1.Atmosphere There is something magical about being at the stadium on a daily basis. Whether one is a big baseball fan or not, an unmistakable energy exists among the crowd that fills the park. People pay a lot of money to attend these games and come from all over the country. We just waltz in for free. Though we are admittedly working our tails off, we can still appreciate the tangible exhilaration within the ballpark. Those vendors with the right attitude feed off of this excitement.
2. Hours & Schedule For those people looking to escape the 9 to 5 rat race, vending is the ideal profession. Though many vendors work other venues throughout the winter, many of us choose to work just the six-month baseball season. Many vendors actually wait until mid-May to begin work because, as they are still in college (or in my case, just prefer waiting until the summer weather has arrived). Better still is the fact that we only work a few hours per day. Sure some vendors dedicate a few hours to commuting to and from the ballpark and we arrive two hours before game time, but as far as actual vending time, we work on average for 2½ hours per day.
3. Pay Sure, nobody is getting rich off of beer vending, but where else can someone earn a few hundred bucks for a few hours work without a college degree? The difference in pay between vendors is considerable, but those with a refined technique and the right attitude pull in quite decent cash.
4. Social Nature of the Job Being surrounded by thousands of fans is exhilarating, especially when we are such an integral part of their baseball experience. Though the fans are in attendance to watch the players, the beer vendor is quite a spectacle as well. Sometimes, it feels like we are the ones performing. Chit-chatting with fans on a daily basis is a great way to spend a work day and keeps our mind off of what could otherwise be a mentally-numbing job.
5. Friends One of my favorite aspects of beer vending is coming into contact with so many friends among the crowd. Having grown up in Chicago, not a day goes by when I do not bump into a friend or two. Some are mere acquaintances I have gotten to know at the ballpark, such as regular customers and season-ticket holders, but I also bump into childhood friends, primary school classmates, college buddies, family friends and scores of acquaintances amassed from my Chicago summers. It’s great to go to work knowing I will encounter friends on a daily basis. It’s also fun to take care of friends that are in attendance. Since I have to pay out-of-pocket for every beer I sell (or give away), I cannot hand out as many free beers as I would like, but it’s a pleasure to at least look after “my people” to be sure they are always armed with a frosty cold brew. One day, while on my Last Call, I saved my final three beers for a few old friends. But as I approached them, another guy saw my remaining cans and ordered them for him and his pals. I explained calmly that I was reserving those for my buddies, but he protested in disbelief. “Are you tellin’ me that even though I want to buy those beers, you are gonna turn me down just so you can give them to those guys? Just cuz they’re your friends?” “Exactly,” I replied, “that’s how the world works.”
6. Camaraderie (and Romance) It would be inaccurate for me to portray the mass of beer vendors as one big happy family, as many of us never exchange more than the most basic greetings with each other and some are complete social misfits, but for many of us, the camaraderie we share with our close work buddies is one of the best perks of the job. Over the years, we have witnessed each others’ development from teen-aged peanut slingers to bona fide beer studs and every year our group becomes closer. Over time, the identity of workmates seems to dissolve away, as true friendships begin to prosper.
Though it’s a bit of a scary thought, for a select few beer vendors, this day-to-day familiarity has actually bred romance as we can count no less than four married couples that met through vending, many of which still work together on a daily basis. Considering the low number of female beer vendors, the correlation of couples is actually quite high, so for any prospective female beer vendors, beware of the hormonal interaction between Beer man and Beer woman.
7. Status No, beer vending is by no means a glamorous profession; we do not drive fancy cars, wear extravagant clothes or make truckloads of money; we work without benefits and do not even earn a monthly salary. But within the confines of the ballpark, we occupy a prestigious role of the revered beer pourer and amongst those in attendance, we are usually treated with a fair degree of respect. It seems that after the players themselves, the beer man occupies the most important role in the stadium and we strive to uphold this position of status by being the best workers we can be.
8.No Boss Who doesn’t fantasize about a job without a boss? While we do have supervisors from the concessionaire companies looking over our shoulder to make sure we are clean-shaven with tucked-in shirts and mouths free of chewing gum, we do not have any real superiors to answer to if we choose to take the day (or month) off. With so many vendors to choose from, we are expendable in our own way, which does not provide us much job security, but does allow us to work whenever we please.
1. Physical Punishment Make no bones about it – our job is extremely physically demanding! Walking up and down stairs for three hours with up to fifty pounds of beer slung around our back is hardly a “walk in the park.” After a long game, many vendors limp out of the park licking their wounds, but more punishing than the sweaty humid afternoons is the daily grind of the job. Many of us choose to work nearly every game of the summer, which often entails stretches of up to seventeen days without a day off. Since we rely on our bodies to earn a living, many of us eagerly await the day we can earn a living without such manual labor.
2. Alcohol Policy & Persecution – Veteran beer men will attest that the strict alcohol policy that has been enacted at the stadium has altered the day-to-day operation of our profession nearly more than anything else. We are forced to ID everyone 35 years-old or younger no matter how many times we have served them or how certain we are that they are of legal drinking age. Undercover “spotters” employed by our own employers filter through the stadium, watching our every moves like hawks; once they swoop in to bust us, we are subject to suspensions or terminations for this offense. In addition, we are subject to police sting operations and are barraged with fake IDs and manipulative fans trying to buy beers for their underage buddies. The daily anxiety of constantly looking over one’s shoulder is one of the biggest drawbacks we face.
