by Joey Trum
If any of you have been lucky enough to attend a sporting event in Oakland, be it a Raiders game, an A’s game, a Warriors game, or a gang fight, you know that it’s not exactly the family friendly, all-American, Budweiser and dot races display you’ve come to expect from sporting events in the USA. Between the drabness of the Coliseum and a suburban fan base more suited to being Giants fans, you understand that your experience at an Oakland sporting event will likely be defined by its rough and tumble quality (hitting the bong, passing the Jim Beam, and getting into fights in the parking lot before the game) and its lack of attendance.
So it was with this mindset that I attended the A’s-Tigers game on a Saturday in mid-April. Now, one other essential aspect of Oakland sporting events I forgot to mention, but one that can be personally verified by thousands, is the expansive security force/ hospitality staff keeping the peace at the Coliseum complex. For example, I was at a Raiders-Chargers game two seasons ago where I actually saw a Coliseum security guard use defensive tactics to disarm some cholo with a knife who was angry at some poor accountant-looking dude who was caught making a negative comment about the cholo’s girlfriend’s boobs (which she’d just flashed to our entire section). I’ve seen several other incidents in this vein, and with every one it’s always struck me how well-trained and well-coordinated the security force/ hospitality staff seems to be. Having some experience working in crisis management myself, I can recognize the training when it comes out, and I can definitively say that it far outstrips your typical sporting event usher making $8/hour plus all the nachos he can eat.
So anyway, back to the story from Saturday. I met up with some of my friends and some of their friends and some people I don’t know at the farthest end of the parking lot (under a gigantic sign for the upcoming movie Thor), and engaged in some if not all of the pregame rituals I described in the first paragraph. We played some whiffle ball and went inside around the second or third inning (I seemed to be the only person interested in actually going to the game and perhaps even aware that a game was going on), and of course found seats about two rows above the home bullpen on the first base side.
Now as I mentioned before, the A’s don’t draw very well. This isn’t news to anybody who’s followed major league baseball since the late 80’s, but it doesn’t fully hit you until you actually attend a game on a Saturday night and take in the full minor league atmosphere. Playing in a venue as large as the Coliseum doesn’t help, as you have to see the always classy 30,000-seat-large tarps covering entire decks of the stadium, but when you can hear the seagulls flapping their wings between pitches it feels a tad unsettling. However, one silver lining of this is the rare experience of the players on the field actually being able to hear your heckling. The beneficiary on this day was Tigers right fielder Ryan Raburn (Raaaaaaaaayyyyyyyyyyyyyyyburn), who our section had succeeded (or at least believed had succeeded) in coaxing an error while fielding a routine single with runners on.
So this is time at an A’s game. The mascot is an elephant out of your worst nightmares , the security team outnumbers the audience, and they seem far more invested as well. Not a half-inning went by without someone from security walking up and down the steps, eyeballs darting in all directions, particularly at people’s feet. After a while, I noticed a system by which the eyeball darter would patrol for one period, then a guy on the field would approach the next (with perfect overlap), all the time flashing the classic ‘just lookin’ around’ attempt at looking inconspicuous (an attempt almost comicly undermined by his steely, “I’m so pissed at my old lady for sleeping with my brother” facial expression). But whatever, you gladly accept this heightened security considering the element, and you also reassure yourself with the belief that they’re so concerned with the big stuff (stabbings, meth overdoses, etc.) that they’re not going to bother you unless you do the same (indeed, one of those present in our party swore there’s a tacit allowance of weed-smoking in your seats at the Coliseum, something he didn’t attempt).
