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

Friday, July 17, 2009

RFK Flashback

  • Cubs: 3
  • Nationals: 1
  • Sold: 135 beers/12 waters/12 nut/Crackerjack
Against all expectations, tonight was little better than last night. The Cubs just aren't drawing enough to fill the stadium, and the Nubs are bad enough to rely on them. My tips were up, but overall sales just about the same from Thursday to Friday, which shouldn't happen. What also didn't happen was anything of real interest. I saw some people I know, which happens from time to time, but nothing really stood out. My first instinct is to blame the stadium, and say that it has none of the liveliness of the Gnats old haunt, RFK Stadium. While this is true, it could also be the day-in, day-out rote nature of the full-time beerman in pursuit of over 230 games in a year. I could just be turning into a real vending machine, cold and unfeeling and speeding through this tiring adventure to fast to stop and smell the roses.

So instead of a real entry, let this be a reprint of a golden oldie from Saturday, June 23, 2007, written for a previous, abortive attempt at this blog. I called this one
Saturday Night Kibitzing, in which I stopped too much and smelled far too many roses along the way:

A weird night at the ballpark for me. Saturday night is usually the biggest night of any given week, apart from random midweek holidays or visits from big-name teams. The best practices method I use is to head upstairs for high volume sales, though the tips are weaker up there. Massive tiers of people are waiting to buy beer in that upper deck, in a straight aisle layout that promotes good sales. Tips are plenty weaker – replacing a full roll of quarters is pretty much expected from all the skinflints who don’t even give up the change by way of a tip – but it’s a good position-solidifier on the whole.

But I’ve been making great tip money working downstairs recently (up to $18 a case, before tipping out the stockroom people for reloading me and making change), and I got cold feet when I saw that the upper deck was looking open before the game. So I stuck downstairs. And that was my first mistake.

The tone was set early, when a group of guys sat down and immediately ordered six. A nice haul, but then the usher came down and nabbed them for sitting in the wrong seats. So I was left with only a single sale. The rest of the night was almost all singles and doubles, earning my money the hard way, without hitting a rich vein of the big groups. I was constantly being interrupted by conversational opportunities, which I’m all too welcome to indulge, and too accommodating to cut short. A guy down the third baseline chatted with me about the year he spent vending at Redskins games; another customer who I regularly see showed up, and we both chatted with Jackie, an everyday regular, the next row over. She rolled her eyes when she saw me serve him, which reminded me that he’s the sort of vocal heckler who probably doesn’t need beer to get him started. Then there was a thickly bearded guy who I served, who left me uneasy: obviously old enough to drink, but was he under 30? Hard to tell. In the rush to sell, I’d already taken the money and sent out the swill, so probably too late. And he did mention my name to his buddy, which made me queasy, wondering if he was one of the “secret shoppers” that sometimes lie in wait, hoping for a vendor to slip up and violate the alcohol policies. Some deliberations left me decided: too late, so I let it go.

Section 320 held a row of attractive stewardesses, who were part of a special contract to fly with Cleveland sports teams and were there with the Indians. This was interesting, so I had to follow up. “So who’s the biggest jerk on the team?” was my question.

“They’re all nice,” said one stewardess.

Quite the professional; no dish from her. They all emphatically agreed that the ballplayers were nice guys.

“There’s one of the Cavaliers that’s a real jerk,” another one offered. “Lebron James. Absolutely.” They all agreed on this one too.

Now there’s some dish. “That’s so out of line with his public image!” I said with genuine surprise. “You folks gotta get together and write a sequel to Coffee, Tea, or Me – where you tell tales out of school about all the pampered athletes you see during their travel downtime.”

In the 300s right behind home plate, a couple of other regulars summoned me and revealed a baking tin with brownies in it. I sampled one and found it delicious. I offered compliments and ran along my way.

In the main aisle I ran into Eli, who used to vend before moving into a more theatrical role at the stadium: running in the Presidents’ race. “I’m Jefferson tonight,” he said. He also bagged on me for not updating the blog for weeks, which is certainly a valid complaint. Catching up with him took more time from the limited seven-inning selling schedule.

One of the stadium cameramen exhorted me to sing to the camera during a crowd-wide rendition of “You’ve Gotta Have Heart.” I didn’t know any of the words, but he kept me going, and I felt pretty dopey because my know-nothing version was fed into the big screen over the outfield. No beer sales while I’m singing to a camera.

I was sorely out of rhythm; I’d run out of light beer but still have plenty of the heavy, then reload by only a case at a time when I really prefer to reload doubles. My peanut and Crackerjack sales where rolling, but that also had me blowing time back in the restock room for a peanut-only reload. More time spent.

My last call was a weak effort. A good one has hands popping up everywhere, each wanting a couple, but nothing was happening for me. The seventh-inning stretch came and went without a sale, and then it was over.

Then there were all the little conversations that cropped up; a hundred little bonus quips and bons mots I offer just to entertain: the chatter than pleases the people (and me), and energizes me through the game. Many come up when I’m tossing the peanuts and Crackerjack around in the juggling routine. It all really works as good peanut promotion, and I can sell more of those than the other vendors.

Yet the cost is steep – the brief friendly exchanges add up to death by a thousand cuts. When all was said and done, I’d only sold six cases of beer. And then I recounted my ticket receipts, and realized that it was only five. Five cases of beer on a Saturday night – whether upstairs or down – is a pitiable effort. The top vendors were hitting 11, the good ones 9, and those who I usually beat by a case were at 8. And I was left behind. Only the old guys, who tote around a case and usually last until the 5th or so before tiring and checking out, were selling as little as I did. Even my tips were down; only average for downstairs.

Part of it is, I’ve got to remember that I’m primarily a beerman, not a peanut vendor, and the food is just a sideline. Juggling can came during the 8th and 9th innings as a sort of wind-down exercise; but the main course is dumping buckets of beer on the people. The main culprit was too much palavering, and not enough raw greedy hustle. This is where the question arises: what kind of vendor do I want to be? There was plenty of good cheer and entertainment to be had in those conversations, and the people left happy for it. But I sacrificed my sales for it, and plenty of pride. Five cases. Oh my. Pretty emasculating, really.

There was one unexpected and amusing thing that happened tonight which softens my feelings somewhat. A group of four kids were in a row down the third-base 100s, and they really enjoyed the juggling routine. When I came back during the 8th, they all descended on me, asking for signatures. Before I knew it, I was kneeling in the aisle, Sharpie in hand, signing programs, Nationals ball caps, and foam fingers.

“Beerman!” I wrote on one.

On another: “Beerman says: “Stay in School!”

I got creative on the cover of one of the programs, and drew a cartoon vendor. You can barely see it on the cover of the program the girl is holding in this picture:

I liked it so much I went home and reproduced it; it looked something like this:

Fun stuff. In any event, I’m going to make up for this poor showing tomorrow. It’ll be a Sunday, so not the same sales as a Saturday game, but I’m going to hustle and move product, showing I can compete: Upper deck, double-case, and rolling from row to row. [June 23, 2007]

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