Apr 29 2011
There I sat, desperately trying to write a column — forcing myself to sit at the desk so I could work my way through some half-baked idea.
But tinkling through the air came a sound — music. A cacophony of bleeps and whistles, frenetic and super-charged.
A merry-go-round on speed.
I could hear it a couple blocks over, coming up a cross street, and more clearly as it turned onto mine.
Oh, clear as can be. There’s no mistaking that sound. There’s no mistaking an ice cream truck.
It stopped a house or two down, blocking traffic while its roof-mounted speaker blared the same unrecognizable tune over and over again. Part magical, part air raid siren.
My wife and daughter were off at the pool eating pizza with friends. I was stuck at home with nachos, beer and a dog who thought I should scramble up a dozen eggs and eat them on the floor with her. That’s what you dream about when you’re a dog.
And then the ice cream truck showed up … and stopped there … just down the street.
It took all my strength to fight the urge to eat ice cream for dinner. To not run about the house in a mad frenzy, searching out quarters and dimes and nickels wherever I could find them — sofa cushions, my daughter’s piggy bank, anywhere!
Because that’s what you did as a kid, right? The glorious mad dash for ice cream.
I don’t know what the allure of an ice cream truck is. If you had those same things in your freezer, you would barely lift a finger to get one.
But put it in a truck that looked like it had rolled down a hill and served by a guy with questionable hygiene standards — “Why is he foaming at the mouth? Is that a sausage in his teeth, or a cigar?” — and it could get you to do the 100-yard-dash in world record time.
As a kid you never totally trusted the ice cream truck man, but you also didn’t totally care. In the heat of a Tampa summer they could have sold frozen blocks of stagnant water and you would have bought them. “Hey look, there’s a dead frog in mine!”
It was the novelty of it, I guess. That it was a big game — off in the distance you would catch a hint of some familiar sound. “Oh yes, I hear it!” Yet, was it on your street, or three blocks over? Would it come this way? Or was it going the other direction?
“Ice cream man!!! We’re over here!!!” little kids would start howling into the air like wolves, pawing at the ground before stopping to listen.
Time stood still. You could be on fire and you still wouldn’t divert your eyes from the road, waiting to see if it was coming.
And the minute you saw it — that big, white, battered mess of loudspeakers and ice cream posters — well, you just couldn’t contain yourself. Some kids ran straight into trees, or popped. The adrenaline surged through your body, and the genetic coding in your brain screamed, “THIS IS WHAT WE WERE DESTINED FOR!!!!”
If you kept your wits about you, you shrieked and instinctively rocketed yourself toward the house. Because every kid knew you had a finite amount of time between first sighting and when the truck puttered past your house. If you weren’t quick on the draw — able to raid your mother’s purse in a flash — you would be chasing that truck down the street until it finally stopped for some quicker kids.
There was never time to ask if you could buy ice cream. It just wasn’t an option. Instead, you ran through the house screaming something unintelligible — “Can’ttalk!!!Icecreamtruck!!!Forgetpotroast!!!Wheremoney!!!Legbroke!!!Can’tstop!!!ICECREAM!!” — and then you grabbed your mother’s purse and ran right back out the door.
Why no one ever thought to train Olympic athletes this way is a mystery to me.
I remember it was always a visual assault of choices and colors and sugar. You ran to the truck, yelled out your order, traded money for a fudgesicle or a Choco Taco or a rocket pop and then ran like hell with your mother in hot pursuit.
There was even less time to devour the treat, as either the hand of mom or the brutal Tampa heat would quickly make it a puddle of artificial colors and sweeteners on the sidewalk.
What a wonderful ordeal.
As I sat at the desk this night, my instinct was to run for cash. But rusty after all these years, I hesitated. It was a second too long, and the truck tinkled off down the street. I was sunk.
“Next time,” I told myself, “I’ll be ready.”