It’s not quite springtime yet, but this unusually warm winter appears to have begun transitioning into an early spring. Tree buds are popping out throughout town, and the weather is turning downright balmy. With that warmer weather come thoughts of our favorite cold, creamy concoction: ice cream. And thoughts of ice cream – a food product with which I have the love/hate relationship of the Perpetually On Guard Against Chubbiness – always remind me of a summer long ago.
Some of you may remember Good Humor ice cream, which used to be sold from a fleet of distinctively designed trucks that cruised the neighborhoods in the warm months. You always knew the Good Humor truck was coming thanks to the distinctive jingle of the Good Humor Bells. No tacky prerecorded music for Good Humor: just the bells.
Back in my runny-nose days, when we’d spend several weeks visiting the grandparents in North Miami Beach, I would always look forward to the evening arrival of the Good Humor Man. He sold, in addition to the familiar array of Ice Cream-on-a-Stick novelties, an item called the Bittersweet Chocolate Sundae. It was a little flattish cup of vanilla ice cream with a layer of dark chocolate goop on top. That goop’s ineluctable bitter chocolate flavor is a sensory memory that I can easily conjure up today, some fifty-five years later.
Buried deep in my Basemental Archives there is a photograph of me, my parents, and a Good Humor truck. One of these days, I hope to find that picture… because I’m the one driving that Good Humor truck.
Yes, I was the Good Humor Man for one distant, dismal summer back in 1973.
It was the summer preceding my senior year of college, and I had grown thoroughly sick of working in the retail job I had had the previous two years. Beach jobs were almost impossible to get unless you had connections – at the very least, to get one of those coveted state jobs, you had to be a registered Republican. (Political patronage, then as now, counted for something.) Not willing to compromise my nascent bonafides as a young Democrat, I applied at the Good Humor plant in Lindenhurst, a few miles east of home.
My training consisted of making the rounds for a couple of days with a Grizzled Veteran. There were two age cohorts among the drivers: college kids, and Retired Guys who would work the ice cream route just long enough to qualify for unemployment. Then they’d take off and spend the rest of the year in Florida. Cushy… provided you were not encumbered with a High Maintenance Lifestyle.
The geezer who trained me drove one of the larger trucks, a van. He would go through a couple of six-packs during the course of a day, all the while instructing me in the Fine Points of Bell-Jingling. The takeaway from this is, get your ice cream early and stay the hell away from those drunk-piloted trucks in the later hours of the day.
When I got my own truck, I eschewed the six-packs. My main vice was stopping on the way out to my route and picking up two huge bottles of Dr Pepper. I’d stick ’em in the freezer and work on those bad boys all day, by the end of which they were nice and slushy, perfect in that hot summer weather. A full gallon of Dr Pepper every day. Gawd, my poor pancreas.
I had my name on a sign on the side of my truck, but the kids on my route took to calling me “Gomez.” This was on account of my moustache, which conveyed a certain vague resemblance to John Astin (Sean’s dad, for you youngsters), who played a character of that name on The Addams Family. So naturally, I made up a new sign that said “Gomez.”
The only problem I had was one particular cop on my route who had taken a dislike to me, possibly owing to my longish hair and moustache. At one point, he accused me of hitting someone’s car in an apartment parking lot. I was cooperative (maybe foolishly so) and took my truck to the “scene of the crime.” It was so obvious that the ding on the car could not have been made by my truck that Mr. Arresty-Pants’s own partner made him lay off me. End of problem.
It was a good gig from the standpoint of being out-of-doors and on my own schedule, but from a financial perspective, it was a fucking disaster. Given the commissions I made and the hours I put in, I figured I was making about a buck an hour… but I worked seventy-two hours a week, leaving me no time to spend my meager earnings. Remember, gas was only 32¢ a gallon then.
My big stroke of Sales Genius was on Labor Day, my last day on the job before heading back to school. I stocked the truck until it groaned, and then I headed out to my route. What with the holiday weekend, I had customers in droves… and I was prepared with the goods. I cautioned everyone that it was my last day and that I had no idea if or when there would be a replacement, so they had better load up. And load up they did. Damn near cleaned me out by the time I limped back to base that night with a thick bankroll.
Some years back, I spotted a Little Golden Book in our local Printed Matter Emporium (back when Borders Books was still a thing), and I had to get it. It was entitled The Good Humor Man, and it brought back all sorts of memories. I gave it to Dee, who already knew the story of those Good Humor Days that took place long before she had met me. After all, what could be more romantic than marrying the Ice Cream Man?