I held nachos, a hot dog and a beer in my hands and wove through the crowds at O.co Coliseum to a seat in section 128. It was June 15, the A's were up against the Padres and the sun was just beginning to cast a golden glow across the field.
A preteen girl ran back and forth in front of a concession stand shouting, "Let's go Oakland!" while she waited for her brother.
She slugged him on the arm when he arrived and the two set off down the corridor, past the stands stocked with everything from hamburgers to nectarines.
The scene was less comforting about a year ago when I made a tour of the Coliseum when I looked for every splotch of mustard left under condiment tables. I peered into garbage cans and tracked stains on luxury suite carpets. I inspected toilets, both men's and women's. I heard and saw enough to make me uneasy about eating at the Coliseum.
But I weakened when a woman walked past me during the June 15 game with a paper boat overflowing with stale tortilla chips topped by sliced chiles and cheese, whose unnatural colors called to mind a nuclear power plant.
The smell of hot dogs and relish wafted past me. Concession stand workers stood behind taps of beer filling cup after cup with frothy but watery beer.
I knew better, and yet I could not help myself, for I have come to expect mediocre food at sports venues -- and most restaurants for that matter -- but love the radioactive-colored,
I reasoned mediocre food was to be expected from a place where $20 gets you a three-course feast -- two-course if you don't count the beer.
Honestly, is the food elsewhere any better or just more expensive? It's an interesting question considering how much business Oakland Coliseum concessionaire Aramark does at sports facilities around the country.
I didn't think I could answer my own question until I remembered that concessions at Oracle Arena, operated by a different company, are in fact better. That is like comparing Burger King to Nation's. Not a world of difference but enough to put the two burger joints in different classes.
The hiring of Anschutz Entertainment Group beginning July 1 to run the Coliseum complex prompted questions about whether Aramark would continue at the stadium. "Do you know if this means a change in the concession stand vendors? The service is so bad now. It would be great to get an upgrade there!" someone wrote.
AEG won't be able to do much at the Coliseum.
The A's control concessions during stadium events and pay Aramark to operate the stands.
The A's and the Coliseum authority still haven't ironed out a concessions contract a year after it expired, so it's not clear what the outcome will be.
The most recent 2011 inspections of Aramark's operations by Alameda County's environmental health department revealed critical violations. Those violations indicate the highest risk of causing food borne disease, according to the department's online database. One red critical violation equals an unsatisfactory inspection.
There were multiple lesser violations related to the maintenance of the establishment and cleanliness.
The details of what inspectors actually found are not online but can be requested from the agency.
In February, concession workers were unhappy with Aramark's unwillingness to give them a 4 percent raise that would have amounted to a .57 cent an hour raise for the highest hourly pay bracket, $14.30. New employees who work less than 50 events a year start at $11.40 an hour, according to their union, Unite HERE Local 2850.
Aramark also has a partnership with Alameda County to run Fresh Start Café, which gives at-risk youth vocational training in food service. The county extended a no-bid six-year contract in 2008 with Aramark to provide food at Santa Rita and North County jails.
The quality of their service came up during a recent budget hearing, during which several supervisors commented offhand about misgivings with Aramark.
Yet, like everyone else at the A's-Padres game, I crunched my cold, stale chips even after the cheese was gone. I washed them and the last bites of my relish-drenched hot dog down with beer and took home the plastic commemorative cup.