I was maybe 5 years old when I had my first encounter with an ice cream truck.
It was a late 70s model Chevy Step-Van, rolling through our neighborhood like the U.S.S. Wisconsin. The music on the truck’s loudspeaker was a slow rendition of “Pop Goes the Weasel.”
The guy behind the wheel was Mister Jimmy. Jimmy always wore a white peaked cap, he had a five o’clock shadow, and he smelled like unfiltered Camels. He bought the ice cream truck after he’d made parole.
Mister Jimmy was a mythical hero within kiddom. To us children, Mister Jimmy was somewhere on par with Superman, Captain Kangaroo, and Charles Bronson.
Which is why whenever the ice cream truck came around it was a national event. Your entire life stopped.
“ICE CREAM!” one of your friends would shout.
It didn’t matter what you were busy doing. It didn’t matter whether you were cleaning your cap guns, damming the creek, or climbing the branches of a 65-foot oak, studying the complex physics of falling spit.
When you heard the
ice-cream man music box playing, you dropped what you were doing and followed the noise unto salvation.
My chubby legs carried me across an open field where I joined two million kids who were all chasing the truck. One boy was clutching the bumper, his body dragging on the pavement like a rag doll. Little girls were openly weeping like it was a Donny Osmond concert.
The large vehicle finally pulled over, and We the People rejoiced.
All across the neighborhood you could see boys and girls emerging from homes, joining the multitude of seekers.
The ice cream truck was the only attraction in our world which could draw the children like gnats to a pile of organic fertilizer.
Mister Jimmy would pull to the curb, slide open the service window, and say, “Alright now! One at a time! No pushing! Quit kicking! Gimme…