“Beer on a stick! Beer on a stick!” “Cotton candy! Cotton ca-a-a-ndy!” “Pe-e-e-a-nuts! Pe-e-e-a-nuts!”
By Jim Nicholson
Photograph by Adam Scott Williams
You hear cries at the ballpark that you’ll hear nowhere else on earth as vendors vie with each other to attract your attention, fulfill your needs and, well, vend their wares. Spend enough time at Busch Stadium and you’ll begin to feel as if you know half of the Sports Service employees by name; own season tickets and you’ll be trying to put the name to the face whenever you cross paths with a vendor outside the stadium. What you won’t know is who they really are when they’re not serving you. What you will know, when you once again encounter them in the sea of red, is why they have a permanent place in your mental Rolodex.
Sometimes the cry is loud, the vendor’s personality large enough to fill the stadium. Take John Valdes (of “beer on a stick” fame), for instance. You can hear him coming from sections away. When he’s within sight (especially if play is halted), you won’t be able to take your eyes off him. No matter that he’s a graduate of Texas A&M University and by day a water-treatment operator for the city—when he’s sprinting from aisle to aisle, he’s an actor working a very big house.
“I’ve been a Cardinals fan since ’64,” says John. “It took me 20 years to catch my first foul ball.” Does he know who hit it? “Jose Oquendo.” As for his vending life, he says, “My greatest moment came last year during the World Series,” breaking into a big grin. “I carded Drew Barrymore and Jimmy Fallon.”
Daniel Brueggen goes for the silent ap-proach to vending peanuts. Twentysomething, with trendy streaked hair, he uses a quiet reserve and killer smile as he holds his bags of peanuts high. He waits for the business to come to him—and it does. Watch carefully, and you’ll discover that in three years of vending, he has collected a following of loyal customers, most of them female and not so reserved.
If Valdes and Brueggen are the yin and the yang of aisle vendors, Vanessa Chaney and Vanester Duff fill that role for the “portables”—those concession stands dotting the Busch Stadium concourses that mysteriously disappear along about the eighth inning and go into hiding until the next game. Working contrary to the logic of immediate gratification, you gauge a portable’s viability by the length of its line of customers.
Chaney and Duff preside over lengthy but rapidly moving streams of loyal customers. During the day, Duff works as a procurement technician for the Army Corps of Engineers, Chaney as a patient-care attendant at Barnes-Jewish Hospital. Duff tends to be reserved until she gets to know you, at which point she exhibits a wicked sense of humor; Chaney is a self-proclaimed people person with a steady flow of wisecracks. Together, they’re a supremely efficient combo with a sharply honed sense of comic timing.
Says Chaney, “The best part of the job’s when it’s hot and I can put my hands in the ice—and the worst part of the job’s when it’s cold and I have to put my hands in the ice.” Duff, who normally runs a grill, cooking kosher hot dogs, immediately counters, “Beer’s easier then the dogs,” which must be estimated according to crowd size and then cooked. “But I’m comfortable with the dogs—even if the grill has to be cleaned, scrubbed and oiled.”
The women take their ID-checking duties seriously and say they’re seeing a lot of shocked looks, thanks to the new stadium policy of checking IDs for all customers ages 30 and younger.
“Where was that man from?” Chaney tries to remember. “He had this ID from some foreign country, and we were stumped.”
“He got a free beer,” Duff says, laughing, “once we found someone who could read it.”
Fans facing the prospect of extra innings are all too aware that vendors disappear in the late innings, just as they’re realizing that they’d better find one fast. What they don’t realize is that the vendors arrive well before game time, right after their day jobs. Factor in Chaney’s hours at Barnes (“I have to get up at 2:30 tomorrow morning”) and it’s no wonder she’s running on one-liners by the fifth inning of a high-scoring game.