Growing up in a rural area amidst cornfields and lakes in northeast Indiana I didn’t have access to a lot of things kids that grew up in town did. I couldn’t walk to the park. I couldn’t ride my bike to the newsstand and grab a comic book(or the latest copy of Metal Edge and Circus). There wasn’t a nearby theater I could catch a matinee at either. And if I wanted to go the video store and rent a movie? I had to wait till my mom was damn good and ready to drive my butt there. So when in the summer as I stood outside with a stupid look on my face, sweating from the hot summer sun shining down on my pale, easily burnt European complexion I heard the faint sound of “Pop Goes The Weasel” playing through a blown speaker I got pretty damn excited.
Yep, one of the few city kid luxuries I’d occasionally get to experience at my rural address was the ice cream man coming by. It was an odd sight to see, I have to admit. I lived on a county road that was quite busy. Many wild animals bit the dust on county road 450N as they attempted to cross the road from one cornfield to the other. This road was a main line from one part of the county to the other. Cars drove on this road as if it was the hick version of the autobahn. When I was a kid there was only one stop sign on this stretch of paved road, so rusted-out Fords and tricked out 78′ Cutlasses could open up that 350 V8 and let ‘er rip, so to speak. Seeing the ice cream truck on this road was like seeing a circus driving down the road, or a gay pride parade(being in Indiana, this would be quite the sight to see). I’d find whatever change I was saving for a cassette at the local record store and come charging out to buy an over-priced confection. Ice cream sandwich? Push-up? One of those ice cream bars with the crunchy chocolate stuff on the outside? It didn’t matter, as they’d all taste the same. It was the fact that the creepy dude in the ice cream truck was sitting in front of my house, delivering frozen goodness practically to my front door! That’s what was so exciting.
Yesterday afternoon my ten year old heard the strains of “Pop Goes The Weasel” from inside the house and nearly went into a panic attack of joy as she grabbed her money and headed out the door. She had money to burn from her birthday and was feeling quite generous. So I went out to wait with her and my son. Pretty soon all the neighbor kids were gathered around our front yard waiting for this purveyor of ice cream goodness. My wife came out and waited as well. She couldn’t understand why our daughter was so excited to spend her money on ice cream when we had some in our freezer. I told her it wasn’t the ice cream itself. It was the idea that someone was driving around the neighborhood in an ice cream truck delivering it right to our house. It was also the act of purchasing the ice cream herself. The ice cream was just and excuse to act a little older. To give to her family. Like all great things in our lives, it’s the ritual more than than the actual “thing”. Waiting by the road, then looking at the side of the truck and figuring out what it is you want. Doling out that birthday money and getting change back. It’s the process that’s so exciting.
Pretty soon from around the corner here comes that white and yellow truck….wait, err, I mean…yellow van?? Hey what happened to the truck? Well, it seems the ice cream truck from my childhood has been replaced with a dumpy Chevy van. And that jolly ice cream man has been replaced with a homeless Santa that smokes in his ice cream conversion van. To some extent, all stereotypes are based on some form of reality. A reality that ignorance bends and twists into some ugly carnival mirror version of reality. Well, I can say that the creepy guy stereotype that seems to follow the ice cream man is based in a reality I witnessed last night. The “van” pulls up with a dull roar as “Pop Goes The Weasel” continues to play to the point of annoyance. “Doesn’t this f*****g thing play any other songs?”, I thought to myself. The creepy, brown-toothed Santa starts taking orders, but not before sharing some weird story about a mom coming out into the rain to buy her daughter some ice cream. ” She told her I wouldn’t come today cause its rainin’. Heh Heh Heh”, he said with strained breath, his cigarette smoke rising from inside the creeper van he stalked the neighborhood in. My daughter, nor the other kids seemed to be deterred by the shady aspects of this hairy dairy pusher. At one point he got up to get the ice cream from the back. I have to say, a lot of the magic that comes with the ice cream man disappears when you can see him through side windows getting the ice cream, butt crack in plain sight for all to see. My wife just looked away. “Pop Goes The Weasel, Pop Goes The Weasel” breaks through the air as I wish to Jebus he’d pull his pants up. At least the kids didn’t see that special confection. Finally the awkwardness ends and he scurries along to scare more parents and put joy in the hands of more children.
It’s still kind of magical for me. Someone coming door-to-door in a vehicle filled with ice cream. I know it was magical for my kids. I hope it stays that way for a long while yet. Or until my kids have kids of their own and that creepy ice cream guy comes by in a flying, rusted-out Chevy conversion zero-gravity van. Maybe by then they’ll be android ice cream men. Who knows.