My childhood summers, while ultimately good in the end, always seemed like a distant formless surreality. As I remember them, each one was its own cocoon for some new metamorphosis in my life. For several summers, I never knew quite what to do with myself. Still they were, albeit strange, drizzled with moments of magic. Even with my early insecurity and moodiness, I found a way to embrace and love them. On those long hot days when the heat subdued me to a maddening level of emptiness and boredom, I managed to whittle the minutes away sitting in front of the air conditioning dreaming of what I would do one day or would like to do today. Paralyzed, though, I just stayed inside overthinking going to the pool. “It would just be too hot and too crowded anyway. Maybe tomorrow.” Then, in the distance, I heard a faint primordial tone. A sound penetrates my lethargy, and I leap quietly to my feet making my way to the window. The adrenaline, by now, was rising through me with such force, I could feel my heart pounding in my temples. This response seemed to heighten my senses, and I could hear it clearly. I knew what it is. It was the sound of sounds for a kid. The one which made me and kids all around the neighborhood jump to attention. The chiming...of the ice cream truck. In the next minute and a half I do not think, I act. My first order of business was kid money. I needed pocket change.
My dad always carried cash, which meant he always had a pocket full of coins. Each night he came home and dumped it in his special place. I knew where that was, so I did not have to scrounge around the house looking for money. I went straight for the hall bookcase. He hide it in a coffee can on the upper shelf down behind several of his golfing caps. As I plunged my hand inside, I felt some unease because, on several occasions, he had already taken the money to the bank. If I was lucky, however, the can would be full. I would find rolls of quarters all waiting for me. And with as much coin as I could carry, I burst out the back door arriving at the counter just as several of my friends were already placing their orders. Now my only dilemma was to make my decision. Creamsicle, Fudgesicle, Ice Cream Sandwich, Push Up, Bullet, Screwball, Sundae Cone. All the pictures starring down at me resplendent in their oversized portrayal on the side of the van. The vender looking at us blankly waiting for our response. Asking us what we wanted was an unnecessary question. He would just look at you, and your heart lurched in your chest. The real test of summer was to make the right choice. Being bored was one thing, but picking the wrong dessert would ruin your whole week. While I had a couple of favorites, any item looked like it would suffice. Standing there, I wanted them all. They all had their own unique deliciousness. Truthfully, though, whatever I got was wonderful. That I got it at all was wonderful. Still in those days, it was best to stick with the proven winners: Fudgesicle, Ice Cream Sandwich, Push Up.
With treats in hand, I could now sit and eat on my front porch with my friends. You have to eat ice cream truck ice cream outside, or it will not taste right. Tastes better outside. It is a social ice cream after all. From the moment we unwrapped our first purchase until the last drip of our second and third, our lives were otherworldly. We did not argue, scrap or call each other names. We were in Eden. And these moments are what made my summer special. More than pool parties, movies or girl crushes, the ice cream truck experience was transcendent. “Think about it.” When else in your life did you have an ice cream delivery service? It was a true summer phenomenon. You did not have ice-cream trucks during the school year. Sure, we had ice cream parlors, but they only served scooped or dipped ice cream in cones or bowls. All you had to do was walk inside. “Where's the adventure?”
The ice cream truck, in contrast, was the adventure. It stirred in us deep emotions. When I burst out my back door and the truck was driving away, I did not give up and say, “I'll get some next time,” or, “I'll just drive to the store.” No! Absolutely not! I dashed down the street after it. At that moment, I ran with purpose. I ran to win, to succeed, to capture my prey. No better treasure than the one you find by your own effort. I would chase it out of the neighborhood if necessary. I was not to be denied. I was alive. In those few moment of pursuit, I was connected to something. I could feel it. Even better than actually getting the desserts was the chase after it. I knew what I wanted. I knew where it was. I knew how to get it. I just had to go out and do it. It took all my energy, wit and stamina. It was electric. The thrill of making it just in time. “One more!” the others would shout. “We have one more!” They knew it too. This was a collaborative effort. The reward was so great, it must be shared. They knew the cost and what it was worth. The ice cream truck experience was more than ice cream utopia. It was life—it was childhood. It was the hunt, the expedition, the potential for great gain or great lose. Standing there licking our Popsicle sticks clean, we were pure beingness exalted by the thrill of chasing what we loved.