3. Obnoxious Fans Sure, we make a living from the generosity of the fans and in general, we love being surrounded by the crowd, but as many will attest, one or two unruly fans can destroy the whole experience. We are barraged by verbal abuse from insecure guys looking to prove their manhood by talking down to the stadium worker. Wow – real honorable! Some guys try to rip the beer man off by hiding a beer and then insisting they’re still owed a beer, while others wait for their change and then insist they paid with a larger bill. Fans too far from the field take out their heckling on the beer guys, even to the point of throwing peanuts. In such circumstances, I try to single out the offensive fan, embarrassing him in front of the other fans or I merely tell security to pass along a warning. Plus, we are subject to hearing the same jokes every day. How many times has someone passed down money when another fan acts like he doesn’t know where its coming from and says “thanks” as he pretends to put it in his pocket.
”Yeah, funny one, guy,“ I say, “I haven’t seen that one since the fourth inning.” Another annoying over-used complaint is how the beer is too expensive. “Six bucks? It’s only $1.50 in my neighborhood bar!” “Oh yeah,” I answer, “let me ask you a question: do they play professional baseball in your little saloon? Does Derrek Lee show up and run the bases, while a pitcher earning $15 million throws split-finger fast balls? I didn’t think so. The beer’s six bucks – would you like one or would you rather wait for a post-game Schlitz at Tony’s Tavern?”
4. Elderly Ushers Any visitor to Wrigley will notice the octogenarian ushers that inhabit the aisles closest to the field. Though many of them are quite endearing, a few of them are real sticklers and seem to have a real animosity towards the beer men, whom they view as coarse and unrefined oafs. They often stand right in front of us as we make our way down the aisle with our heavy loads, as though we should beg passage or pay a toll. When they tell us there is already a peanut guy in the aisle, many retort, “Get the hell outta my way.” Unfortunately, some take their job way too seriously and forget they exist with the sole responsibility of helping people find their seats. Even worse, they sit on little fold-up stools that sit about a foot off the ground and whenever they get up, they fail to fold up the stools, which is a very perilous obstacle for any passing beer man. Since we always have our eyes directed towards prospective customers in the crowd, countless vendors have tripped over these little metal death-traps.
5. Injuries Beer vendors are subject to a wide variety of afflictions. Some of these injuries, such as bashed shins, come and go while others often develop into long-term conditions. Among the most common day-to-day injuries are those affecting the fingers. The sharp inner rim of the beer can be especially dangerous: if the vendor’s finger slips inside during the heat of battle, a deep cut often results and we all know that blood loss plus beer does not equal a pleasant scene. When cutting through empty rows, the beer man must also be aware of individual seats that have fallen into a fold-out position, as a bashed knee is a frequent and painful injury for many a beer man. Perhaps the most common injuries are knee and back-related. Several vendors have required surgeries, many of which have terminated careers. Unfortunately, unlike the fans, we receive no compensation for our time lost.
6. Inclement weather Due to the nature of our work, vendors are a bit obsessed with the weather, as it directly affects our daily income. The prospect of three days of rain during a big weekend series is enough to make any beer man cry, as we all know that inclement weather hurts beer sales. If it’s a big mid-summer series, this usually isn’t as much of a factor, as people will show up regardless and drink a fair amount during any rain delay, but there have been a few Aprils and Septembers with particularly harsh weather. When a game gets rained out, the vendor makes nothing, which can be a bitter pill to swallow for a guy trying to pay his rent. Might be why the Weather Channel is many a vendor’s best friend.
7.Foul Balls Be careful – those foul balls (and flying bats) can land anywhere and some vendors have been hit quite hard over the course of the last few decades. Unlike the fan paying close attention to the field of play, the vendor is usually facing away from the action, leaving him especially vulnerable to a hot shot to the back or head.
8. Bad Baseball Though many assume we vendors are paid regardless of our team’s performance on the field, sales are definitely impacted by our team’s winning percentage. This is especially true of the White Sox, as Wrigley will always be full for most of the summer due to the aura of tradition surrounding the Cubbies and their old-fashioned stadium. But there have been some painful Septembers, when the magic of summer baseball has worn off and the Cubs find themselves 24 games out of first place, playing the Pirates on a rainy Wednesday afternoon. As many a vendor will attest, “Oh! The Pain!”
9. No job security or benefits – If beer vendors are suddenly banned in Chicago (as has happened in many stadiums around the country), one of us loses our job for whatever fickle reason or we suffer a non-work-related injury, we receive no compensation. Sure, our union ensures our job security, as it relates to company policy, but when new restrictions are placed on beer vendors, we have little recourse. This uncertainty about our future is one of the major drawbacks of making a career out of vending.
10. You’re only as good as your last sale – No matter how much money we may be making, we’re only as good as our last sale. It gets very frustrating when we walk up and down a few aisles without a single sale. It’s not easy earning a living fifty cents at a time.