- What I Learned At . . .
- . . . The Motel Room
- . . . The Health-Food Fast Food Place
- . . . Wrigley
- . . . The Fancy Restaurant
- . . . The Bagel Shop
- . . . The Zombie Fest
- . . . The Concession Stand
- . . . The Golf Course
- . . . The School Grounds
I had spent countless summer hours of my childhood at the minor league baseball stadium, stomping on bleachers and licking cold nacho cheese from my fingers and never watching a moment of baseball, and so when I reached adulthood at age 16 it seemed natural that those years of experience should be put to good use.
As a kid, I had regarded the teenage staff, if I thought of them at all, as largely irrelevant vehicles for burnt hot dogs, and as I entered middle school and graduated to roaming the stadium with my friends each night, eating the same burnt hot dogs between bouts of tormenting the mascot, I came to view the employees with a sort of awe. The mass of red-visored teen elders emanated untouchable intrigue and the effortless coolness of being just a bit older, and this energy radiated through the park itself, tingeing the air with mystery and promise — as if anything could happen while “Who Let the Dogs Out” played on a warm summer night.
And so, when the time came for me to don the same red visor, I couldn’t help but feel a certain pride at taking my rightful place behind the concession-stand counter. I was on top of the ballpark’s small world — mature enough to calculate the cost of onion rings yet still flush with the incorrigible glow of youth — and when the elderly saw my colleagues and me behind the counter they would recognize something universal in us, something timeless and familiar, and they would smile.
The 14-year-olds prowling the park in feral, doglike packs suddenly seemed young and embarrassingly foolish; they did not know the stench of 20 teenagers stewing in 100-degree hot dog smoke or the unsavory texture of hours-old grilled peppers; did not realize that the rock-hard hamburger they’d been served was left over from the previous night; had no idea that the embattled mascot they so mercilessly taunted was my friend Phil.
I relished the feeling of laughing with my co-workers at jokes inaudible to our customers, hoping that a younger one might find us just as intriguing as I had found my predecessors, and wondering if someday he might follow us behind the counter. For I had touched the untouchable — and yet in doing so I found that much of its intrigue had dissipated. My red-visored co-workers were, after all, sweaty children like me; the nacho cheese was squeezed from a bag grotesque beyond my wildest imagining; and as “Who Let the Dogs Out” blared from a nearby speaker, I found myself daydreaming not about unlikely social fantasies but about my next bathroom break.
One summer mid-college I, a concession-stand retiree, returned home and realized I had regained my taste for ballpark nachos. An electricity still filled the air, a sense of mystery and promise, though it wasn’t mine to feel. I stood in line for food, eyeing the new faces who would inevitably bungle my order. Kids, I thought, but there was something timeless and familiar about them, and I smiled.
Gretel Kauffman lives in Ketchum, Idaho, where she works for a local nonprofit.