Being an Ice Cream Man had quite a few kickbacks. The most important being free ice cream. I would bring a small cooler to work every day with my homemade lunch and a Peach Snapple. On the way home it held bomb pops, chipwiches, strawberry shortcakes, and neapolitan sandwiches. Nothing like coming home, kicking back in front of the TV with my roommate, and popping the cooler. Unfortunately this didn’t last through the steamiest parts of the summer. I had a hit put out on me by the Russian Mafia by the time June first rolled around.
Ice Cream Men do not get a day off unless it’s raining. Noon to midnight. Seven days a week. Early spring through late fall. It’s a long day but since I was relatively my own boss, I could come and go as I pleased. I would roll down to work around noon every day on the BQE in my 1982 American Eagle hatchback. I spray-painted her pink, put furry cow-printed seat covers on her, and plastered Motley Crüe stickers to her bumper. Man, I miss that car now. But I didn't when I was driving the ice cream truck around for 7 or 8 hours.
One day in that first week of work, I was driving with a map laid out in front of the steering wheel, trying to re-configure my route for optimum sales. Weaving up and down one-way streets. Ringing my bell. Meeting the kids. At one point in the afternoon, I accidentally left my turf and went a block too far. I had crossed King’s Highway. I immediately noticed my mistake and sped up to the next stop sign to start heading back. Too late. In the distance, I see another ice cream truck speeding toward me with two angry men sitting in the front seat. They stopped next to me and started shouting in Russian and broken English.
“What are you doing?! Not your street! This ours!”
“Hey guys! Sorry! This is my first day!” I point to the map in front of me and begin sputtering politely.
“This is our street!”
“Yes . . . I realize . . . I accidentally went a block too far. I work the other side of King’s Highway. I just got confused. I didn’t sell any ice cream. I’m heading back now. I’m sorry. It’s my first day. I was confused."
They look at me warily. Distrust in their eyes. I smile again and throw up my hands. Apologizing profusely.
"No again!" They yell and speed off.
I sat there for a minute shaking my head. Not exactly the best way to start off with your co-workers. My archetypal imaginings of how light-hearted, benevolent, and pure The Brotherhood of Ice Cream Men should be was being shattered. This incident, coupled with stories some of the kids told me about how rude and greedy the Ice Cream Men were, disheartened me.
But I kept at it, continued to learn my route, and over the next few weeks I had it down. I would hit the same areas at roughly the same time every day. Consistency equals regular customers. They knew when to find me. Packs of them would wait for me. Stoops of screaming kids hurling themselves toward my truck. Jumping. Dancing. Skipping. Yelling. Making up songs about me.
“Ice cream lady Lola’s here! Lola’s here! With her ice cream beer. No tears when Lola’s here!”
They’d surround the truck en masse. Screaming bloody murder to their mothers seated in windowsills to bring them money. Sometimes crying when the parents declined their requests. Or waiting patiently as they ran to the house to procure funds.
“I’ll be RIGHT BACK! Don’t Leave!!!”
I’d cut the engine and hang as long as I could. Sometimes I’d allow one or two in the truck to hang or for a spin to the next block. They’d sell the ice cream for me and I’d pay them in iced booty. It got so popular, I had to create a schedule.
"No, Daniela, you’re next Tuesday. Anthony, you and your brother come tomorrow."
I began befriending some regulars. I definitely had some favorites. I called them my boyfriends. On West 3rd, there was Gennaidy, the pint-sized Russian kid who cursed like a sailor and his best friend, Timothy, a sweetly rotund Chinese kid. On West 1st, there was Nicholas, a quick talking Italian Romeo in the making. And on the south side of the park was Stan the Man, my future prom date and potential stalker. All of them would come running from a block away when they heard my bells ringing. I would lean out the window and demand a kiss on the cheek before procuring their requests. When one of them was accompanied by a young girl, I would playfully eye them up. “Who is this girl? She your girlfriend? I thought I was your girlfriend. I THOUGHT we were going to Prom!” They would laugh nervously and avert their eyes.
One Sunday, I had brought my friend, Nick with me who was visiting from Oregon. I had regaled him with stories of my career and he was anxious to accompany me. It was a slow and lazy day. I drove and he worked the window.
When we rolled up to West 3rd, I was surprised to find the block empty. Gennaidy and Timothy ALWAYS waited for me. Either in their yards or playing ball in the street. I pulled up to their house, rang my bells incessantly and called out their names. They finally materialized from Timothy’s backyard a minute later.
“Why weren’t you waiting for me?” I admonished.
“What’s up sucka?” Gennaidy said. “We was chillin’ with Timothy’s family. They’re all like off the boat.”
“What are you talking about?” I asked.
Timothy explained politely, “My parents are having a barbecue. Come on back. We’re having crab legs.”
Nick and I looked at each other. Eyes wide. Grinning.
“Yea. Sure,” I said slyly. “We’ll say Hi. You guys watch the truck. And don’t steal anything!”
