Saturday, June 2, 2018

The ice cream man cometh


“Ice cream calleth at the most inopportune time and verily our heart’s desire must be met, forsooth,” Shakespeare would have written in some Elizabethan Blue Bell love tragedy many centuries ago; but alas, he didn’t.

But it does. Ice cream calls whenever ice cream chooses. Sometimes we hear its clarion call in the middle of the night, sometimes in the middle of an office meeting, but the other day I heard its distinctive warble in the middle of Heritage Park where I had just finished eating some homemade tacos and really needed something sweet to make my meal complete.

But not just any old ice cream. I wanted something from The Ice Cream Man.

I remember as a kid on hot summer days listening to the music from the ice cream truck way over in the next neighborhood, and I’d sit on the curb and patiently wait for him to come by my house. It was almost like waiting for Santa Claus, but only if you squint your eyes a bit and really use your imagination.

You don’t see many ice cream trucks these days, but those guys pushing the carts – the paleteros – I see them almost every day, and when ice cream calls, well…let’s just say I went searching for some like a Capulet in search of a Montague but without the violence.

So, with ice cream in mind, I headed out of Heritage Park, made my way over to First Street, turned left on Denman, left on 4th – and didn’t see a single soul.

Maybe I was too late? Or too early?

I imagined what the two ladies who were walking their dogs around the block would say if I stopped and asked them, “Excuse me, but I’m looking for some ice cream and…”

“Try Braums, you idiot.”

So I didn’t stop to ask them. I just kept driving and looking around.

My in-laws love to share a story about how they fooled their son, Steve, into believing the ice cream truck was just The Music Truck, rolling around the neighborhoods making people happy.

(Oh, what a different life we’d be living if ice cream trucks dished up music just for the giving.)

One day, when “Little Steve” was about five, he came running into the house yelling, “The music truck sells ice cream!” and of course the jig was all up.

I kept looking for MY ice cream man, scanning to the left and right, not really paying attention to who or what was driving around me, and imagined how I’d explain it to the officer “that I was stupidly looking for ice cream, and I’m so sorry I ran into the back of your patrol car” – when I saw Tony pushing his cart down 9th Street.

Tony, in his blue jeans, boots and wide-brimmed cowboy hat, had probably been out in the neighborhood ringing his cowbell and selling frozen treats all day, probably for years. I stopped him in the middle of the street, took his photograph, and in my broken Spanish asked for a popsicle. It was piña colada flavored, and cold, and satisfied my sweet tooth.

Tony walked on down the street and stopped at the corner. I watched as the neighborhood kids ran out to him, El Paletero, just like I did when I was their age. They poked their heads into the cart, seeing what was available, what to choose, what they could afford – and it reminded me of home.

I waved as I drove away, knowing full well I would return someday.

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