By Bobby Calise
The following story references a man named “Kingston.” The small business that Kingston runs is not exactly legal, so for the purposes of this post, please use your imagination as I’ve taken some liberties with the word “beverage.” Thanks.
I’ve written previously about my Tuesday softball team, but after our first game this past Tuesday night, I realized that I’ve neglected to mention our unofficial MVP: the beverage guy.
Our beverage supplier, known to us only as “Kingston,” has been working the softball fields at Central Park since I started playing on the team in 2005, and some of the older guys say he was there even before that. He’d walk around to all the fields selling water and Gatorade out of a cooler on hot summer days. Back then, though, we didn’t really need his services; the Petry offices were much closer to the fields than they are now, so we had the rookies lug a case of cold drinks along with the equipment bag. But when headquarters moved 25 blocks away from Central Park, we had to come up with a solution for our beverage needs. Enter Kingston.
Our team’s catcher, Charlie, recalls his first prolonged encounter with Kingston that led to the long-standing contract we have now: “One day in 2008 or 2009 … he comes around with his usual ‘I have water and Gatorade.’ I yell out ‘You got anything else?’ He pulls me to the side, gives me the inventory. A few weeks go by and one day he says ‘I could bring a cooler if you want.’ We go over to the end of the bleachers, hammer out the details, and voila, the partnership is born.”
I have a million questions for Kingston about his vocation as an unofficial Central Park vendor. Where does he get his supply of beverages? How many other clients does he have besides our team? How has he managed to operate under the radar for so long? But I assume that in his line of work, doesn’t do too many interviews with bloggers. Still, we’ve been using Kingston’s services for a couple of seasons now and it never once occurred to me that he’s a true entrepreneur and someone who, despite the mystery surrounding him—or maybe because of the mystery surrounding him—I’ve come to appreciate as a businessman. In fact, it was only after a recent bad experience with a major airline that I realized how bad customer service can be, and by contrast, how good Kingston’s is.
Last week I flew Continental Airlines to and from Puerto Rico. Due to a lack of diligence on my part when I booked the flight, my girlfriend and I had separate seats on the plane. After having no luck trading seats with other passengers on the way to Puerto Rico, I called the airlines before our return trip to Newark to see if they could help me straighten out our seating arrangements and get two together. I was assured that although the only open seats were designated as “Extra Legroom,” which cost $40 to upgrade to, we would be able to switch for free if I spoke to someone when we got to the boarding gate. But when we reached the gate, they explained that I had been misinformed, and that this was not Continental’s policy—if Extra Legroom seats go unsold, they remain empty for the flight—because it would be unfair to those who had paid the upgrade fee. I called Continental again from the airport and after 25 minutes on hold, they confirmed what I was told at the gate. My girlfriend and I sat 11 rows apart. (The worst part? The in-flight movie was Gulliver’s Travels. After seven excruciating minutes, I ripped my headphones out of the jack in frustration.) As a passenger, I know that the airline’s top priority is to get me to and from my destination safely. If the pilot can do that, I tend to forget that the flight attendants were snippy and the animal crackers were stale. But as a customer, I was underwhelmed yet again.
I think the Verizons and TimeWarners and Continentals of the world could stand to learn a few things from Kingston. He provides a high demand service at a reasonable price. If we have an issue, we can get a real person on the phone quickly (Kingston himself). This past week, a guy from Kingston’s “staff” came by to make sure we had everything we needed and even refreshed the ice in our cooler. And when he came back to collect the cooler at the end of the night, he asked us if we wanted to include anything else in next week’s order.
Most of my questions about Kingston and his business remain unanswered. I still have no idea where he came from (best guess so far: Jamaica), or where he goes when he disappears into the forest at night. I don’t know whether to believe the rumors that he works at a bazaar over the winter, or that he’s a former extra off the set of Oz. But what I do know is that like any good salesman, he persisted for a long time and eventually won our business. And from what I can tell, he’s determined to keep it.