From the 'Tortoise' to 'Sartre,' these guys are Oakland's best
Posted: Thursday September 23, 2004 11:38AM; Updated: Thursday September 23, 2004 11:38AM
Dan Hoyle is a San Francisco-based ballpark vendor who is documenting his summer adventures for SI.com. Last week, he gave his breakdown on the vending All-Stars of SBC Park. Previous installments of the Vendor Chronicles can be found here.
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Oakland is old school. I know that term has been more misused than a paper clip, but Oakland is old school. It's post-industrial, hallowed out, inner-city America. Urban Renewal -- reinvestment in neglected downtown infrastructure and cultural attractions that often includes a snazzy new privately-financed ballpark -- well, that only happens in San Francisco and Seattle.
In Oakland, you go to the same broke stadium you've been going to your whole life. You eat hot dogs and nachos with yellow goo you're told is cheese. If you want a Veggie Wrap, you better get creative with onions, relish and a hot dog bun. There's no hot tub in centerfield, no mini baseball diamond for the kids. You come to watch a baseball game, gorge on junk food, and yell at people who are more talented, handsome and well-paid than you are, both the ones on the field and in the box seats. Then you go home and resume your unsatisfying life. If SBC Park celebrates cosmopolitan San Francisco, the Coliseum's function is to let people forget about their fraught existence.
Oakland is a small city (of approximately 400,000 people), with a small-market baseball club. The Yankees pay their starting infield more than the A's pay their whole team. But every year they're in the pennant race, assembling talented teams on a budget for their small, but loyal, fan base. So it's fitting that the Oakland vendors are a small, loyal assortment of veterans. The Coliseum is an all-union shop, and only the best make the cut. With that in mind, here's a selection of some of the most O.G. (Overpriced-product Gangster) vendors:
The Tortoise: Some people might call him slow, but those in the know call him "well-paced." He won't be putting up big sales figures in the beginning of the game, or in the middle either. He'll take two breaks by the fourth inning. He won't close with a flurry of sales in the seventh. But he'll be there, pacing us all like a slow-burning log. And he's always giving -- cold sodas usually. Even if it costs money, it feels like a gift in that heat.
MVV: The "most valuable vendor" was recently elected to vend the All-Star game in Houston last July. His career stats are a marvel, and in Oakland, where one's place on the vending list is partially based on productivity, he gets first pick of product every time. In his early days he not only put up big numbers on the vend, he was known for his post-game partying prowess. He routinely rocked it in "The Van," the vendors' after-hours spot, which was, in fact, a van parked in the Candlestick Park parking lot. The MVV says he's less gung-ho about vending these days, feeling the first encroachments of burn-out. But his vending performance has not faltered. Much like perennial MVP Barry Bonds, and that perennial MVB (Most Valuable Beverage) called cold beer, he has entrenched his place in the hearts of good baseball fans. But he doesn't let it go to his head. He'll still hunker down with a couple of rookies and give them the dirt on the days when California still allowed in-seat beer sales and he could make a mint even during 100-loss Giants seasons.
Mr. Enthusiasm: "Hey! Ice Cream! Here!" He speaks in exclamation points. He could sell you a bag of cracker jacks soaked in beer and you'd be excited about it. His body language is neutral, so from a distance you can't figure out why he's always stirring up so many sales. But get close and you'll witness more phonetic finesse than a talk radio host. His verbal barrage corners even the most tight-fisted spectators. For undecided customers, those who want the ice cream now but really think they should wait until the more civilized sixth (I hate you), he hits them with an earnest look in the eyes, and a hopeful raise of the eyebrows. Few can resist. You want some of what he's got, and since your mental state is in the Oakland gutter, you wishfully hope that you might be able to score a taste of his passion through the ice cream he handled. Two please!
Smooth: They say the best athletes are the ones who make it look easy. Think Magic Johnson running the break, Ozzie Smith coming up firing deep in the hole, Joe Montana floating one to the back of the end zone ... and then Smooth, moving his malts in the box seats. The sun always seems to shine on his section, but when he walks by, a cool breeze blows, too -- and all of a sudden it's no longer too hot for an ice cream, but just the right temperature. At peak sales time, the top of his tray resembles a scene from Fantasia, with malts seemingly dancing out of his hands and money floating in. But it's all real. He's just that Smooth.
Sartre: He bubbles over with historical knowledge, often challenging me on references to 16th-century European war treaties. I'm always clueless -- and I was a even a history major. Like all of the great thinkers, he is a committed cynic, examining everything from the motivations behind the rollout of a new ballpark product to the watermark on every dollar bill. He lives in his own world, arriving in cutoff t-shirts and sandals and often dropping to the vending floor to do a couple of sets of sit-ups to warm up before a game. He's impervious to criticism from other vendors, which is often brutal (a recent comment when he was taking too long selecting his product: "Man, you're the reason why society is f----ed up"). He glides above it all, calmly and methodically racking up sales, zapping fans into mental submission with his superior brain waves.
Dan Hoyle is a ballpark vendor, freelance writer and actor. His one-man play, Circumnavigator, is currently running in San Francisco.