Saturday, August 29, 2009

The Evolution of Vended Beer – by Charles Beerwin

Part I – Tap Beer

From the earliest days of the Dome to the mid-90’s all beer vendors sold and carried cups of tap beer. It was filled in the room and we sloshed it around until we sold it. The entire process seems so primitive now.

Vended beer was really an assembly line production back then. It was called a fast fill machine… There were 4 cups in a row, and 6 rows to make up the case of beer. A prep would pull a lever and 4 taps would pour into 4 cups. They would move the line along to the next row and eventually pour this into all 24 cups. Of course, all of these taps would not pour evenly, so a pitcher of "Fresh" tap beer was kept close by to top off any cups that were not full.

After filling the beer, the prep would pull a sheet of saran wrap over the cups and a giant shrink-wrap machine would heat up the plastic and seal it to the cups. It really looked like a giant condom on top of the cups of beer. I still recall the sound of that capper machine… Chunck – Pssssssst – CHEwww.

Chunck was the sound of the huge machine lowering onto the cups (Hopefully centered on all of them)

Pssssssst was the heat melting the plastic onto the cups

CHEwww was the sound of the machine returning to its original position.

Did anyone really believe that a layer of saran wrap on top of a plastic cup was going to keep a beer fresh for 20—30 minutes?

I cannot believe we ever sold beer that way. It’s even harder to believe that people bought it from us. Picture a vendor with sweat dripping off his nose leaning over your beer. Yuck!! Don’t laugh… I saw it happen many times. Vendors still laugh today about the “extra protein” in each beer.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Ghosts of Vendors Past

I have been working at the Dome for 20 years. You would think that would put me near the top of the seniority list.

Not So.

After all this time, I am #26 in seniority. There are 25 guys who have worked more events than I have. Jake is #24 and he reminds me of this statistic on a weekly basis (April 3, 1982).

I have moved up 10 spots in the past 6 years, but it has not been easy…

I have passed 6 vendors on the seniority list in the traditional way… by working more events. The other 4 were by termination, retirement and death.

Jack and Bergie were fired for serving minors in a sting operation organized by the Minneapolis Police Department. It was a shame, but as a beer vendor, we have to be careful everyday. Each sale could be your last if not diligent about carding.

Ray retired after a “fantastic” career. I use the word fantastic, because Ray always did. Anytime I would walk past him and ask, “How ya doin today Ray?”. His response was always the same… “Fantastic!”

Great Man – Great Attitude.

Ray retired after years of vending to spend more time with his grandkids in his later years. After dedicating over 30 years of his life to vending, he hung up his sneakers in a very honorable way. It was unfortunate that Ray “Your Vendor” passed away less than 6 months after retiring. Ray was one of the best!

I remember the organist playing “Take Me Out To The Ballgame” as the recessional “hymn” at Ray’s funeral. It was very moving.

Tom was a very good friend, a great salesman, and a great talker. He had worked at the Dome since the day it opened in 1982. My locker was between his and Tim’s for the first 10 years of my vending career. Tom and Tim always seemed to rag on me for being the new kid on the vending block (even after 10 years).

Tom always had something to say (kind of like me, I suppose). His laugh was more of a chortle than a laugh, and it was fun as a “youngster” to get him get him rolling.

He could argue almost any point, and could hurl insults as fast as anyone. It was immature locker room banter, and he was a ringleader at 50+ years old.

One special thing about Tom is that he always had the ladies juice to put on before a game. (He didn’t call it “ladies juice”, but I am going to keep this blog PG.)

The juice… was Brut, by Faberge.

Now vendors sweat A LOT!!! (Some more than others). We need something to keep the stink off of us for 3 hours as we climb stairs. Tom supplied the antidote. It was not unusual for a half dozen vendors to gather around Tom’s locker for a splash of “The Juice” before a game. He of course, called us freeloaders or moochers, but always had Brut to spare.

We held out our hands like Oliver Twist waiting for a bowl of porridge and he would always oblige with a couple of squirts of the sweet smelling cologne.

Tom died suddenly one night in 2003 of a massive heart attack.
He died in the 7th inning of a home game.
He died while vending

He stopped back at the vending room to put his beer tray down so he could take a break. He said he wasn’t feeling very good and wanted to go to the bathroom and splash some water on his face.

He never made it to the bathroom. About halfway there, his heart stopped and he was gone.

It was a shock to everyone.

Every vendor knows that climbing all those stairs is hard work… but it shouldn’t be deadly. Unfortunately it was for Tom.

They held a moment of silence for Tom before the next game prior to the National Anthem. I stood at the bottom of the aisle in section 132-133 next to another peanut vendor as we removed our caps for our friend. It was a wonderful gesture on the part of the Minnesota Twins.

