I feel bad for the old ice cream truck fella, an icon of hearty Americana who once, back in “Leave it to Beaver” times, was known as the Good Humor Man, and who now is definitely not in a good humor.
Yet here he is, making the rounds at 3:30 each afternoon without fail, rumbling through the neighborhood, tinny tunes jangling from a rusted rooftop megaphone, the Pied Piper of Popsicles. Are those tear stains on his cheeks?
These are mournful times and, unsurprisingly, the traveling ice cream business is way down, what with parks closed, or only slowly reopening, and the pandemic pandemonium roiling unabated. I hear the music and look out to see two or three tykes clamoring at the truck window instead of the bevy that used to get all Wonka-Bar crazy for the latest frozen thingamajig.
It’s almost painful watching the face-masked driver handing out melty treats to the wan crowd. What once took a frantic 15 minutes or more is now a few-moments pause, a hiccup with the motor running. (Melting? Maybe my heart.)
What I also notice is how the truck’s musical tootling has changed over the summer. Going from upbeat circusy music, this might be the only ice cream truck whose jingle is by Beethoven, namely “Für Elise,” a strangely moody tune to play from a Day-Glo magnet for giddy children.
I suspect our fraught racial climes have affected the ice cream man’s tune. He used to play the hokey folk song “Turkey in the Straw,” which goes like this. Some argue that the song, which confectionary vehicles nationwide blare as a Pavlovian call to calories, is actually a 100-year-old minstrel ditty that’s grossly racist. Revisionists refute that.
Not Wu-Tang’s badass RZA, who’s updating “Turkey in the Straw” with a hip-hop twist. CNN reports: “RZA came up with a new ice cream truck jingle because the old one was used in minstrel shows.” Last month, Good Humor even ordered all ice cream truck drivers to stop playing the outmoded number because of its sullied history.
As if the nameless driver doesn’t have enough woes without the cursed and forever corny “Turkey in the Straw.” The children disperse wearing ice cream lipstick, scampering back to homebound quarantines or kicking balls in the street. I picture our quiet hero despondent, driving off with his forehead resting on the steering wheel, enduring the same few bars of Beethoven’s old melody played over and over on something between a strangled street organ and a broken music box, with that creepy carnivalesque tang.
The music echoes down the block and through the trees, an earworm for the dwindling masses, calling out: eat me.
2 thoughts on “Melting ice cream dreams”
Hey there. Decades ago, I ate many, many GH ice cream bars. That’s because a GH truck drove down the block I grew up on, on Long Island, each warm-weather day. I live in the Philadelphia suburbs now, and haven’t seen a GH truck in a long time.
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British ice cream vans apparently play Greensleeves, which surprised me, since I certainly wouldn’t have recognised it as such without being told! I think there’s something sinister about ice cream van music anyway, a bit Pied Piper-esque, really. I live right next to a huge park, so there’s usually a van parked up inside, but Mr. Whippy is disgusting and I won’t eat it. I’m pretty sure there’s no dairy content whatsoever. I was slightly more excited about the van that makes its own gelato – I’ll eat it if it’s right by my house, but it’s still nowhere near as good as gelato from an actual shop!
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