I was at Nationals Park earlier this evening for Game 1 of the National League Division Series, where I saw my Dodgers beat the Nationals to get an early leg up in this best-of-5 series. While there, one of the drink vendors was very animated in his pitch for selling bottles of Stella Artois. If I did partake in the consumption of adult beverages, I probably would’ve bought one from him. That brings me to this week’s moment in the Flashback Friday series: my experience as a Legion Field vendor.
How I first came across this moment? It was back in 1996. I was living in Elyton Village, a public housing project whose north end was directly across the street from Legion Field along Graymont Avenue on Birmingham’s Westside. It was the start of the 1996 NCAA Division I-A football season and the Alabama Crimson Tide were opening the year in Birmingham. I joined some of my friends from the neighborhood in going up to Legion Field, in hopes that I’d be picked to be one of the game day vendors. The guy who held the key to our destiny regarding this was a Westside legend who went by the name Coach B. He was a hustler of sorts…a clean one. He was a substitute teacher at my school on a couple of occasions and he sold watermelons, peanuts, and all kinds of other bootleg stuff before I really grasped an understanding of it. Anyway, Coach B actually picked me to be one of the vendors. Actually, he picked everybody who was standing at the gate that day. After walking up to the concession level, I was assigned to sell peanuts, which was the low item on the totem pole. I took it with happiness, rolled out and started my “get your peanuts for $1” chants all the way to the bank.
What it meant to me then? For me, it was my first chance at making money independently. Those bags of peanuts sold for $1 each and every tray had 40 bags. I found some success by venturing into the upper decks of Legion Field, where apparently everybody liked peanuts. I sold that whole tray in like 25 minutes and when I returned, they gave me the hot dogs. It was then that I tagged up with one of my neighbors—who was selling sodas—and we both did damage for 3 rounds. I ended up selling $220 worth of peanuts and hot dogs during that game and I got paid $22. In August 1996, $22 was a lot of money for an 11-year-old. I was very excited to have money on my own. I remember getting home and showing my mom the $20 bill and the 2 $1 bills I had. She was impressed. I ended up working 4 games at Legion Field that year and 3 more the following year. I eventually made it up to actually being in the concession both, where you got $5 an hour. It was good times and easy money.
What it means to me now? Looking back on it, some 20 years later, I’m grateful for the opportunity. My neighbor told me that Coach B picked me only because I was the last person and I had the puppy dog look as everybody else was getting picked. Look, I don’t give a f*** about any of that. All I know is dude picked me and I got a chance to get some money. I can care less about the sympathy stuff. Getting that chance to work the stands at Legion Field was like my first job experience and I took it seriously. I learned the game of upselling really fast and I got good at it. At the 1997 Tennessee game, I made $80 selling hot dogs and sodas. I probably would’ve made more but Coach B cashed me out and told me to just enjoy the rest of the game. Those days of being a Legion Field vendor definitely set the path for how I’ve given my all to my jobs afterwards.