I looked around during the anthem and saw vendors at the bottom of every section standing to honor Tom. What a neat memorial for a beer vendor.

I miss Tom even today. It is a shame he will not be here to work the final Twins games at the Metrodome. He was a crusty old man with a fowl mouth, but he epitomized the essence of a beer vendor. He knew how to put on a great show for the customers.

I do still put on juice before every Twins game. My 9 year old daughter makes fun of me occasionally when I come home from the Dome and smell like cologne. Sydney calls it “Stinky Stuff”. Probably a more appropriate name than what Tom called it.

Rest in Peace Tom.

Monday, August 24, 2009

Wally The Beerman

Wally the Beerman was back at the Dome tonight for his first Twins Game since Triple bypass Surgery in May. It was good to see him working in the place where he belongs. The world might not have been the same if Wally could not have returned before the Twins left the Dome. He is the reason most of us 2nd rate vendors make any money at all at that place.

He made us all famous (or semi-famous). (Or maybe… just people… that fans like to buy beer from.) Everyone loves Wally, and everyone wants to buy beer from Wally, but they will buy from the rest of us if he is not around.

I am sure there is a Sales Book to be written about Wally, but maybe I can sum it up in just a few paragraphs.

Why do people love Wally?


He remembers every customer he ever served. He remembers their name, the game they were at, and where they were sitting.

Unbelievable… I barely remember my kids birthdays.

Wally has his own baseball card.
It is currently selling on Ebay for almost $20

Wally did commercials for Budget Liquor in the late 1980’s. “Buy for Less, Budget Liquor in Shakopee… Buy for Less, Budget Liquor in Columbia Heights…”. I still remember him shaking his arms in the air like he was actually pointing to Shakopee on the map.

He has his own groupies on Facebook.

He has his own Bobblehead.

He was in Sports Illustrated (twice).

He is mentioned on Twins commercials, “…Faster than Wally the Beerman in the 7th inning” (Must be pre bypass surgery speed). He is mentioned in the Twins newspaper ads for memories of the Dome.

I even had a fan ask me where Wally was working tonight, because she heard a rumor he was back. WOW!! How do I achieve that kind of cult following.

I checked… Wally is not on Wikopedia… but neither am I.
Someone did post a Youtube video with him, but it is probably a stalker.

He bartended at my wedding (I had to pay him like anyone else, of course), and think there were more pictures taken with Wally than “The Happy Couple”. People still come up to me and say they remember my wedding reception, because Wally the Beerman was there.

Some vendors envy Wally, and some idolize him. I remember the first time I passed Wally up in the sales rankings, and it was a big accomplishment. I was 35 and he was 65. That says more about Wally than me.

I do have him beat in 1 area. Do a google search for “Wally The Beerman” and you will come up with only 4200 hits.

If you do a search for “Dan Smith, Metrodome”… you will get 13,400 hits.

Take that Old Man.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Oh Say Can You See.

There are not many places you can go to hear the National Anthem anymore, but a sporting event is always a sure bet. One of the privileges of being a beer vendor at the Metrodome is getting to hear the National Anthem 81 times a year.

There are many interpretations, and I have heard them all… and have never been disappointed. From the 6-year-old pageant candidate, to a barbershop quartet of senior citizens, they all are unique. I have heard marching bands, professional singers, war veterans, bagpipes, violin soloists, and Jimi Hendrix wanna-be’s. They each have one thing in common when they sing the “Star Spangled Banner”…

They put their heart into it.

They stand out there, many times all alone… right in front of the pitcher’s mound, with 30,000 listening and critiquing. A camera is always right in front of their face, which is blown up larger than life on the 2 jumbotrons…

…And they don’t miss a note.

Thank you to anyone who has sung the National Anthem at a Twins Game since 1989. I have personally appreciated your patriotism and your passion.

There is another Twins tradition every Sunday. At the 7th inning stretch, someone sings “God Bless America” before we hear “Take Me Out To The Ballgame”. Earlier this year, there was an 80-year-old WWII veteran singing. Now, he might have missed a few notes, and even Randy Jackson would have said he was “pitchy”, but he stood there proudly and gave it everything he could. The reaction from the crowd was amazing. They knew how much it meant to him to sing this song for this audience.

I hope he knows that it meant a lot to everyone who heard it.

Thank you sir, for showing over 30,000 people what patriotism meant to you.

Friday, August 7, 2009

... And We'll See You Tomorrow Night (part 2)

I don’t remember much about the middle innings of Game 6. After all, I was working the upper deck outfield and couldn’t see much of the action.

