Charlie Neidel makes his living in the wake of champions.
When the competition boils down to the greatest of the great, when the attention of the sports world focuses on the Big Event, you're apt to findNeidel nearby.
He's in Ferndale these days, scratching out an income in the glowof the Washington Redskins' march to the Super Bowl. By the time theRedskins meet the Buffalo Bills in Minneapolis on Sunday, Neidel will have sold hundreds of souvenir T-shirts, sweat shirts, sweat pants,hats, shot glasses, mugs and beer steins at his stand on Ritchie Highway and Furnace Branch Road. Then, he'll move on.
This week, camped along the Ritchie Highway bazaar of fast-food restaurants, stores,service stations and doughnut shops are several of Neidel's itinerant brethren in the souvenir trade. They travel America for months at atime peddling wares while they're hot.
Neidel was working under ared-and-white tent in the parking lot of an Avis Lube outlet. He said the location reminds him of his home neighborhood outside Cleveland, the home he hasn't seen in six months.
In nearly three years on the road, Neidel has worked in Minnesota for the World Series and theStanley Cup. He hawked paraphernalia in Cincinnati during the 1990 World Series. He traveled to Buffalo for the 1991 Super Bowl and to Chicago last year where the Bulls faced the Los Angeles Lakers in the National Basketball Association championships. During baseball's National League Championship Series last year, Neidel pulled up stakes in Pittsburgh and hit the road at 2:30 in the morning to make Atlanta later that day.
"I do a lot of driving," said Neidel, adding that he's been averaging about 200,000 miles a year. "I'm still young enough, I can still get away with it."
He's 22 years old, about the combined age of the two vans he and his three traveling companions use, along with an old Chevy Chevette. He said the engines in the two vans are changed about every year.
Neidel took to the road after leaving a job at a Ford dealership in Cleveland. He sold cars for about sixmonths before the confines of a regular job pushed him toward the highway.
"I didn't like it, too much stress," Neidel said. "I just have a problem with authority figures."
On this job, the boss is far away, a supplier in Cleveland. Through him, the four traveling salesmen order their merchandise shipped to the nearest airport. They load up the Chevette and their two vans, find their location and open upshop.
While his companions set up in Montgomery County, Neidel has been on Ritchie Highway since Dec. 7, catching the wave of Redskinsfever as the team won the Eastern Division, then the National Football Conference championship.
Neidel said his mother is working the other end of the Super Bowl, peddling souvenirs on the sub-zero streets of Buffalo.
"I'm quite grateful to be where I am," Neidel said.
Farther south on Ritchie Highway, Rich Meshell has been selling Redskins merchandise since last Friday, having staked out a spot on a grassy strip next to a Hardee's in Glen Burnie. He works for a St. Louis-based company that has four stands along Ritchie Highway.
"It's pretty fun," said Meshell, an 18-year-old resident of St. Louis. "You meet a lot of people."
Like Neidel, Meshell said he also workedthe World Series and the NBA finals in Chicago last year. He does the carnival circuit as well, selling souvenirs and running games. He figures he'll stay on the road for about a year, until he starts college.
From here in Glen Burnie, Meshell said he believed the next stop was a circus in Kentucky, where he'll switch from the hype of Super Bowl XXVI to plastic swords and glow lights. Whatever the traffic will bear.