In the summer of 1978, when I was 15 years old and didn’t even have a driver’s license, I sold Cokes as a vendor at Wrigley Field. You know, the guys who run up and down the aisles yelling, “Who wants a cold Coke?” at the top of their lungs. Or, “Hey, Coke man!”
As a 15 year old, I wasn’t legal to be doing this job, but I had “connection” at the union who conveniently ignored this fact (yes, those things do/did happen in Chicago). At the time Cokes were $0.40 each, and vendors earned a 20% commission, so I kept 8 cents for every Coke I sold.
At the time I lived in Highland Park, so I had to take public transportation all the way from HP to Wrigley Field and back. Plus I was carrying a lot of cash with me, and I had one of those change machines that goes around your belt like the guys on the commuter trains use today. That made me an easy target on the El.
One of the veterans told me how to hold cash (mostly dollar bills) in my hand so that they wouldn’t fall out, wouldn’t get stolen, and if I had to quickly raise my arm to shield my head from a incoming foul ball, I wouldn’t lose all of my money.
Because we were required to get there well before the game began, I often had a chance to watch batting practice from the box seats. And typically vendors stopped going out after the 7th inning, so if you sold your last tray early enough in the 8th inning, you could usually find a good seat and watch the rest of the game.
My most vivid memory from that summer, however, was the place underneath the stands where the vendors restocked. Each tray held 20 cups, and the place where the Coke guys refilled was in the same place where the beer guys refilled (they way to make big money was to sell beer). They would fill a tray of wax cups and then pull a sheet of plastic wrap across the top of the tray. Then a platform with 20 circular die on it came down and sealed each cup by melting plastic to the wax cup. If the tray was slightly off center, or a cup was dented, you’d get a nice explosion of cold Coke meeting hot wax and metal. It was hot, humid, dark and had the unforgettable smell of a combination of sugar, stale beer, melted plastic and BO. I can still conjure up my sense memory today of what that place smelled like.
In those days I’d make about $50 on a good day which was amazing money for a 15 year old in the 1970s.