Alright, now here’s where the story gets strange, and where all these variables came to a head for me. Around the 6th inning I get up to use the bathroom, and to get something to eat for me and my friend. The weird thing about Coliseum concessions is that they have this sprawling, low-rent, outsourced beer pub thing going on. Aside from the typical generic Aramark hot dogs and orange snot nacho stands, there’s all these stands sponsored by random pseudo micro-brews (the kind owned by mega beverage corporations). For instance, there’s one stand with a “Red Hook” sign above it that’s just as generic as the regular stands but happens to have Red Hook on tap and has one semi-atypical item like “Carnitas sandwich” along with the regular botulism fare. Another has “Guinness” above it, another “Fat Tire,” etc. After a lengthy walk, I end up at one such stand where I get an Italian sausage dog, a hot link, and a beer for my friend. A weird aside about this stand. Instead of being the open mall food court type counter that most sporting event stands are, this one more resembled a check-cashing place. The food service people were behind a wall of reinforced glass, with the only opening being a tiny 1×1 sliding window, the type big enough to receive your food but small enough to ensure that you’d have to shout all your communications and duck your ear up close in order to hear the vendor’s.
So anyway, I’m heading back to my seat with two sausages on a tray in one hand and a cold beer filled to the brim in the other. Foolishly, I kept both dogs in their original paper containers instead of taking them out and bunching them next to each other on the tray, which caused a precarious balance, especially considering the unbalanced weight of the beer. I’m not sure if I bumped into anybody, but at one point I lost my balance and felt one of the hot dogs start to fall off the tray. I fell to my knee in an attempt to keep the balance, but the hot dog fell out of the bun and onto the ground. I quickly picked it up and put it back in the bun, figuring that I would either throw it away or dust it off and eat it myself. Either way, it was my folly so I was going to take the responsibility. However, after walking a few steps away I was approached by a man wearing all black and a headset in his ear.
“Sir, did you drop that hot dog?”
I shook my head and told him it was okay.
“Sir, did you drop that hot dog?”
I told him that I did, but it was no big deal and I tried to keep walking.
“Sir, come over here please.”
I appeal to him again, but I start to feel that things would be worse if I didn’t go. So he pulls me aside. As I go, I try to pick up the paper container to put it in the trash but he again stops me.
“We’ll have somebody get that.”
So I reluctantly go with him, and he looks me in the eye.
“Sir, where did you buy that hot dog?”
“Was it there?”
He points to the nearest stand, where a lady behind a cash register is signaling me.
“Where did you get it?”
“Uh, I don’t know. Some place over there I guess.”
I point in the general direction I came from.
“Come with me sir. We’re going to get you a new hot dog.”
So I follow the man for a minute or so and then he stops and tells me to wait. He walks off, leaving me alone, then comes back 2 or 3 minutes later.
“I need to get the head of concessions,” he says, and he beckons me to follow.
So we continue walking and he again tells me to stop. I see him walk over to a lady, maybe 28, wearing an all-black polo shirt, all-black pants, and a headset to match his. The man cautiously approaches her, and waits patiently while she finishes talking to the 4 people at once she’s talking to. Finally, I see him give some spiel that involves pointing to me several times. She nods several times and points as well, before coming over to me.
“Sir, did you lose your hot dog?”
“It’s no big deal!” I say, trying to sound more emphatic, but also not wanting to end up in the coliseum’s sex dungeon.
“We’re going to get you a new hot dog.”
So she has me follow her, and then she goes up to some such stand and talks for a moment with the person behind the counter before going back to me.
“What type of hot dog was it?”
Her eyebrows raised at this information.
“I know where you got it,” and she quickly leads me to the one and only Saag’s Meats.
She walks up to the check-cashing window and I hear her tell the cashier to give her a hot link. The cashier says that she can’t give away free food.
“Do you know who I am?” she says, and I swear to the ghost of Al Davis that she said these exact words.
She continues yelling at the cashier before I see the cashier relent. Then the head of concessions walks back to me.
“Did you have onions and peppers on it?”
She goes back, gets my onions and peppers, then gives me my new hot link. While she was doing this, I had been looking around for a nearby garbage can to throw away the old dog. Seeing this, she reached for the dog and I give it to her without hesitation.
“I’ll dispose of that for you.”
I thank her in an exaggerated way, feigning that I am pleasantly surprised by their going the extra mile just to salvage my mistake. She barely acknowledges this, and quickly beelines to the nearest garbage can before marching off to other adventures.
I have rarely in my life been so careful as on the walk back to my seats. Something tells me they would not have been so “forgiving” the second time around.