Dan Hoyle is a San Francisco-based ballpark vendor who is documenting his summer adventures for SI.com. Previous installments of the Vendor Chronicles can be found here.
Do you know your local ballpark vendor? If you're a good fan, and he's a good vendor, you should. You've been seeing each other at least 10 times a year since you were 6 years old. That's probably more than you see your grandparents. And you probably have more in common with the vendor anyway -- love for baseball, outrage at the rising price of soda, gratitude that the players' wives keep standing up to cheer five rows down. Your vendor's call might ring in your ear along with the crack of the bat after the game. Images of his uneven walk, uneven shoulder blades and darting eyes, scavenging for the next sale, may have etched their way onto your brain.
Of course, no two vendors are the same. Sure, we share a few characteristics. We're all hustlers, both in and out of the ballpark. Some of us run small-time wholesale athletic apparel businesses on the side, some play high-stakes darts or poker for extra cash, one guy even wrestles in a semi-pro league. We aren't easily classified in employment statistics. Vending is seasonal, but we're not like the guys planting crops twice a year. Some of us just can't be bothered to vend basketball games, rodeos, and Metallica concerts in the winter. Some head to Southeast Asia, some just tool up the coast on Highway 1. I spend the offseason writing plays and rehearsing in front of my mirror. And we've all decided that the money and power of a traditional corporate job isn't worth giving up a three-hour workday in a ballpark for a 9-to-5 in a cubicle.
In short, we are a rugged bunch, part huckster, part baseball fan, part ultra-competitive hustler, part slacker. To truly know your vendors, you've got to work with them. But I assume you're not going to drop everything and sign up, so I've drafted a short list of vending All-Stars from my hometown park, SBC in San Francisco. These guys are the blood and guts of the ballpark, the men behind the ultraviolet purple in your snow cone, the chunk in your chocolate chunk ice-cream:
"Peanuts": He used to always have the peanuts price badge -- a white card with an orange "$4.25" -- on his hat, even before games. And he would wear it like a crown.
At first I thought he just forgot to take it off, but I soon realized there was just no need. His seniority is so great that he gets peanuts, the premier product at most games, every time. The hat card has been traded in for a black button, but the price, $4.25, remains the same.
I've never arrived at the park before him, and little is known about his outside life. Vending is in his bones, and I assume he won't stop until he's laid to rest. And even then, one might want to fill his grave with peanut shells. Or perhaps he'll just walk into a cornfield in Iowa and disintegrate.
"Hero": Tune into any Giants game on the radio and you'll hear a voice as loud, deep and resonant as a foghorn. "Maaaaaallts! Chocolate Ice Cream!" he booms clear across the diamond, his call echoing off of every corner of the ballpark. The genius in his call is that fans notice him several aisles away, so they can decide they want his product and have their money ready by the time he arrives. When he's hot, he simply booms his broad baritone up the aisle, and waits like a giant who has just shaken a fruit tree. Sure enough, customers flock to him. He doesn't have to ascend a single stair. When I watch games on national TV and hear his rich call floating through the babble of the crowd, I'm filled with an immense amount of vendor's pride. He's the Pavarotti of the pavilion, the Fortissimo of the front row and the bomb siren of the bleachers. He's Hero.
"Wraparounds": When working, he looks a bit like Spider-Man. He moves in a balanced crouch, scanning across rows of fans like a high-speed printer. During day games, wraparound sunglasses are staple of his uniform. Eye black may be next. He walks backward down the stairs, never wanting to turn his back on his customers, his lifeblood. His feet are nimble, allowing him to dodge spilled beers and stray children. His hands are a blur of bills, but he makes change faster than Steinbrenner fires people. His sales figures, as a result, are unparalleled. He can coax purchases out of nearly broke fans, or traditionalists who don't like to miss a pitch. 'Cause when they're dealing with Wraparounds, the transaction is so fast and clean, they probably won't miss one.
"Crack and Coke": He tends to make a lot of jokes involving bananas. And also hot dogs. But he saves his favorite line for when he's selling soda, and you're selling cracker jacks: "Hey Crack and Coke, Coke and Crack here!"
He routinely arrives to The Call with seconds to spare, panting and sweating as if he just vended half of a game elsewhere. Now, vendors have been known to pull doubleheaders, but Crack and Coke has pulled triples, vending a football game in the afternoon, a basketball game in the evening, and a concert late-night. But no matter how wrinkled the napkin in which he wraps his pre-game snack, he's SBC's biggest hustler. No one stays out later, moves faster, and bounces his banter with more bravado. Running on adrenaline, he also may be the park's most aggressive vendor -- He lives off the inexperience of younger vendors, inspiring them to seek untold fortunes in the upper deck, repeatedly cutting them off along the prime, sun-drenched third-base line, and "joking" with them to slow down so forcefully that the joke quickly becomes an act of restraint.
"Too Cool": He sags his pants and spits in defiance before every sentence. He walks in slow, shuffling steps. He wants to make it clear: He's more than just a vendor. He'll sell you a soda, maybe, if you don't piss him off, or do something stupid. He regulates an increasingly high-tech -- and therefore dorky -- crowd. He doesn't need to smile; he did that last week. He'll give you your quarters in change back, but you better not ask for it expressly. Cause then he might just ask what you're gonna do about it. Bow down.
"Bandwagon": He slips on and off the roster like a .220 hitter, gone for a month, then back again, looking like he weathered a hurricane of alcohol. To other vendors, he can be as smooth as (the mysterious product known as) "squishy" or as hard as cold red ropes. But boy, does Bandwagon like to work a crowd. You'd think he knows everyone, but really he's just having small conversations with every random customer. Slapping his knee at their jokes, wishing them well with their ice cream, he's like a floating bartender in a 40,000-stool pub. I guess it makes him feel more comfortable. He's an essential part of the team, schmoozing entire sections so that they don't just view vendors as agents of commerce, but instead as their friends. And everyone wants to support -- not to mention tip -- a friend.
Next week: the Oakland Coliseum All-Stars...