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

Wednesday, August 12, 2009


  • Athletics: 5
  • Orioles: 3
  • Sold: 170 Lemonades
The fun, and risk, at Camden is that you never know until you pick what you're going to sell that day. The board's up there, chalked in with options by vending manager Bruce, and whatever's left over when your number comes up is what you choose from. Now that the new list has come out, with this year's final revision locking us into place through the end of September, I'm now a #43 through the winter. Number 37 looks like a long ways away now that it's slipped through my grasp. Non-attendance has penalties.

At other ballparks you sell the same thing pretty much day after day: Coors in Philly, Beer and peanuts at Nationals. At Camden, though, I've picked three different items in as many days. Monday was most dismal -- I suckered myself into picking peanuts (Peanuts on the stickiest, hottest night of the summer!) and ended up depressed and forlorn after failing to sell two loads.

Tuesday I went with an old reliable: hot dogs. They do them quite the right way at Orioles -- plump Esskay franks out of a hot stainless steamer, plucking them with tongs out of Sterno-boiled water compartment on the right, slipping them into a starchy bun from the left compartment. The middle area holds the serving paper and basic condiments: mustard, ketchup, packets of relish. I've been trying to develop my own slang for serving options of dog:
  • Two dogs: "Twin dogs"
  • With Ketchup: "Sugar dog"
  • With Ketchup and Mustard: "Double dog"
  • Plain, nothing on it: "Raw dog"
Still haven't come up with anything for relish* ("veggie dog"?) or mustard ("yellow dog"?), and it's tough to get this stuff to stick as slang. Hard to imagine other vendors adopting this slang and it becoming a part of Camden Yards culture.** All this order-taking and condiment application, though, is the built-in limitation of hot dog vending. It takes so much time to get it set up that there's no way to put up any really big numbers. Another pitfall: scalding yourself with hot steamer water as it spills out the side. The load-up girl in the back filled me up too high with it and it sloshed onto my stomach, burning and leaving a misshapen welt on my right side like a stigmata. Had to drop the dog carrier, grab some ice out of a beerman's bucket, and try and cool it down somewhat to counter the burn.

"That's happened to me a few times," said a customer in the seats.

You a vendor, too? I asked.

"Gotta hot dog stand outside the post office in Dundalk," he said. "Not bad pay for four hours of work every day. Named the corner I work after me: Canterbery's Corner." He handed me a business card that advertised:

Officially Named "Canterbery's Corner"

And illustrated with a line cartoon of a happy dancing family of anthropomorphized weiners. I have to respect a man in the business, and fortuitous that I should have my mishap right in front of vendor Ken Canterbery***, of all people. I'll have to pay him a visit sometime.

Today I maintained this streak of vendor irregularity by taking lemonade. Not at all a bad thing to have for a day game in the sun. People love that sugarwater when they're baking in the heat.

* Relish is the undervalued weiner condiment. I always root for it to win the video ketchup/mustard/relish race on the stadium's big screen, and I have added respect for the customer who requests it. No love lost for the guy who asks me for cheese and/or onions, though, as if I've got a whole deli counter hidden away in the steamer.

** On the pitfalls of slang invented from whole cloth: Reminds me of a couple of friends who decided they wanted to establish the word "plush" as slang for anything of favorable note, or "sweet." But this went nowhere and 10 years later, plush still refers only to classy accommodations and high-pile carpeting.

*** Even after talking to the other night, I didn't notice until I saw this link that he's blind.

Saturday, August 8, 2009


  • Marlins: 4
  • Phillies: 3
  • Sold: Plenty more than my nemesis.
I admit to a competitive streak. What else is going to keep this daily slog from seeming like a chore, an unending grind? So every time I get chumped by my nemesis in Philly, stockroom 205, I want to come back and take it to him. So after laying an egg last night, losing by a full case of product, I decided I wanted to get over two cases more than him. By the end of the night I'd sold a little more than 9 loads. I scanned the page for J.P.'s numbers, and if I read it right, he was at five. A thorough recovery for me, and I walked out of the stadium smiling. What good is having a nemesis if you can't exact revenge on him from time to time?

I was also smiling because I been relating to the audience a whole lot better. Even apart from last night's kerfuffle with the taunting rabble, I'd felt wrung out and withdrawn, not connecting at all. But this time I went in high tempo, and also remembered that it starts with the crowd for me. Project to the back rows, find quippy things to say, even to people who aren't buying your stuff.* Charm them. Add to their fun. Ignore the insult of the forgone tip (mostly). Let them know you're there, and they'll respond. Draw their energy, get into the postive feedback loop of a good night.

