Friday, November 13, 2009

Culture: Friday Night Lives

TORONTO, ONTARIO - This autumn, National Public Radio has been running a series on the Friday afternoon editions of All Things Considered called Friday Night Lives on high school football. It may be hard for some readers of this blog to believe, but I once had a role in the Friday night football culture--at the concession stand.

At my high school, the Math Club ran the concession stand for all sporting events. Some events were staffed by other clubs who gained the proceeds from those events, but the overall administration of the stand and all the ordering of supplies was done by the Math Club (mostly our adviser), and we had the stand at the vast majority of marquee events, including the football games on Friday night. When the football stadium at our school was rebuilt between my sophomore and junior years, only our Math Club adviser received a key to the new, very nice concession stand.

Of course, the process of running the concession stand, even when fully staffed, was engrossing enough that it was usually impossible to follow the game. We'd usually know what was happening, but it was more because of conversations with customers than what we would see with our own eyes or hear from the public address announcer. I believe I was first assigned to the popcorn machine my sophomore year. The machine made excellent popcorn, but was terribly cantankerous and required a combination of art and experience to operate. Once I learned its idiosyncrasies, it was my normal assignment for the rest of high school, and trying to get ahead of demand before the end of the first and third quarters and for halftime was a constant struggle.

The anchor of the concession stand was the coffee machine. It needed to be warmed up so it was often the first thing to be turned on. One year we decided to sell coffee for $0.25, figuring that our costs were in the realm of $0.10. People kept remarking about what a good deal it was. Eventually, we decided to raise the price to $0.50--and sales did not perceptibly change. In the Starbucks era, even a $0.50 plain coffee seemed like a bargain, and I suspect coffee is the biggest money-maker at concession stands across the country.

Besides coffee, sodas, and popcorn, the bulk of the sales were of candy. It was at the concession stand that I first tried a Milky Way Dark and decided that dark chocolate was an okay thing. In general, those working the concession stand could buy things for half price, so rather than $0.50 for each candy bar, I only needed to pay $0.25--I'd probably still eat Snickers bars if I could get them for that price!

The money raised at the stand went to fund the Math Club's activities for the year, including trips to regional and state competitions, and even airfare for the active club members and chaperones to the national convention during the summer. I actually only attended one national convention--in Princeton, New Jersey--and did not attend the convention in Hawaii after my senior year. That year I had worked all the football games and the vast majority of the basketball games, so our adviser was shocked that I did not want to go to Hawaii. However, I had viewed working the stand as part of the duties as club president, and a duty to the school. A lot of people would have been very grumpy if they had not been able to get their coffee and candy at halftime, and in my "uniform" of clothes (that happened to be school colors), I was always there to serve them.

Indeed, the concession stand is an important part of Friday Night Lives, but it won't be covered in the NPR series.

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