I walked through the back door of the concessions stand at our high school’s stadium with the scent of popcorn, coffee, and hotdogs permeating the air. The sights and smells brought me back to previous years of working the concession stand.
I knew what I was in for, having spent many grueling hours diving into this grubby job, either freezing at football and soccer games or sweating at swim meets and basketball games. Different posts are assigned and, no matter what area you run, the pace is always frenzied with nonstop repetition as you try to keep up with the onslaught of customers and the mass production of food.
My absolute favorite part of working concessions comes at the end, when the event is over, and we have an excess of food that hasn’t been bought. The kids are well aware of this time-honored tradition and they flock to the counter in eager anticipation as the foil-wrapped lukewarm three-hour old hotdogs go flying out to waving hands while shouts of “Me, me, me!” grow louder and louder.
The usual suspects come back more than once for their second, third or even fourth free hotdog. Sometimes I’ll ignore their greed to wave over a shy kid lingering in the shadows. Handing over my last two hotdogs is greeted with the same kind of reverence as being handed the keys to a brand new car.
The stuff is gold, I tell ya. Pure gold.
It’s a laborious job, working concessions. Which is why I received an email three hours before a recent soccer game with the subject: “URGENT! CONCESSION WORKERS NEEDED FOR TONIGHT’S GAME!” There had been several previous emails asking for concession workers, but everyone always seems to have legitimate excuses that justify not signing up when those emails get sent over and over again… including me.
No one wants to do this job, no one. But we eventually face the hard, cold truth that we simply cannot dodge this duty forever. We must, at some point, submit to these mandatory contributions that fund our programs and feed our fans if we want our kids to participate in whatever activity they love.
We are obligated to withstand the heat or cold and run ragged for hours scrubbing counters and counting cash while wrapping hundreds of hot dogs in tinfoil and scooping popcorn into bags.
And although it’s exhausting and time-consuming, there are benefits that come with this unpaid employment—like getting to know other parents through the solidarity of the strain and stress we endure. A special bond is built between workers who may have just met at the beginning of the shift. Strangers become friends. During clean up, conversations are filled with a special camaraderie that celebrates surviving this particular chore.
Caving to the call for concession volunteers, I realized this evening’s soccer game was different than previous years of working the concession stand. The stadium seating was scarce, adhering to the health and safety guidelines for COVID-19, so the constant stream of people at the counter was missing.
We were glad to have a line at half-time, if only for a little while.
Though it made the job easier, it was still disappointing to realize the effects this pandemic continues to have on our lives, disrupting not only game attendance, but concession stand sales, too.
At the end of my shift, mounds of hotdogs were still sitting on the heated grates. As the small crowd of spectators exited the stadium, a few students appeared, lingering in front of the counter with familiar expectant anticipation. I was thrilled to see some things hadn’t changed.
“Who wants free hotdogs?” my co-worker yelled.
“Me, me, me!” Mass hysteria erupted while we began tossing hotdogs toward all the hands that went up in the air.
I can’t return their lives to normal and I can’t recover all that has been lost. But in that rare moment, I had a chance to give them what they wanted.
I watched them celebrate this small gift with laughter, smiles, and a sincere “Thank you!”
The moment felt surreal and sacred. With profound gratitude I realized that, despite everything that has changed in our world, some things have stayed the same. And I’ll gladly sign up for another concessions shift just to witness it again.
This stuff is gold, I tell ya.