*My favorite conversation: I'm calling out for beer sales and my only response is from an eight-year-old kid, peering up to see what I've got. "Excuse me, sir," I said. "You're way too young. I might have to send the police after you!" And he shrugs his shoulders and says with exasperation, "Aww, I was just looking for wadder. Sheesh!" Actually said 'sheesh' like he could have followed up with 'Gee whiz!' or 'Gee willikers!' like he was the Beaver.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Nemesis and Enemies

  • Marlins: 3
  • Phillies: 2
  • Sold: 6 cases of beer
Essayist Chuck Klosterman has done good work to delineate the difference between one's Nemesis, who is a respected counterpart and rival, and one's Enemy -- who deserves nothing but contempt. Everyone should identify theirs, he says, but you have to know how:

You kind of like your nemesis, despite the fact that you despise him. If your nemesis invited you out for cocktails, you would accept the offer. If he died, you would attend his funeral and—privately—you might shed a tear over his passing. But you would never have drinks with your archenemy, unless you were attempting to spike his gin with hemlock.

Tonight, I have properly identified both of mine at Philly's ballpark. This recognition came at the end of a rough and disappointing Friday night, one that leaves me wondering if, despite the continued string of sellouts here, the economy is in fact leading people to tighten the purse strings. If half of life is showing up, these people are doing mostly just that first half, based on their drinking and my recent sales totals.

My nemesis, I have decided, is another vendor I'll call J.P.* He's from Baltimore and spends most of his time working the O's games, but he'll catch a ride from time to time** and show up in Philly. And when he's in Philly, he's working out of my room and selling the same swill as me: Coors Light. Which means that we're fighting over the same customers, and my numbers go down. Significantly. This is enough to ruin my mood from the get-go; when I see his name on the list of arrivals, the scales fall from my eyes and I strap in for a bumpy night.

There are other Coors vendors, of course -- Teo and Alex, good guys both -- but they don't pound the steps quite the way I do so they don't impact me as much. But J.P. can keep up, no doubt. He's burly, and steady when he's working, and has no problem climbing to the extra dollars in the upper reaches. I can usually outsell him, but not always; every now and then he'll match or beat me, and exult over it, and it will crawl under my skin and steam me and absolutely ruin my attitude. Since I respect him but hate seeing him at the ballpark for all the reasons outlined above, I consider him my vending nemesis. Even though he outmaneuvered me by a case tonight, I raise my bottle of Coors to him.

Tonight I also realized exactly who my vending enemies are. My enemies aren't the alcohol awareness employees, who could have my job terminated in a heartbeat for a single lapse in judgment. They are not the upper managers of the concessionaire, who tonight further restricted my profitability by announcing via memo that "vendors will be permitted to begin selling no earlier than 20 minutes prior to game time." My enemies are not the obviously underage kids, who put me in jeopardy by ordering, then claiming they forgot their ID's when I actually employ good judgment and ask for it. Each of these groups are properly performing in their respective roles as crowd-control employees, a profit-seeking corporate interest, and boundary-testing teenagers.

No, my enemies are the loutish, heckling mooks that populate the cheap seats where I work. I had to deal with a small pack of them this game, and I was ready to draw blood. Started when the girl in their group asked how much, then fucked with me in offering $2.25 instead. I did the right thing: threw the bucket back up on my shoulder and raced away from them. But they were driven by some law of the jungle, and they took the non-response as a sign of submission. So when I hit the next row they were shouting over, "Number 78! Yer a bum! You suck, number 78!" And again when I hit the next row after that. And from the row on the other side, and again when I climbed the stairs and they heard me from up there. I couldn't even escape by changing levels.

I was already having a bad night; my nemesis J.P. had showed up and was showing me up, already a case ahead. On top of it, I'd spilled my bucket of ice down a set of steps, evoking a humiliating collective "Ooooohhh!" from the audience. Now I had this to contend with. I was in no mood for a witty response*** or playful back and forth, so departing seemed the better part of valor. Now they had in me found their mark, someone to take their frustrations out on (with the Phillies down 3-0 with no relief in sight, I could have gotten away with, "You might want to focus out there -- your team apparently needs you."). They were big, jowly, beer-bellied bullies, and I realized they were picking on me because I couldn't fight back. There's a big difference between being ejected and losing your ticket, and ejected and losing your job.

Eventually I gave in to the goading. By the time they'd moved to the standing room only and were still heaping abuse on me, I broke and walked right over to them. "All right, how many you want?"

"I don't want none a that shit beer!" said mook number one.

"Oh, yeah? Well why'd you call me over here, jackass?"

Mook number two pipes up. "Hey, you shut up, asshole!"

"Why the hell am I the asshole?"

"Because you called him a jackass!"

Obviously, I was stooping to conquer. And not even really succeeding at that. I cut my end of this blather short when I saw, right over their shoulders,**** that this exchange was drawing the interest of a blue-shirted security team member, and remembered that whatever the provocation, calling a patron a 'jackass' probably isn't part of the employees' protocol. I walked right over to him and told him it was fine, those guys are just giving me a hard time. Then I left again.

