The Slump at Shea

by Thomas Beller

05/31/2006

281 Main St, New York, NY, 10044

Neighborhood: Midtown

1993

Like most of the people who haunt Shea Stadium these days, Steve Calandro is a diehard Mets fan. He’s also a vendor, and the vendors, like the Mets, aren’t having a terribly good year. The vendors work for the Harry M. Stevens Corporation, and when things are slow, as they have been this season, who gets to work is determined by seniority, and so is who sells what. Beer, which Mr. Calandro sells, is the most coveted item, but even beer sales are off approximately thirty per cent.

Mr. Calandro started working as a vendor at Shea in 1972. “I was putting myself through Baruch College at the time, working both Shea and Yankee Stadiums,” he said recently, standing in the vendors’ equivalent of backstage–a room under the stands, lined with racks of empty trays waiting to be filled with cups of beer or soda. “I thought I would only do this job for a few years, just to get me through school, but it grows on you, and I’m still at it. I got a full-time job at Smith Barney in 1977, doing collections in their debits department, so now I’m running from my suit to my vendor’s apron. Most of the guys have full-time jobs. We make decent money here, but there are only eighty-one home games each year.”

Mr. Calandro was joined by a colleague named Craig Van Steenbergen, a licensed architect from Westchester who usually sells ice cream, though sometimes, he also does soda. Mr. Van Steenbergen is a relative newcomer at Shea, having worked there for just five years. “The senior guys want to hold on to their seniority,” he said. “The money’s not bad, and then there are the perks. You get to go to the games. You get very good at seeing the game in glimpses. Basically, it’s like listening to the game on the radio, except the fans are the announcers.”

Mr. Calandro has been an ardent Mets fan since the Mets came into being in 1962. “My dad took me to just about every game between 1962 and 1971,” he said. “I’ve seen Joe Christopher play, Cliff Cook, Jim Hickman. For a while, I taped all the games, and if they won, I’d save the tape and watch it during the winter. I did that from around 1985 to 1989. Beginning in 1990, the season started ending quicker and quicker.”

“We’re all waiting for that key September or October,” Mr. Van Steenbergen said.

“Yeah,” Mr. Calandro said. “When the Mets are in a pennant race, and another team comes in here–oh boy.” His face brightened. “Those series when you get a hundred and twenty thousand in here over three games–oh man! Like when St. Louis came in here in ’85. That was incredible.”

“But sometimes you don’t do as well as you think on games like that,” Mr. Van Steenbergen said. “You can’t get through the aisles, because they’re so crowded. And then sometimes people get so excited about the game they’re not even thinking about eating.” Then he added, “Of course, all that is sort of a moot point. It’s gonna be like a ghost town here in September.”

“I keep a book of what I sell every game,” Mr. Calandro said. “Things have got so bad that for the first time since 1983 I got bumped down to peanuts.”

**

Originally in the New Yorker, July 1993

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