In a near-empty bar, Bob Wolf lifts a beer to his lips and tastes the good life. "Time goes fast when you're having fun," he says. This is how his...
In a near-empty bar, Bob Wolf lifts a beer to his lips and tastes the good life.
“Time goes fast when you’re having fun,” he says.
This is how his workday starts, almost always. Wolf is so consistent you could use him to tell time. Hours before every Sonics home game, he visits Floyd’s Place, jokes with the workers, drinks one Miller Genuine Draft, lets it settle and walks across the street to KeyArena, enthused over another night of meeting people.
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Wolf collects tickets at the arena, and he does it with unceasing magnetism — handshakes, hugs and hilarity all night long. He is 72, with asbestos festering in his lungs, but he could pass for 55. Since 1967, back when the Sonics franchise had a pacifier, he has worked in their arena.
He remembers KeyArena before it was rebuilt, when it was the Coliseum, a place he worked while the likes of Bill Cosby, Elvis Presley and Luciano Pavarotti performed. He remembers the years the Sonics wandered off to the Kingdome and Tacoma Dome, which were dead periods for his part-time job. He remembers everything, really, including the 1996 NBA Finals, when he was shown on national television collecting what an NBC announcer called “the hottest ticket in Seattle.”
“My brothers in Minnesota saw me on TV and started calling instantly,” Wolf says. “They were giving me a hard time.”
It’s not a job. It’s an instinct. Every fall, Wolf knows exactly where he needs to be.
If the Sonics scram, I’ll miss Wolf the most. And we just met two weeks ago.
He isn’t special, he’ll tell you. He’s just a man loving life. We’ve analyzed the Sonics’ possible departure to Oklahoma from the perspectives of Clay Bennett, the players, the lawmakers, the lower Queen Anne businesses and the fans, but what about Wolf? What about the other KeyArena employees like him?
This time last year, Seattle City Council member Nick Licata made the breathless comment to Sports Illustrated that the economic impact of a Sonics exit would be “near zero.” Now that they’re in full flee mode, the Sonics make the same argument to try to break their KeyArena lease.
Wolf shakes his head.
“The little guy is going to be the guy that gets hurt,” he says. “The low man on the totem pole.”
Wolf stands proudly as the most senior low man on the totem pole. Forty-one years. It’s never been more than just something to supplement his income. He takes home about $40 a night for four hours of work. He has reduced his schedule to only Sonics and Thunderbirds games. He works about 300 hours a year.
This job is mostly so that he and his wife, Bev, can have some free time. He can go to a game, and Bev can go “cutesy shopping,” he says. They’re approaching 49 years of marriage, and Bev still manages an escrow company in Bellevue. She does her thing. Bob does his. The grandchildren call the gig “grandpa’s social hour.”
“We’re pretty dedicated to what we choose to do,” Bev says. “He’ll probably work at the arena another 10 or 12 years, if he lives that long.”
Or if the Sonics live that long. The Thunderbirds, junior hockey franchise, are moving to Kent in the fall, so there goes one beloved team. Wolf remains hopeful that, at the very least, the Sonics will be forced to stay until 2010, when their lease expires. Still, he’s preparing himself for the end of an era.
“It won’t be the same at all,” Wolf says. “I’ve got to find something to do. I’m in my 70s, and if you stop doing things, you start digging a hole. Maybe I’ll donate my time to a charity.”
Save Our Sonics? Sure. But let’s Save Our Wolf, too.
Forty-one years ago, Wolf took his wife and two girls to the circus at Seattle Center. He left with a part-time job.
That night he was talking to the head usher, who also did the payroll. They meshed, Wolf said he was interested in making some extra money, and the usher asked him, “Can you be here Tuesday night?” He made $1.67 an hour back then.
Later, the Sonics arrived. Wolf recalls fans coming to the first game in suits and cocktail dresses. It was something he’d never seen before. Those were great times.
Even now, he pays more attention to the crowd than the game. Wolf used to catch some of the action when he was an usher, but these days, he greets fans at the entrance and scans tickets, so he never watches the game.
He likes it this way. He normally skips his 15-minute break and stands in his area, conversing with fans, directing many of them to the designated smoking section.
He figures he has met millions of people. He has made friends out of customers. He has watched fans grow old.
“Quite a few of them are older than me, too,” he says, laughing.
The Korean War veteran has lived quite a life. He’s from Minnesota, but after his time in the military, he moved his family to Washington. He talked his way into a job fixing cars, even though he had no experience. He learned quickly, though, and specialized in brake work. That’s when he started breathing in asbestos, a problem his doctor now says could harm him at some point.
“If I can stand on my head for three days straight with somebody shaking me, I might come close to getting rid of it,” Wolf jokes.
“It might cause permanent problems. It might not. But I’m not going to waste my time worrying about what might happen.”
No, he wants to live. After work, he returns to Floyd’s Place for another Miller Genuine Draft. He has switched bars over the years, adjusting to business openings and closings, but he likes this place. While we’re discussing the Korean War, the bartender looks at Wolf and says, “Are you telling him the story of the American Revolution?”
Wolf turns his head playfully and laughs. When he finishes his beer, he’s done drinking for the night. He waits a while before returning to his Sammamish home.
“One beer makes me legal,” says Wolf. “Two beers makes me illegal, and I’m not having two beers.”
Fun is intoxicating enough.
“He loves it so much that I know he’ll stay with that job as long as there are sports in KeyArena,” his wife says. “He’ll stay until we have to carry him away in a wheelchair.”