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One of the first things I found out after arriving in Hawaii, was that nobody wanted to give non-residents of Hawaii a job-- especially students-- and especially in summer. It seems that most of the students in the U.H. (University of Hawaii) summer session, were just there for the summer-- you know, do a little studying and a lot of playing. The summer students would find a job, get one paycheck and then quit, leaving the employer empty-handed. Though I went to Hawaii in July, I didn't fit in the summer student category. I was due to start U.H. in September, that is, if I could dig up the $38.67 I needed for the first payment of the first semester. I spent days looking for a job-- any job, but nobody would hire me. Nobody called me a liar, but they said that within the non-residents applying for jobs, ALL of them said that they would still be in Hawaii in September.
I was getting desperate-- I didn't have any money. And even though my friend, Susan and her roommates were understanding, I didn't like depending on them-- staying on their couch and eating their food. Also, I was a veteran and I had the GI bill, which would give me about five or six hundred dollars a semester-- once I got into school. But if I didn't get a job, I wouldn't have money to enroll, and if I didn't enroll, I wouldn't get money from my GI bill. I just had to get a job.
One late afternoon while looking through the classifieds, I came across an ad to work as a busboy for “Mike’s Broil Your Own” in Waikiki. Since I had had experience working as a busboy in Luigi's Italian restaurant in Red Bank, NJ while I was a High School hating, High School student, I figured I might have a chance for the job. I called right away and told the guy on the phone of my busboy experience. He told me to come to the restaurant around five and see the manager-- which I did.
It was still early, much too early for the dinner crowd at Mike's. The place was empty except for the bartender, who told me the manager wasn't in yet and to take a seat at the bar and wait. He then asked me if I wanted a beer while waiting and I told him I didn't have any money. He laughed and said he wasn't planning to charge me for it-- especially since I was a potential employee. So I accepted his generous offer. Nothing tastes better than a cold draft beer on a warm Hawaiian evening, that is-- except for a cold draft beer on a warm Hawaiian evening after being without any beer for one month. I took that beer and literally “sucked ‘em up.” The friendly bartender poured me another one… and another one… and… and… An hour passed and the manager still hadn't come-- but the beer kept coming-- again and again. Another hour passed and as the bartender was pouring me another beer, the manager walked in, and as I thought about standing up to greet him, I fell off the barstool. I didn't get that job, but it was a pleasant evening.
Then finally, a couple of mornings later, I found an employment opportunity for a TEMPORARY two-week job at the YWCA Beach Club in Waikiki. It was perfect-- a temporary job for someone everyone said was a temporary person. I went there to put an application in for the job as fast as my legs could get me there. But when I arrived, there must have been at least fifty other “temporary” men (there were still “help wanted male” classifieds back then) already there, filling out applications. We handed in our applications and were told that prospective employees would be telephoned to come in for an interview. And I’ll be damned if I wasn't called and got the job. It turned out the reason I got the job was because of a mistake I made on the application. I accidentally dated the application “1956” instead of that year “1966.” The lady that interviewed me was surprised that I had put in an application ten years earlier-- but after looking at me and my explaining my innocent mistake, we had a good laugh and she hired me.
I was hired as a janitor for two weeks while the full time janitor was on vacation. It was there that I met two great influences in my life, Eileen and Chris, but that is another story.
Anyhow, to go on, I had the job, but I still didn't have any cash-- as there was no paycheck coming until the end of the week. And the job would be over in two weeks. Wandering around the U.H. campus I came across an ad looking for a vendor at Honolulu Stadium-- I didn't know where the stadium was, or even for that matter, what a vendor was.
I found the stadium-- it was right down the street from the University-- and went to the employees’ gate as instructed. The older Portuguese-- Hawaiian man attending the gate told me to go see Bill in the concession stand under the grandstand. I asked where it was and he smiled and pointed to it.
