He looks like a James Bond villain. A metal contraption, fashioned partly from electric-screwdriver parts, is strapped to his left hand. With an ominous whir and a grinding of gears, Perry Hahn decapitates two aluminum beer cans at once, then foamlessly pours their contents into cups. "Robovendor," Hahn says, flashing his appliance (below) and leering. "Feared throughout the land."
It took Hahn a year to perfect his can guillotine, which is wired to a six-cell battery pack in his smock pocket. Only he and his two beer-vending brothers, Dan'l and J.J., own Robovendors, giving the trio a huge competitive edge at Camden Yards in Baltimore. "It takes 12 seconds to pop and pour a can of beer," laments fellow vendor Howard Hart. "With this thing, it takes three seconds."
Hart, who uses the old-fashioned method, is a vending machine of a different kind. He has been hawking beer for 15 years, and for the last five has commuted nine hours from his house in Roan Mountain, N.C., to work Orioles home stands. As one of the top sellers for Aramark, the 44-year-old has earned the privilege of vending at important events held in other Aramark-served stadiums, such as the '94 All-Star Game in Pittsburgh and all of the Atlanta Braves' postseason home games since '91. (Perry and J.J. Hahn have also worked the last three World Series in Atlanta and will be joined by Dan'l at the Olympics this summer.)
"At the All-Star Game," says Hart, "we stayed up all night telling vending stories, getting razzed by the guys from the National League and talking about our difficulties in dealing with the public, like when they don't have their money ready. See, we share all this common experience. There's a fraternity. Vending is in our hearts. You have to love it with a passion."
Among the best-known members of that frat is Baltimore's flamboyant Fancy Clancy. With a cup and a can in each hand, he can simultaneously pour beers over both shoulders. At Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles, a vendor called the Peanut Man, who can fling a bag of goobers behind his back to a patron 60 feet away, is prepaid by dozens of wealthy "season-peanut holders." In Minnesota, Wally the Beerman has gained such popularity at Twins games that he does TV spots for a local liquor store and personal appearances at Twin Cities watering holes.
None of these guys is working for peanuts. On Cal Ripken Jr.'s record-breaking night in Baltimore last September, Hart sold 29 cases of Bud. Each case—24 cans at a staggering $3.50 per can—pulls in $84. Thus, Hart sold $2,436 worth of beer on the evening, of which he took home his standard 17%, or $414.12. It was well above his nightly average of 17 cases, or $242.76.
The racket wasn't always so lucrative. Tom (Jake) Early, 70, wears badge number 001 at Yankee Stadium, where he has sold the ale that cures you since 1946, when brewskis cost a lot less than $3.50. He has also worked New York's Shea Stadium, Ebbets Field and the Polo Grounds, but he favors the fans at the House That Ruth Built. "They have the most money," Early says flatly. "And they drink the most beer."
But a beer vendor's blessing can be the bane of those other stadium stair-masters, the postgame cleanup crew. What is the most difficult spill to sweep up at Yankee Stadium? Tony Guedes doesn't hesitate before answering. He doesn't even look up from his broom. "Vomit," he says, sighing. "Easily."