Saturday, May 10, 2008

The Entertainer

Every year around this time, news organizations around the state pause to pay tribute to one of America's most cherished traditions:

The controversy of “noise pollution” from ice cream trucks. (See Portland Press Herald, May 7.)

Given that the average ice cream truck pumps out more toxins than a coal-fired power plant, I can't help but roll my eyes about “noise pollution” grabbing headlines.

But there's another side of the story that often gets ignored. Have you ever wondered what it's like to spend a scorching summer day inside one of those infernal trucks?

I once tried it for a couple of months. Here's what I learned.

If you can stand the music and enjoy baking in an unsafe vehicle that was cranked off a dysfunctional assembly line during the Eisenhower administration, driving an ice cream truck is a great way to earn a little (very little) extra spending money.

Arrive around mid-morning to check your inventory, set up your cash box, and make sure the truck you're renting for the day isn't leaking too many toxic chemicals, such as transmission fluid. If your truck is leaking any toxic fluids, stash an extra supply on board somewhere (preferably not with your inventory).

Take an early lunch consisting of ice cream bars, Popsicles, and sour candy. Don't skimp; you'll need plenty of nourishment to survive until dusk.

Climb into the driver's seat and start the truck, pumping the gas pedal if necessary (it's almost always necessary).

If you are fortunate enough to get a truck with a seat belt, buckle up.

Drive to your assigned neighborhood and turn on your music (preferably "The Entertainer"). Begin to creep along the side of the street at no more than five miles per hour, checking all windows and mirrors for signs of children.

Stop every 15 minutes or so to top off the transmission fluid.

Slow down! You may think the kids can hear you a mile away, but even if they can, it takes time for them to wheedle money out of their parents and get out the door.

If a child approaches the truck, stop and put on the parking brake. Put on your best fun, child-friendly, clown personality, even if your customers have worse manners than the host of a satellite radio program.

Take the children's allowance money and be sure to give correct change to kids who are old enough to know nickels are not worth more than dimes just because they are larger.

Continue until dusk, then go fill the truck with gas, which will gobble up almost all the money you made giving children diabetes.

Over time, keep track of little league baseball games, summer camps, and other events where kids are likely to congregate in large numbers. Arrive as parents are picking children up. Block their cars, if necessary.

Every ice cream truck driver knows that it is next-to-impossible to wrench money out of posh housing developments. Trailer parks and subsidized housing are your bread and butter.

If you get lost, find your way back to the garage by following the puddles of leaked transmission fluid.

So next time you see your neighborhood ice cream truck, show your appreciation for this barely surviving piece of Americana by dropping some extra coins into the tip jar.

That is, if you can make it to the truck and back before keeling over from all the noise pollution.

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