I expected Bill to interview me for the job, but it wasn't long before I realized I was already working. He had given me a white short sleeved vendors’shirt (the shirts for vendors later changed to the striped ones in the picture) and ten dollars in change. Then he took a cardboard box filled with peanuts, potato chips and hot dogs and set it on two trays of cokes with ice in covered paper cups. I asked Bill what I was supposed to do. He said, “put on the shirt, put the change in a pocket, pick up the cokes and hot dogs and things and go and sell the stuff.” I asked him where and he said to sell it in the stands. I asked how to get to the stands, and he said they are all over the place-- you can't miss them-- go anywhere you like.
I carried the cokes, chips and peanuts up into an old wooden grandstand, and walked around with the stuff, but no one would buy anything. Then I noticed this guy, an older guy of about forty, dark skinned with tattooed arms on the other end of the grandstand carrying the same kind of stuff I was. He was shouting, "Peanuts, cokes!" in a big booming voice. People would stop him and buy things from him.
I realized that that was what I had to do, so I started timidly calling out my line of goods-- and that was when the tattooed guy (Ben Cardoza) noticed me and immediately made a beeline to my area, gave me a very very unsettling look, then stood right in front of me and started hawking his stuff. It was then that I learned the unwritten rule of not going where another vendor was-- especially if it was Cardoza.
It turned out I was vending at a minor league triple A Hawaii Islander baseball game in the stadium. In the ninth inning I quit selling and went back to the concession. Cardoza was standing there, long out of his white vendors’ shirt, fanning through a bunch of singles-- looking at me-- gloating.
I hadn't sold very much and the front of my trousers were soaked with coke that had leaked from the trays of cokes. Bill showed me how to check all my stuff in and then he handed me my commission, my pay for three-and-a-half hours work-- one dollar and twenty five cents. Cardoza stuck his handful of dollar bills in my face and snarled, "I am the king!" (He had actually worked only half the time I did, and made twenty times what I made.)
A dollar and a quarter wasn't much for the hours I worked, but it was cash in my hand! And as long as there were baseball games, I would have cash every night the team was in town! As hard as I tried, I couldn't seem to make more that two or three bucks a game. And Cardoza was constantly trying to intimidate me into quitting, as he had done to so many before and many after-- but I couldn't quit-- I wouldn't quit! I needed that job to survive.
It wasn't long before I found out some of the very unofficial benefits of the job. I could eat all the hotdogs I wanted, but no buns (they counted the buns, not the dogs). I could drink all the coke I wanted, but we had to have our own cup (you guessed it, they counted the cups.) And if I went down to the beer concession in left field after the seventh inning, I could drink all the draft beer I wanted until the end of the game.
The Hawaii Islanders, the team and the company that ran the concessions, would hire anyone that wanted to be a vendor-- anyone who wanted the job could have it. It was a straight commission so the company couldn't lose. I saw many people start working at that job during my ten years at the Stadium, but every single one of them gave up-- a few of them after a season or two, but most of them after the first day. After all, who would want to carry a bunch of heavy leaky cokes and things around a termite ridden stadium for 35 cents an hour (my first pay)?
At first I stayed with the job because I had to, but as time went on, I stayed with the job because it paid more than any other part-time job I could have found. Eventually Cardoza and I became more like friendly rivals-- we even went out for beers together a few times. But he still proclaimed himself "King of the Hot Dog Vendors" (the whole three of us)-- until one day, maybe three years after I started the job, we checked our goods in and counted our money and though I didn't announce it, everyone in the concession knew, I WAS KING!!! And it wasn't just a fluke, either. The times I came out ahead of Cardoza gradually increased, until it came to a point where it was rare for him to beat me.
One point about vending is obvious-- the fewer vendors, the more your profit. There is not much threat of inexperienced vendors cutting much into your business while selling in the stands, but it hurts when precious prime-time selling seconds are taken away while having to wait in line to reload cokes in the concession. That is the main reason Cardoza would be so intimidating to new vendors. I'll admit that when vending became profitable for me, I was not happy seeing new vendors being hired, but I never intimidated them (I let Cardoza do that), but I didn't go out of my way to help them, either.