I do remember that it was tied when vendors checked out in the middle of the 8th inning. That meant I had to go downstairs to cash out. There were no TV’s down there, and it was tough to keep track of what was going on in the game.

Vendors of course, are rooting for a Twins win and a Game 7. Not only because we are true fans, but because we get paid only when we work, and this is a chance to work another game… another great game.

Checking out after a game usually took about 30 minutes back in 1991. We had to count and face our money and then stand in a line with the 25 other guys in our room to turn in money from the evening. Some days it goes quickly and some days it just drags on.

On Saturday, October 26, 1991, it seemed to take forever.

Occasionally someone would come down and alert everyone what was going on, but nothing was happening. There was a feeling that when this game did end, it would end suddenly, and all that would be left was to watch highlights on the news.

That just wouldn’t do in a game like this; I had to see the finish.

After finally cashing out, I changed clothes and took my ID badge with me to watch the end of the game. There wasn’t a seat available in the building, and no one was leaving early. I had to resort to standing in the concourse and at the top of sections behind home plate to catch the action.

I positioned myself at the top of an aisle just to the right of home plate where I could see most of the field and still turn and see a TV if something happened out of my view. The best thing about my vantage point was I could also hear the play by play from the TV over the speaker system in the concourse. It was turned up extra loud tonight because of the crowd noise.

I was able to watch the bottom of the 9th along with the 10th and 11th innings this way. Finally in the bottom of the 11th, “it” happened. Puckett did it again. The little fireplug, who prior to the game told his team to “jump on his back”, launched one deep into the left center field seats. It was not more than 25 feet from where he had made his now famous catch in the 3rd inning.

My view allowed me to see the home run and to hear Jack Buck’s call over the concourse speaker system. It was a moment that is still as clear in my mind as on the night it happened.

That ball hit the seats, the crowd went wild, and Jack Buck said, “… and we’ll see you tomorrow night.”

Puckett rounded the bases pumping his fist, and the noise at the Metrodome was a loud as I had ever heard it. In fact, it has never been that loud again… even for football.

Even to this day, I still get chills when I hear the replay of Jack Buck’s famous call of the final play. After all, I was “in the building”.

Wednesday, August 5, 2009

... And We'll See You Tomorrow Night (Part 1)

There was never a more exciting game as a Twins vendor than Game 6 of the 1991 World Series. With all due respect to Game 7, Saturday night’s game with the Twins on the brink of elimination was more fun.

This was a home game - a Dome game… and the Twins had never lost a World Series game in the Metrodome (6-0). Despite having this going, it was “do or die” down 3-2 in the series… and it seemed like the fans were going to enjoy 2 games worth of fun in 1 night just in case we didn’t get to Sunday’s Game 7.

I was working the upper deck right fields seats over the folded up football bleachers that night. Back then, there were no white curtains with pictures of Puckett, Hrbek, Killebrew, Oliva and Carew on it. These seats were available and filled to capacity for all of the 1991 playoffs.

Now, anyone who had ever sat 25 rows up in these seats knows that it isn’t the best place to watch a baseball game.
First of all you could not see 40% of right field, and,
Second, you couldn’t be any further from home plate.

But, it just didn’t matter tonight. These were the fans that didn’t care if they saw the game or not; they just wanted to be “in the building”.

I personally cannot follow the game in the upper deck at the Metrodome. Even today when working, I end up asking lots of people “what happened?” It is just too far away from the play and I have my back turned most of the time serving customers. But in a game like this, everything stops when the crowd reacts - and you cannot help but watch.

It was loud in the Dome most of time during the 1991 playoffs, but I could always tell if something bad was about to happen. The crowd got instantly quiet. It was like everyone was holding their breath, afraid to watch, and knowing that screaming louder would do no good.

That was the case in the third inning of Game 6. The crowd was cheering loudly as Scott Erickson threw a pitch to Ron Gant that started one of the best WebGems in Twins history.

Terry Pendleton was on first with 1 out and Gant torched the ball. I looked back over my shoulder, as the crowd got instantly silent. That ball was heading for the left center field seats. No one in that building thought there was any way our 5’8” center fielder could make his stubby little legs run fast enough to get to that ball. At least one run was going to score. The Braves Terry Pendleton was so sure that ball wouldn’t be caught that he was already around 2nd base running at full speed.

But Kirby Puckett DID get to the ball… and he DID jump higher than anyone ever thought he could. He even seemed to catch the ball in a way that allowed him to bounce off the wall and almost in 1 motion throw that ball toward first base to try to double up Pendleton.

I still think it is one of the greatest plays in baseball history. And fortunately, everyone in the Dome was able to see that catch because of where it took place. Even the person in row 25 of the upper deck right field seats where I was working that night.

