By Mel Gilden
I have a close personal relationship with ice cream. Though summer is officially over, I don’t require hot weather to enjoy the king of hot weather treats. I like to eat it no matter what the weather. I don’t think it’s all the fault of my father, but he probably helped. My father and his partners owned a fleet of Eskimo Pie ice cream trucks.
He started work early, and he came home early, and so we always had dinner at 5:00 p.m. Often the family would be sitting at dinner when we heard the sound of the enemy entering our domain: the Good Humor truck.Forks were suspended in midair. Conversation stopped. Then my father would curse in Yiddish. Roughly his curses translated as, “Columbus should be so lucky,” and “He [meaning the Good Humor man] should have on his bones what he makes on this street.” As the Good Humor man truck’s music faded, we would begin to eat again, trying to pretend the whole situation had never happened
Every Good Humor bar the driver sold represented one fewer Eskimo Pie bar that one of our guys sold. The competition was terrific, especially during the winter when business was pretty thin for all.
I drove an ice cream truck myself one summer. Being the boss’s son, I was open to some gentle kidding. For one thing, most everybody called me Ace. But I didn’t mind. It made me feel like one of the guys — which was OK because during the summer some of the drivers were students and others were even teachers. One gentleman from England assured me that he liked “fast women and fast ice cream trucks.” Another gentleman was a cracker-jack salesman who sold more ice cream in a day than some drivers sold in a week.
Theoretically, each driver had a route where he would slowly roll the streets, watching for customers to wave him down, but sometimes there were arguments about who was supposed to drive where. I didn’t have this problem because, being the boss’s son, I was sent out to the good places, places that the other drivers might not even know about. I was sent to nice neighborhoods, and to Marina del Rey. In those days the marina was not so built up with fancy condos and restaurants, and I parked along the channel to service the men and woman who fished from the rocks. This was not only a pleasant way to spend a hot summer day, but it meant that I wasn’t using much gasoline.
For a while I sold ice cream at Roxbury Park, a fancy public space in Beverly Hills. A Good Humor man was also assigned to the same location, and we went round and round the park, chasing each other along an alley that ran behind it. Officially, each of us was supposed to stop only when actually doing business. But often one of us would stop and wait for business to come along. Though we both did this, only the Good Humor man had the lack of class and breeding to report me to the cops. I probably still have a police record buried in a file somewhere in Beverly Hills.
One of the problems with being an ice cream man was the tendency to eat up the profits. I did my best to limit my ice cream intake, but I found myself eating a lot of a novelty item called Papa Jino’s Italian Ices On a Stick. I ate a couple of these every day for a few weeks, and then one day I didn’t want another one. From that time on Papa Jino was safe from me.
My labors–and my restraint–paid off. I bought my first car, a used 1960 Chevrolet Belvedere, with the proceeds of my summer stint as an ice cream man.