Saturday, August 27, 2005

Beers, Cheers and Braziers

Working for the temp agency is like being a secret agent. The dispatcher tells you as little as possible about the nature of the job she is sending you on. Yesterday, I was told to wear black pants, black shoes and a white, yellow or red t-shirt, and to show up at The Stadium at four o'clock.

There is a certain amount of stress involved in not knowing what you will be asked to do, and it makes it difficult to plan ahead: should I bring a lunch? Will there be a place for me to stash a backpack? What time is the shift over? Even the rate of pay was a mystery for this one. When I arrived at the specified gate, I looked around for my contact, Isaac. He was nowhere to be found, so I sat down and waited. A large group of workers from my agency was gathering, and I talked to a few of them. It seemed that we were to be working as "beer runners".

Steeltown's football team, the Tigerhearts, has been on a seven game losing streak. I don't really follow football, hardly even know the rules, but it seemed like it would be an interesting gig. Eventually, Isaac arrived. Like many of the other people one saw busily walking around, he had one of those headsets with a microphone attached to it. He was very polite to everyone, apologizing for keeping us waiting. It was a strange thing to apologize for, since we were getting paid to wait, but it was nice.

My group of about thirty workers started following Isaac through the concession stands situated around the base of the stadium. At each beer or liquor kiosk, he would ask for one or two volunteers to remain and help. It felt like one of those scenes from the movies where the bigwig of some firm is being followed by a scrum of underlings. Isaac would veer left or right to say something to someone, and the whole mob of temp workers would follow, like a swarm of insects jostling for position.

I was wearing black dress shoes: not entirely comfortable for climbing around in the stands, so I worked my way to the head of the group. I wanted to work at one of the kiosks, rather than hoofing it in the bleachers. We passed booth after booth, and he kept picking other people. Finally, after covering the circumference of the stadium, we reached the last booth. "Anyone? Anyone? " Isaac asked. I jumped from out the mob, and was given the station. "Good luck," he said as he signed the yellow slip that I needed to hand back in at the agency for my pay. That was the last I saw of the fellow.

My kiosk sold beer: Budwiser or Bud Lite in two different sizes. We were flanked by two snack vendors, with two more beer booths within shouting distance. I was working with three other people, one of whom had just started there that day. For some reason, they had myself and the new girl up front working the cash, while the two veterans stood behind, pouring the beer into plastic cups. "It's the law: we have to decant," explained Michelle, who had just completed an online bartender course. I think the stadium was worried that if they served the beer in cans, disgruntled fans might start using them as projectiles.

I don't like working cash. I'm always second guessing myself and worrying that I've given out the wrong change. However, as we had only one product, after the first hour or so I got used to the calculations involved in making change from tens and twenties. Something of a rivalry existed between our kiosk and our neighbour. It seemed that the other booth always made more in tips and sales than our station. George, a fellow from P.E.I. who had worked there for a while, hypothesized that it was due to our being located between two concession stands, though I couldn't see the logic in this. Inspired by the loud-mouthed hot dog hawker who passed by every so often, I started calling out to customers: "Ice cold beer! Get your ice cold beer!" in an attempt to attract thirsty patrons.

At one point, a customer claimed that I shortchanged him ten dollars. He showed me a fold of bills, claiming that he had given me a twenty, when I had only given him change for a ten. I almost caved and gave him the money. However, I was told that if our booth was short at the end of the night, the difference would come out of the tips. I didn't want my other three coworkers to suffer for my mistake, so I held my ground. I might very well have given the wrong change, but decided to give myself the benefit of the doubt. Normally, I'm the guy to get suckered in such situations, so I felt good about my decision even if I was actually in the wrong.

As it turns out, the Tigerhearts won their first game of the season last night, though the score was close. It was also the 75th anniversary of the stadium, as I learned when a large birthday cake was carried past our booth on the way to some sort of ceremony. I had a pretty good time serving beer, making change and talking to the customers. At the end of the night, once the cash had been counted and some arcane calculations performed, we were about forty dollars short; so there was no way to tell whether I had really shortchanged the customer or not. I might have actually given too much change to some of the other patrons. I like to give away money to strangers, especially when it isn't my own. But it turns out we didn't have to pay for the deficit from the tip jar, and each of us walked away with twenty bucks extra or so.

I talked to one of the other temp workers who had been stationed in the stands as a beer hawker. She told me I had missed out, that she had made over a hundred dollars in tips. Apparently, the hawkers had to buy the special T-shirts they wore, and so twenty dollars was deducted from their pay. She also said that two of the temp workers couldn't take the stresses of the job, and had walked off half way through the game. This didn't surprise me, and I think that if I had had to climb through the stands carrying 48 beer around my neck, and dealing with drunken patrons for five hours, I would have likely walked away as well. As it is, I only had to deal with the customers who were sober enough to get out of their seats and make it down the stairs to the kiosks. The real yahoos were probably bombed out of their skulls, immobilized in the stands.

What did I gain from the evening for my troubles, besides a little pocket money and a complimentary hot dog? I faced and got over my fear of working cash and dealing with the public. So what if I came up a little short, or short-changed a customer or two? Our booth moved a lot of tall boys, and somebody even complimented us on our upbeat attitude and friendly manner. Walking home through the gritty east end, the road jammed full of honking cars with excited fans screaming out of the windows, I had the satisfied feeling of bringing yet another Fakiegrind covert investigation to satisfactory conclusion.


mgc said...

it is too bad you had to serve such crummy beer though. good story!

flatlander said...

Happily, I wasn't drinking the stuff. Just serving.