That security guard must have talked to them, because the next time I passed they said nothing at all to me. My enemies had been silenced, until another group shows up, at whatever next time I should suffer the misfortune. I realize now that alongside an identified Nemesis and a roster of Enemies, that the security people make for some serious Allies.

*This alias isn't far from his real name, and anyone who knows either of us as vendors will probably be able to guess who it is even without the hint.

**J.P. doesn't have a car, and so relies on rides from other vendors to travel north to Philly or south to D.C. This is a helpful situation for me, he being left to the tender mercies of other traveling vendors, and I'm always quizzing these third-party ride-sharers on their vending plans, with my main interest in the potential of my nemesis' arrival a secret to no-one. Earlier this season, I myself gave him a ride, just two days after he showed up and outsold me, and it burned me, even though he covered the tolls and part of the gas. He doesn't ask for rides from me anymore.

***Dealing with heckler is an art that I've done only some work in mastering; it's tough to come up with the cutting retort that will stop them cold. Sometimes I've addressed the crowd and gotten them to boo the transgressors; "Looks like you're not making yourselves any friends around here," I'll say. This is particularly satisfying. It's definitely better than what I thought of for the girl in this situation: Pause. "What? Oh, sorry, I was confused -- I thought that was your price." Best that I didn't go that far, or who knows what else would have happened.

****Ceasing and desisting from confrontation after seeing an authority figure over my opponents' shoulder this way reminded me, almost to a tee, of the time in 7th grade when Stuart White -- a disturbed childhood provacateur I'd known since kindergarten -- threw my library book across the room at the beginning of history class (I'd thrown his clarinet down the hill on the way to class, but still), prompting me to violently throttle him right there by my desk. It was sweetly satisfying for about two seconds, until I saw the grim face of the otherwise kindly Mr. Link registering surprise and disappointment and I let him go, too late to avoid the reprimand.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Holy Cow!

  • Rockies ---- 0
  • Phillies ----- 7
  • Sold --------7 cases beer, 18 units water
The room managers gifted me with Miller tonight, which added a couple of cases to my total sales. Happy about that. Even happier when I received this photo from a friend, taken at a Nationals-Cubs game last month:

The guy on the left, in blue shirt and clunky, black-framed glass, was Harry Caray; my buddy on the right is dressed as his signature phrase.

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Butch Night at the Phillies

Rockies: 8
Phillies: 3
Sold: 5 cases beer

Compared to Gay Pride night in Washington, the Phillies' Gay Community Night is a pretty minor affair. Or maybe it seems so because the Phillies can actually pack a house on Tuesday anyway, and the gays and lesbians there tonight blend in with the regular fans who'd be there whether or not there's a special promotion. Some of the Phillies vendors excitedly took note of improved tips, but I saw no such uptick, and if any factor induced the natual stinginess of the Philadelphians -- gay and straight -- who were there it was that the home team got behind early and stayed there. Maybe that's and example of the difference between DC and Philly: even on gay night, it's not just about the meet and greet -- they still want to see the team win.

The other difference: Philly's gay night is a much....dykier event than D.C.'s. Lots of mullet-short spiky hair and figure-unflattered tee shirts and sapphic hand-holding. I'm not intending to promote stereotypes here, but just reporting what I saw. Somewhere out there, in Philadelphia and beyond, there are beautiful, overtly feminine lesbians, the kind who would break my heart with their patent disinterest in me. But they weren't around the stadium tonight, and one suspects that lipstick lesbians remain a small part of the population (mainly housed in the male mind).*

Near the end of the game I looked down the standing room only aisle and saw a woman in a brightly striped skintight dress and heels, about 6'5" and built like a linebacker, holding hands with another woman. But then I realized that the linebacker was really a man, no doubt about it. He held hands with his woman, each of them seeming to be pretty happy with each other. This was a male-female couple with alternative sartorial choice thrown in the mix. Does Gay Community night really applied to them? I'm not the one to ask.

Somewhere in the back of my mind, every game I work scanning the crowd for sales, I'm thinking that maybe I'll meet the girl of my dreams. She'll look at me in the eye and smile sweetly there in the upper deck will begin a fresh romance. And maybe this will happen and maybe it won't, and maybe I'm kidding myself and my chances are reduced while I'm in manic, sweaty beerman mode. But whether or not it's possible or not, it sure wasn't going to happen tonight.

*On this topic, I will climb the soapbox and declare that most dudes get it exactly wrong when they express disgust at gay men and excitement at lesbian woman. The appropriate response, as I see it, is to be quite pleased that other guys are pairing off and reducing the number of competitors for the available women, and disappointed when they realize that some number of the women out there are pairing off with each other and making themselves unavailable to us.

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