The life of a World Series street peddler

The life of a World Series street peddler

This post was submitted as a class assignment for a feature with a news hook.

By Tacuma Roeback

At Wrigley Field on Saturday night, two games commenced: Game 4 between the Chicago Cubs and the Cleveland Indians and the second contest street peddlers versus potential customers.

The stakes were high for both.

Joe Gray, 54, took a bus from Philadelphia to sell ticket holders, caps and T-shirts. He paid $73 for his bus ticket and made two sandwiches to eat for the 760-mile trip to Chicago. Gray shared a hotel room with some friends at no charge, but he had budgeted $200 for the three-day trip.

He needed to earn $1,300 in sales for this to be considered a successful business trip. So Gray held court in a makeshift tunnel on the south side of Clark Street, across from Wrigley and adjacent to a construction site. It was 40 minutes before the start of Game 4, so ticket holders had to be sold at $15 a pop.

“Ticket holders! Big game! Big game! Huge!”

His voice boomed as Cubs fans with and without tickets streamed by.

“You got any tickets to go with those ticket holders?” one man asked.

“Sure,” Gray said. “for $5,100 dollars.”

Everyone wanted a ticket to that game and with good reason.

The Cubs not winning a title in 108 years was the predominant storyline. There’s also the “Curse of the Billy Goat,” the reason for the team’s ineptitude all these years, according to some.

Yet, the street vendors themselves had equally compelling stories of their own. Some take trips on shoestring budgets to earn enough money to feed their kids, or in the case of Gray, to finance a dream.

Street vending is a business where guys tend to share first names only, and if they share a last one, it doesn’t sound entirely real, like a Hollywood actor’s name. If they sell unlicensed merchandise, they risk arrest. They also risk getting mugged by thugs who can monitor their every move from up close or afar.

There’s also the cost of doing business. In Chicago, vendors have to pay $100 for a peddler license. They also work unpredictable hours. Gray started hawking his wares at 1 p.m., yet he was still out there at 7:30 p.m. hoping to catch the last trickle of ticket buyers.

If the World Series shifts to Cleveland, Gray said he would take a bus there as well. He pointed out that his ticket holders only say “World Series 2016” on them. There are no Cubs or Indians logos to be found.

“I can sell these in Cleveland too,” he said.

For vendors like Ernest Smith, also from Philadelphia, there were T-shirts to sell.

“I do this to feed my kids,” he said.

The 35-year-old Smith marched up and down Clark Street selling shirts with Cubs colors that paid homage to that goat curse and a popular movie about paranormal experiences.

“I ain’t afraid of no goat,” read the T-shirt.

When the night was over, Smith said he didn’t do as well as he had expected.

“They weren’t in a buying spirit,” he said, referring to Cubs fans upset about their team’s Game 4 loss.

“So you know, hopefully tomorrow is better.”

For every loss, there is a street vendor that earns a victory. Having a quality, licensed product tends to increase their odds of success.

Timothy Benson, who sold official World Series programs from a booth in front of Wrigley, talked about fan who paid $600 for two boxes.

“I was like, ‘great’,” Benson said, shaking his head in wonder.

Still, for Gray, most of the fans he encountered in that window leading up to the game passed on buying his ticket holders, except for one guy. NFL Network personality Cole Wright, wearing a Cubs hoodie, stopped by.

“How much are the ticket holders?” Wright asked.

“Fifteen dollars,” said Gray.

He handed him a $20 bill and Gray gave him his change and the ticket holder.

“Alright, Go Cubs!” Wright said giving Gray a fist bump as he headed toward the stadium entrance.

For Gray, it was a small win, but there was at least another day to go, another night to make things right.

Plus, he needed to make enough for a something he’s always wanted.

“If I sell enough of these I’ll get married,” he said.