Rest in Peace – #34. Thanks for the Memories.

Monday, August 3, 2009

I Got It!

In my career at the Dome, I have been close to many baseballs that have reached the seats. It would make sense that a beer vendor walking around the dome for 20 years would be unexpectedly targeted by foul tips and a home run once and a while. Some games it seems like the wayward baseballs are all around me.

Since 1989, I have caught 7 baseballs leaving the playing field, and have been hit by 2 others that were retrieved by overexcited fans.

The only home run that I caught was in left field and it landed at my feet after bouncing off the glove of an Anaheim Angel. It was a long fly ball to deep left center field that the left fielder was chasing. He was about 25 feet away from me when he made an attempt on the ball. It actually landed in his glove for a split second and then rolled on top of the 4-inch wide fence for 5-10 feet before falling into the seats and rolling 10 feet right up to me. It would have been a web gem had he caught it, but it became a souvenir. I can still replay the event in my head.

The other 6 baseballs were foul balls. Sections 121 (twice), 125, 127(twice), and 130 were the locations. There was nothing special about any of the catches. Fans had chances at each one first, but the balls came right to me. The second catch in section 127 in 2007 was probably the most spectacular. It bounced off 2 sets of hands and then right to me. I actually backhanded it, because it happened so fast.

My most recent attempt at a foul ball was this year in June. This ball was tracking me right off the bat like no other. I was walking down the aisle with a case of Bud plus 6 (no room for anything extra). Not missing a step on the stairs, I banked the ball off my chest into the tray. The ball bounced off a couple of those Bud Lights on the top and rolled away. Dammit… there goes my chance to be on SportsCenter. Would have made a great WebGem. At least the guy that caught it bought a 6 pack for his friends.

I have made it a habit when catching a baseball to locate some kid close by and give them the ball. Not one of those bratty kids begging for the ball that will throw it around the backyard, but a kid that will cherish the ball forever. The ball means nothing to me, I have dozens of them.

I will always remember the look from a 7-year-old girl when I handed her the foul ball I just caught in 2006. Her eyes got really big, like a Christmas gift she was never expecting. She understood the rarity of getting a real baseball at a Twins game, and will tell her friends about that baseball for many years.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

My security badge in 1991
They actually used the picture from 1989

My most recent badge from 2005

End of an Era

It has finally hit me.

Tonight Bert Blyleven unveiled the #28 prior to the 6th inning in tonight’s Twins game. It meant there were only 28 Twins games remaining in the Dome before the team moves to Target Field. Has it gone that fast??? I remember the beginning of the 2008 season and the number 162 was changed to 161. It really didn’t have any significance.

I even remember my first day working at the Metrodome. I started off rolling kegs with a college buddy, Rod Hegerle. I don’t know where Hegs is today as he quit working at the Dome shortly after I started, but I cannot imagine where I would be now if he had not introduced me to this unique “Part Time” job that has dominated my life.

I am 41 years old and have climbed stairs and sold beer at the Dome for almost half my life.

Since my first day at the Dome (3-15-89), I have:

- Graduated from college
- Worked for 5 different school districts
- Changed careers and worked for 2 different paint companies
- Got married
- Had 2 children
- Purchased 7 vehicles
- Worked over 900 Twins Games

900 games... What are the statistics.

Let’s just say that in an average Twins game I sell 8 cases of beer. It might be an understatement, but it’s a good place to start. 8 cases of beer is 196 beers.

- Average that out over 900 games, and that is 176,400 beers to Twins fans.
- Each beer weighs approximately 1 pound. 176,400 beers is approximately 88 tons of beer.

Let’s say that in an average game I work 30 aisles. There are an average of 70 stairs in each section of the Dome. That equals 2100 steps per game… Times 800 games… 1 million, 680 thousand stairs over 20 years. As strange as this sounds, that doesn’t seem like a lot to me. No wonder my knees pop every time I take a step.

Beer was $2.25 when I first started… It is now $6.75. I actually sold soda in 1990 and the price of a soda was $1.50. Now pop is $4.

With only 28 games left in my Twins career at the Dome, something needs to be written. Maybe not for anyone to read, but for me to record.

This is one of those times in my life that I wish I had kept a diary of everything that happened to me over 20 years as a Beer Vendor. Too bad I could not see into the future and realize someday that everything might come to an end and I should have kept a record of it all. There have been some great stories. Some crazy stories, and several unbelievable stories. Oh, well… better late than never.

This truly is the end of an era for me.

The stories to follow are the “cliff notes” from half my life. I don’t know where to begin, and honestly don’t know why I am even starting this project.