  • Nats: X
  • Sold: 24 beers, 19 peanuts/Crackerjack
The rain came in one wave before gametime, then cleared, and I thought it was over. But one of my customers -- claiming to be "a mariner from Seattle" and "a tugboat captain" looked up at the sky and told me we weren't having a game today. It turns out he was right, but he should have told it to the Nationals, who kept postponing until the game until 10:45, after waves of rain fell on the stadium again.

In the meantime, fifteen red-shirted members of the field crew pulled the tarp and pushed at the standing water with rollered squeegees, then pulled the tarp back again, to the disappointment of a wet crowd huddled on the concourse. At 9:33 a thunderclap hit without warning from a stone's throw away, triggering my reflexes into a jump out of my shoes. "Scared ya, didn't it?" asked a guy in the seats who'd seen my leap.

I covered all corners of the park, and all levels in a near-futile effort to sell just a case. I found a group of giggly girls who made a lot of lesbian references -- declaring to be in love with Megan Fox, etc. -- which I took to be just talk, until one of them showed me her lower-lip tattoo. I also sold some peanuts to kids in the stands, at one point testing a kid in a wife-beater to see how many I could balance on his head. I got four perched up there before they slipped off.

It seems the Nationals are snakebit; team is rotten and attendance not any better, so the main draw comes from seeing the opposition. This was a bright spot on the schedule, since most people were here to see Randy Johnson go for a 300th win, and then the rain came, and came again. The only on-field action anyone saw was when a guy ran down the empty rows, hopped from the seats onto the field, and did a soggy prance through the outfield as security closed in from all corners. He ran over the white tarp, rounded what would have been third and headed for home, sliding into a guard at the plate as a baseball-starved crowd cheered. He'll probably be arrested, but I swear he was safe.

Tuesday, June 2, 2009

Shorn, Rested, Ready

  • Giants: 6
  • Nats: 10
  • Sold: 78 beers, 41 peanuts/crackerjack
It's amazing what a little rest can do. After 18 straight days of vending, including an all day Preakness and two Baltimore-Philly double headers, I've had two days of rest in the past three. I caught up on some sleep, some daytime lounging rest, plenty of rich food, and a trim that took off half my hair. It was all enough to send me flying up and down the steps light as a feather. Still the usual lightly attended Nats game I expected on a Tuesday night, but I hit it with plenty of fuel to spare, instead of huffing and lurching around all drawn and hollow-eyed and spectral.

During 8th-inning checkout the vending manager made an unexpected proposition. "Do you want to be in a movie?"


"They're going to be filming a movie at the stadium; Owen Wilson plays a pitcher, and Reese Witherspoon's in it. Filming June 12th and 13th -- I think it pays about 250 a day. They needed vendors as extras selling peanuts, Crackerjack, sodas, hot dogs."

No beer?

"No beer. They just wanted to keep it no alcohol. So I thought of you because of the peanuts and that stuff."

Sure, I said. I think I could juggle a few to add something to the scene.

I tentatively signed on, knowing that those dates -- Friday and Saturday -- are the same nights as Boston's first two games in Philly. A rock-solid moneymaker. But how often does something like this come along?

IMDB doesn't have much on the movie yet; it still has it as "Untitled James L. Brooks Project." A little searching reveals that Witherspoon plays a softball player caught between love interests Paul Rudd and Owen Wilson. Reuters even says that Jack Nicholson is trying to get into the movie.

According to other online gossip, the movie is called How Do You Know? and Wilson plays a reliever for the Washington Nationals, which I take to be a borrow from the Jerry Maguire playbook: they had to pick a major league team for a central character to play on, but they couldn't pick a team that people were actually aware of, else it seem too unreal. Enough people know who are actually on the Sox and Yankees and Dodgers teams, that to throw Wilson into the mix would be disorienting and unreal. But who knows anything about the Nationals, apart from the baseball diehards, the 12,000 people that apparently tune in to Washington's games on MASN? Wilson's Nationals will function, I'm guessing, as Cuba Gooding, Jr's Arizona Cardinals did in Jerry Maguire; a sort of in-joke for those who know how bad the team is. And making him a reliever (the worst part of the worst team in baseball) makes it richer. Almost gilding the lily, if D.C. locals are going to get defensive about it.

But let's think positive. If the Maguire model holds -- a 1996 movie featuring a bad team that only made it to the Superbowl 13 years later, in 2009 -- then, assuming How Do You Know? is released next year, it should be 2023 before the Nationals make it to the World Series. Dare to dream, Nats.

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