Now, at last, I am going to teach you what no stadium-hotdog-seller in his right mind would teach anybody-- and from the King, himself:
|HOT DOG HAWKING--THE TRADE SECRETS, UNLEASHED|
2. Stick with it-- it is frustrating and profitless at first, but it will pay off.
3. Try to find a small stadium with a popular minor league baseball team in summer and where many high school and college football games are held in the fall.
4. Try to find a stadium that has mostly bench type seating. Chair type seating is hard to run on top of.
5. Make sure you can sell at least two items at one time-- the ideal items being hotdogs and cokes.
6. Try to work on straight commission-- if you should get a full or a partial salary, it will make you lazy and you will never be a good hotdog-seller.
7. Wear comfortable sneakers and be prepared for running up and down stands, on top of the bench seats.
8. You’ll need a hand-cart, so instead of taking two trays of cokes at a time, you can take four or more trays. When you get to the area you want to start selling in, carry two trays and your other food stuffs up into the stands, and leave the rest of the trays on the hand-cart and you’ll have the cokes right there waiting for you without having to reload (the cokes usually sell fastest). There is one danger in this method and that is; that if you don't calculate the selling speed of the cokes correctly and take too many trays at one time, you might get stuck with a bunch of warm watery cokes full of melted ice. Now, you can't just throw these cokes out and get some fresh new icy ones, you have to sell them, because they count the cups. If you should find yourself in a watery coke situation, there are basically two ways to recover from it-- without paying for them yourself:
A: Try and sell them honestly. Call out, “Hot-dogs! Peanuts! No ice Cokes!” You would be surprised that there are people that exist that like Cokes with no ice. You can leave out the “watery” details. Most people don't notice.
B: Take the cokes back to the concession stand and one by one, empty each coke out put new coke and ice back in the cup and re-cap it.
The best thing to do is to avoid this situation-- it is very time consuming when seconds are precious. When you reach the class of King Vendor like Cardoza and myself, you will naturally, without consciously thinking about it, calculate the temperature, time of day, type of game, size and type of crowd, and other factors, before ordering cokes. King Level Vendors would never be caught in a watery coke situation unless something totally unpredictable happened such as being caught in a sudden downpour, or an unplanned or unadvertised eye-holding event happening during the game-- such as a UFO hovering over the stadium.
9. A big crowd doesn't necessarily mean big money-- especially football games. The worst games for me were sold out High School Championship football games with good half-time shows. People are too excited to think about anything but the game. Their eyes are riveted to the field-- not wanting to miss a millisecond of a possible exciting play. You walk in front of these people with your cokes and hot dogs, and they wave you out of their faces.
Just because of the shear numbers of people, you will make some money, but not much more then you would make at an average High School football game with the stadium at a 1/6 capacity crowd. Most money made at these games is made before the game starts. Unless there is a pre-game show, things will be selling fast and furious. You won't even have to move because lots of people will be running to you, begging for a turn to buy your stuff. But the second the game starts, they are instantly gone-- it's like suddenly waking up from a beautiful dream and everything in the dream is gone. If you are not careful you could easily get caught in a watery coke situation here. If you are a moderately experienced vendor, in this situation, you can confidently take out eight trays of coke and sell them all-ice intact. But if you forget the time and take out another eight trays, and the game starts after you have only sold one tray, you would be stuck with 140 watery cokes-- watery hell, a vendor’s nightmare! Avoid this at all costs.
The game Cardoza, Howard and myself looked forward to each year, was the Hula Bowl (whether it is still going, I don't know). It was a nationally televised College All-star exhibition football game. The fans couldn't care less who wins, the only thing they are interested in is seeing their favorite college players and FOOD-- especially hotdogs and cokes. I would load my cart with a capacity eight trays of coke and fill my cardboard box with only hotdogs, packed in slightly thermal bags with individual packages of mustard and relish, they were the most expensive and least space consuming item I sold. As soon as I took two or three steps out of the concession door with my goodies, people-- hundreds of them, not wanting to wait at the concession window would crowd around, screaming, crying, begging to buy hotdogs and cokes. This is a case where you will see a King Class Vendor doing between five and eight transactions at one time. Cokes, hots, money-- changing hands almost too fast for the human eye to follow.
