When I was 12 years old, my mother took my siblings and me to Gator Growl, a large pep rally held in the University of Florida’s football stadium, on the Friday evening prior to the Homecoming game. Prior to Growl, there was a pre-Growl which highlighted various high school bands as well as the UF Band, all of which I really enjoyed. Once pre-Growl was over, the UF students put on skits that just didn’t appeal to me and I became fidgety. It was then that I became aware there were teenagers walking through the stands selling cold drinks and obviously making some money doing it.
This sparked an idea. In my household, if you wanted something, you had to earn the money for it yourself and I wanted a new football!! So, I asked mom if I could sell drinks and she immediately approved. We went to find the Coke manager to see if I could get the job and he said, “Sure!” It was a ‘no-lose’ for the Coke people as the drink ‘hawkers’ had to purchase the drinks FIRST and then go out and sell them. Back then drinks were in bottles. Hawkers had to pay 12 cents per bottle and we sold them for 15 cents, making 3 cents per sale. Mother spotted me the $1.44 for the initial investment and a little bit of money to make change. The required purchase was 12 cold drink bottles which were placed in a small tub with ice to keep them cold along with 12 cups and a bottle opener.
And, was that bucket heavy! In addition to the weight, when someone wanted to buy one I had to open the bottle and then pour the drink into one of the cups. Then, what made it even more challenging was when they cut the lights out in the stadium for a skit as I was about to pour the drink into the cup! Even so, I hustled throughout the night and sold 100 drinks and made $3.00! WOW! I was now so much closer to being able to buy that new football.
Before leaving the stadium, I asked the Coke manager if I could sell cold drinks at tomorrow's game. He told me to show up outside of Gate 1 to try and get one of the limited drink seller passes. Sleeping that night was difficult, as I could hardly wait for the next day and the opportunity to earn more money for my new football, which I really, really wanted!
The next day, I got there early before the rest of the hawkers and got a coveted stadium pass. I went in, bought a tub of drinks and began hawking drinks. Unlike a number of the hawkers who stopped selling drinks when the game started (they wanted to watch the game) I kept hustling drinks throughout the entire game which impressed the Coke manager. Indeed, with my love of football, I would occasionally look at what was transpiring on the field, but for the most part, I was all about selling drinks so I could make more money! Needless to say, the Coke manager was always on the look-out for me to show up at the games to give me a pass to sell Cokes!
It was hard work, but normally on a good, warm day, I would sell 200+ drinks, making $6 to $7. That was BIG money for this youngster and I soon made enough to buy that new football!
But, even after buying my football, I kept selling drinks at the games over the ensuing years. A few years later the Coke Company began dispensing drinks already in the cups and placed 24 in wire racks. This made it much simpler and I could sell them faster! I then began doubling the sales selling 400 to 500 drinks per game and making $12 to $15!!
As time went on, when I was about 16, I saw that the older guys were selling programs at the entrances of the stadium, prior to the games. I found out they were making on each 5 cents on each program ! Upon further investigation, I learned that the average number of programs that one would sell was around 200-300. At 5 cents profit on each, that would mean $10 to $15…..ALL prior to the game starting. I inquired of the management about selling programs too and was told that I had to be a college student. I didn’t take ‘no’ for an answer and politely informed them that I could, and would, out hustle and out sell any of the college guys and if he’d give me a try, I would prove it. My persistence paid off. I was allowed to sell programs and I not only sold the 300 programs each sales person was allocated, I also sold the ‘unsolds’ that some of the sales guys had turned back in. I would take those out into the stands and hustle them during the game (which impressed the manager). I usually would sell some 400 to 500 programs. Once all the programs were sold, I would then go to selling cold drinks as before. Additionally, I added selling peanuts and hot dogs. In one hand I carried the coke tray and the other a box with the hot dogs and peanuts.
This income helped a poor boy from Waldo buy a few niceties and - more importantly - gave me money to take out a special girl on a Saturday night!
I learned this key bit of Waldo Wisdom at a young age: not only does the early bird get the worm, but even more than that, the early, persistent and innovative ‘bird’ gets the football and money to take a date out Saturday night after the game!