During the spring of my freshman year at St. John’s College in Maryland, a group of us went to an Orioles game at the old Memorial Stadium in Baltimore. I sat next to my friend Michael, on whom I had a terrible crush (along with half the freshman class). We noted a young female stadium vendor, probably around our age, who was wandering aimlessly through the stands, selling Italian Ices. She had a thin voice and didn’t seem at all enthused by her choice of part-time job. Because we all want to perform for our unrequited loves, I went off on a riff on how if I were selling Italian Ices at the ballpark, I’d dress up like one of my Italian great-aunts, with a black veil and thick rosary beads and wail “Buy my Italian Ices” at the top of my lungs. It made him laugh. It also got me to thinking that perhaps working at the stadium would be the ideal summer job for someone who was more in love with baseball than she was with any guy.
The next year, I was back in Cleveland, a temporary college drop-out (for financial and other reasons) with a part-time job in an office. I saw that the stadium was hiring vendors for the upcoming season. The office gig was during the day; the games were mainly at night. Why not make some extra money and see all the home games for free? So I went down to the old Municipal Stadium (yes, this was a while ago), along with a couple hundred other people, and got a job.
On Opening Day, we crowded around the supervisor outside the stadium in a scene that reminded me of something out of On the Waterfront. He picked who went in. Some nice older guy who had worked a number of seasons took me under his wing and told me to stay quiet and not to jump around or raise my hand. I did as he advised and was picked to go in among the first 20 or so people. When we went in, we had our choice of what we wanted to sell that day. I was 19 and, at that time, 19-year-olds could both sell and buy beer (I told you this was a long time ago). The vendors worked on commission, thus the most lucrative thing to sell was beer, followed by hot dogs followed by peanuts (seriously, if the only thing left was cotton candy, why even bother?). I was lucky enough to get a beer ticket for Opening Day and sold beer or hot dogs for the rest of the season.
It was hard work. You were on your feet for hours, trotting up and down stairs with a case or two of beer or container of hot water and hot dogs. I had beer, hot dog water, ketchup, and mustard spilled on me. I had people treat me like an idiot or insult me because I was in a service position (I sold a beer to a girl with whom I had gone to elementary school and she looked at me with seven different layers of schadenfreude). And I was constantly losing my voice from yelling “Cold beer” or “Help me pay for college–buy a hot dog!” throughout cool evenings by the lake. But it kept me at the ballpark.
A couple of observations on stadium vending:
* The passing of a stranger’s money and food up and down a row of seats is one of the most graceful un-choreographed dances in the world.
* Most stadium vendors are male. If you happen to have a female vendor and she’s selling hot dogs (or, God forbid, foot-longs), I guarantee you she’s already heard whatever off-color joke you’re tempted to make.
* You can impress complete strangers with the ability to hold and pour two beers with one hand.
* If you grew up only getting beer in plastic bottles at the ballpark, the above may not make sense.
* If you watch the game, you won’t sell anything and won’t make any money. But then again, you’re still at the baseball game, right?
* Be kind to your vendor. Everybody has a story, including the person selling you beer at the ballpark.