I had met Timothy’s parents many times before because they were always in the front yard landscaping things and giving friendly waves. Nick and I made our way to the back yard to find a lovely Chinese family of about 20. The father and mother came over immediately and welcomed us.
“Yes! Hello! Welcome! Timothy’s ice cream friend! Sit and eat!”
The two of them were the only ones who spoke conversational English but the rest of the family smiled and waved and made room at the picnic tables. Plates were set before us. Mountains of grilled crab legs and giant prawns from the South China Sea. Nick and I basked in our good fortune. Someone opened up a cooler full of Heineken and offered us one. Nick laughed and accepted heartily. (I would not indulge as I was driving.)
The family resumed the party as Nick and I dove into our feast. We had no idea what the stories we heard around us were about. They talked animatedly and excitedly. Trying to pantomime for us on occasion. It was contagious. We always laughed at the punch line even though neither us understood a word. We went through three or four platefuls. Rubbing our bellies. Enjoying the sun on our faces. Once in awhile Timothy or Gennaidy would come and give us an update. We were in no hurry to leave but after an hour and a half and four plates of food each, we needed to get back on the road.
As we walked back to the truck, I decided to repay our hosts. I grabbed two dozen ice cream bars and brought them back to the backyard. I laid them on the table and put my palms together. Bowed and smiled.
"Thank you so much! Ice cream for everybody!"
All of a sudden, wallets were out offering me cash. I refused.
"No, I can not accept any payment. You fed us too well. Please take these."
There was a minor riot. Both sides adamant about their stances . . .
"Take the friggin’ money already," Gennaidy said.
"You shouldn’t refuse them," Timothy offered. "They won’t give up."
I laughed and walked backwards to the truck with my hands in front of me: "No, it’s not right. I have to repay them for their hospitality."
I started up the truck and let her run for a minute. As we were pulling away, Timothy and Gennaidy demanded a ride to the next block. They hopped on and we drove over to West 2nd. As we let them off, Timothy turned back, giggling, and threw two crumpled 20 dollar bills into the window.
"Ha ha! That’s from my parents!" he screamed as they ran off.
Unfortunately, some days weren’t so good. I had tried to smile and make friendly with the other Ice Cream Men back at the warehouse. But all of them treated me indifferently or with scorn. I was the only american and the only woman. I was very popular with the customers and I had heard rumors that kids were crossing King’s Highway to get their ice cream from me. This did not sit well with them. They began sabotaging my truck.
Every night, we would pull the trucks into the warehouse and immediately plug in the cords to the freezer to keep it cold overnight. There were dozens of cords strewn across the floor. On a few occasions in my second month, I would come in at noon to see my cord unplugged from my freezer. I asked Vincent, the warehouse mechanic, what I should do. He helped me rig my cord so that it was locked inside the door of my truck. But that didn’t deter them.
A few weeks later, I came into work a little late as usual. I stocked my truck, opened the windows and settled into the driver’s seat. As I started pulling out from the empty warehouse, I looked ahead quickly to see if I was rolling steady. I saw a freezer cord being dragged along with me . . . its line almost taut. I threw the shift into park and jumped out. I figured one of the cords had been caught on the bumper. I walked slowly around the front of my truck and searched for it. It seemed to be caught on something underneath? I quickly dropped to the floor and surveyed under the truck. I was dumbstruck. The plug had been wrapped several times around my rear wheel axle!? I immediately yelled for Vincent who materialized from the office.
“Vincent, Look at this?! What the . . . ?”
He kneeled to the floor and craned his neck.
“Ooh Man! You been sabotaged again!”
"But why around my axle?"
Lola. Baby. Those cords have like 2000 watts of electricity. If the cord had been snapped . . . Your entire truck is metal . . . You woulda gotten zapped, kid."
Zapped? Like ELECTROCUTED?!!?
“Yea. Maybe. Man, they fuckin’ witch you now.”
My eyes bugged out and my mouth fell agape.
“Vincent,” I almost cried! “We’re supposed to be Ice Cream Men! We’re supposed to have honor!? This is fucking crazy!!”
Vincent just shook his head. My brow furrowed as I made my decision.
“Well . . . shit. I ain’t gonna DIE over a couple of Chipwiches. I’m out."
I watched dejectedly as Vincent bent under the truck, untangled the cord from around the axle, and threw it against the wall. I got into my truck and pulled it forward. I jumped out, locked up, and handed over the keys.
“Tell Russian Boss Guy what happened. Tell him that I was unfairly targeted. Tell the new driver to watch Gennaidy’s language and to buy him a slice of pizza if his mom forgets to give him lunch money. And tell him that I got a new shipment of water balloons for Stan The Man at the park. Oh, and Melissa’s birthday is next Thursday. Make sure she gets a Sailor Moon pop. And . . .”
Vincent just look at me sadly.
“Tell them I said goodbye.”
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