Cardoza usually sold “Frosty Malts” out of a different concession during the Hula Bowl, so if it was just me and Howard selling cokes, and if there were no new novice vendors jamming the coke waiting area up, I could make as much as one hundred dollars on that game.
10. Don't use one of those coin changer things you wear on your belt, it will just slow you down. In my Hawaii Islanders vendor shirt there were three pockets. One on each side and one top left breast pocket. I kept my quarters in the right side pocket and my nickels and dimes in the left side pocket. The bills, from the largest denomination on the inside, were folded and kept in the top pocket, and if the wad got to fat, like in a Hula Bowl, I would transfer it down into my trouser pocket and start a new wad in my top pocket.
11. You have to be agile. Remember, to a true hot-dog seller, any place that people aren't sitting is an aisle.
12. Don't get caught in the PST (Peanut Throwing Syndrome). It is easy to get into PST, because it is a lot fun. But it is also time consuming and could be costly. If someone is up somewhere sandwiched in in the middle of the bleachers and wants a bag of peanuts, rather than throwing the bag of peanuts up to him/her and him/her throwing the coin(s) down to you, you should run up the nearest aisle to his/her row and pass the peanuts over and have the money passed back. This way, the people around you, especially the ones passing the peanuts, might buy from you-- just because you are there. On the other hand if you get into PST, you will probably only get a few peanut sales from the daring number of people that enjoy catching peanuts and throwing money. Getting into PST is also a financial loss waiting to happen. No matter how good you are at throwing peanuts and catching coins, the bottom line is the customer’s ability to do the opposite. If the coin falls short the chances of it bouncing off someone’s head and falling between the slats in the stands and being lost to someone on the ground under the stands are immeasurable. And then you get some people that fold a bill (like a ten dollar bill) into a paper airplane and try and sail it to you. If it doesn't sail out of the stadium, or onto the field, or to some other bye bye zone, and you manage to get it, the customer is probably expecting you to throw up the change-- then we have another coin falling through the flats possibility. Getting caught in PST has been the demise of many peanut sellers-- beware of it.
13. One of the key points, the most important point in vending, is that when people see you actually selling hotdogs and cokes and realize there are other people around them buying hot dogs and cokes, they will think about buying them themselves.
Example 1. If it is a small attendance game with people scattered around the stands and someone, way up at the top of the stand, wants one coke: Don't wait for the person to come down to you, run up the bleachers in a straight line to that customer hawking your line of goodies as you run. Then when you get to the customer, take your time and the ask the coke buying customer if he/she wants a hot dog-- make sure to speak in a big voice so that other spectators sitting up at the top of the bleachers can hear you. Take your time and keep lingering around and talking about your goodies, and pretty soon other spectators, who wouldn't have walked down the bleachers to buy anything, are all suddenly hungry and thirsty and coming to you with their money.
Example 2. The stands are packed and it is one of those super exciting football games where the spectators aren't interested in anything but the game and are glued to the field: Your movement is restricted to the aisles, so what you have to do is look for an aisle that has some little kids with their parents near it. Walk up the aisle getting as close to the kids as you can and dangle your box of goodies under their noses as long as you can. Eventually they will ask one of their parents to buy them something. And if you are lucky, one of the parents might think to him/herself, “While I’m at it I’ll get a bunch of stuff for everyone.” And if you are really lucky, some other nearby fanatic fan might pick up on you and miraculously realize that he/she is starving to death and give you a big sale. And if you are really really lucky (I only remember it happening to me once) the hot-dog hungries domino effect might take hold and wipe you out of all your goodies within a few short minutes.
14. The way you work must adjust to the differences between baseball games, football games and other events. Pay careful attention to it. In baseball, your best selling time is between innings. The worst thing you want to be doing between innings is getting a new load-- especially of cokes. The best situation is to have gotten everything refreshed and be rolling your cart up to the ramp going into the stands just as the last out of the inning is made. That way you catch the crowd (actually, they will catch you) as they are going to the concession stand.
In football, the best selling time is half-time. But before you load up all your trays of cokes and your box of goodies for the half-time sell, it is important to check on whether there is a half-time show or not. And if there is one, what kind of show it is.
15. The “Hawk,” or rather, how you hawk, is crucial to your sales. My basic hawk was, “Hot-dogs! Peanuts! Chips! Coke! Three kinds of peanuts!” You may be wondering what the three kinds of peanuts were. They were roasted, salted in the shell roasted and boiled. If you don't know what a boiled peanut is, I didn't either. On my first day at the stadium I asked Bill, the concession manager, what a boiled peanut was. He said it was a boiled peanut and gave me one to try. And guess what, it was a wet peanut that had been boiled in water (outside, in front of the stadium, you could also buy “dry boiled peanuts”). I didn't always sell “Three kinds of peanuts,” because for some reason all three kinds of peanuts weren't always delivered to our concession in the stadium. We almost always had roasted peanuts. We usually had boiled peanuts. And once in awhile, we would have salted in the shell peanuts.
As mentioned earlier, you must be honest-- or reasonably honest. The hotdogs, packed in slightly thermal bags-- very slightly thermal, tended to lose their heat after about ten minutes. The ice in the cokes would start melting and the cokes would tend to lose their freshness after about ten minutes (time varies for both, depending on a day or night game). I have already talked about the watery cokes earlier, but I haven’t brought up the subject of “cold” hotdogs, yet. Now, the hotdogs don’t actually get cold-- they might become Hawaii stadium temperature-- but never cold. So I would never shout, “Cold hotdogs!” But the regulars (especially third baseline Hawaii Islander baseball fans) were wary of getting partially watery cokes and “cold” hotdogs-- not just from me, but from other vendors, too. So if I happened to get a fresh load of hot dogs and cokes (usually figure taking ten hotdogs for two trays of cokes), as soon as I walked into the stands, my hawk would be, “Hot hotdogs! Peanuts! Chips! Ice cold coke! Three kinds of peanuts!”
16. There is an unwritten rule, it might better be called a courtesy, and that is that you don’t infringe in another vendor’s territory. Generally, there are no assigned territories, but for example, if you walk up in the grandstand and see another vendor working it, you don’t go there. Same with left field line, right field line and the outfield bleachers. Of course, the larger the crowds, the smaller the territories. You have to use your own judgment to figure out if you are intruding on another vendor’s sales or not. The best way is to probably put yourself in the other vendor’s shoes and take it from there.
17. Starting and quitting times are very important. A lot depends on the size of the crowd. If a large crowd is expected, you can start selling about twenty minutes after the gates open. For small crowds, start getting your cokes made as soon as you feel you can sell forty of them (two racks) before the ice melts.
The concession frowns very strongly on you bringing any cokes or hotdogs back when you quit. Peanuts, chips and things like that are okay-- they can be sold the next game. So it is important to time what you are taking out towards the end of the game. In a baseball game, don’t take any new hotdogs or cokes out after the fifth inning (in football, after the third quarter). Spectators just aren't buying anymore edibles at these times. Sell whatever hotdogs and cokes you have left as fast as you can, check in, get your pay, grab a couple of hotdogs (best to bring your own buns-- they taste better and are easier to handle), go to the left field beer concession, get a big cup of cold beer and then sit down and enjoy the rest of the game with your customers.
18. Lastly, work hard,
but enjoy yourself and make sure
to make friends with the fans, and the players, if possible. Once you
get into the routine, you should be sitting with the fans from the
of the seventh inning, or in football, most of the fourth quarter.