Earlier this week I spent a blistering hot couple of days back in my home town of New York City. It sparked my memory and took me back to when I was five or six years old and the Good Humor Man would drive up our block in Park Slope, Brooklyn. We all thought he was absolutely wonderful! Ringing his bells to announce that it was Good Humor time, jingling and jangling, starting faint off in the distance and slowly getting louder as he got closer. There was always plenty of time to run up the four flights of our Brownstone (the name of the style of four story buildings made of brownstone that were originally one family homes. Many had been carved up into several apartments) to let my mom know that He Was On His Way. Anticipation built as he made his way slowly up the street, stopping two or three times per block and hopping out to serve all the kids, and their parents, as well as uncles, aunts, and the occasional grandparent.
Everyone had their favorites. Mine varied slightly from day to day, depending on the weather or whim. Red, white, and blue Bomb Pops for those blistering hot days, sometimes varied with Italian Ices. lemon was my favorite, but occasionally chocolate, root beer, or watermelon. On days when it was warm, but not hot, I went for the ice cream bars. Chocolate Eclair or Toasted Almond were at the top of my list. My dad liked the Toasted Almond as well, with mom's favorite being Creamsicles. Sometimes she would get several and stash them in the fridge, something she still does to this day, but with a box from the supermarket. My little sister liked Snow Cones because they lasted so long. She would eat half of one and then stick the rest in the freezer for later, sometimes she would have several different types in there, building up for awhile, until mom would chuck them out when they started to disappear under a layer of frost.
As I grew up we moved out to the suburbs, but The Good Humor Man was still a summertime fixture, cruising up and down the tree lined streets, offering his cooling wares, the treats of summer. Over the years my tastes changed slightly. My favorite was still Toasted Almond; Chocolate Eclair left the list, to be replaced by Strawberry Shortcake, and the new bar in town, the Candy Center Crunch. The Crunch had these little crunchy nuggets all over the chocolate coating, but the best part was the rich fudgey chocolate bar hidden in the center. I might switch up with a Creamsicle or a Push-up, and on rare occasions an Italian Ice, but the ones from the local pizza place were better, so they fell out of favor eventually.
Toasted Almond became my fathers one and only, as did Creamsicles for my mother. My little sister still changed around a bit, trying new types and flavors, but Snow Cones were still dominant in her choices; and the remnants, freezer frost covered, tri-colored carcasses, still littered the freezer in summer months.
One summer night we heard some weird music floating down the street, a repetitive song whose tones climbed deep down into your brain and stayed awhile, surfacing into you thoughts maddeningly for days after wards. It was Mr. Softee. While I liked the ice cream cones, the music drove me nuts. It seems that others felt the same and several grownups asked the driver to stop playing the music and just jingle his bells. He refused and so the neighbors started a Softee Boycott. Soon that was the end of Mr. Softee and the annoying music, but the Good Humor Man still came around to tantalize us with his tasty treats.
Eventually Good Humor moved to second place in my summertime thoughts as I started to notice girls, then third place when beer came into the picture. The summer I graduated high school I was 17. The drinking age back then was 18, but underage drinking was a fact of life, and beer was readily available to anyone. Even drinking and driving hadn't hit public notice as something to be avoided yet, having a beer and cruising with your hot rod at night was what one did in the summertime, although that started to change a few years later. Some of you may remember that a year and a half ago I reviewed Disaronna Originale Amaretto and told the following tale.
I had a hot muscle car given to me third or fourth hand as a graduation present. It was in pretty bad shape but all it needed was some TLC, and a money injection to give it new life. My Coronet R/T 440 426 Hemi 4 Speed became a priority, but needed a lot of work. I had started the summer working at a summer camp as a gymnastic coach, but after a month that gig ended and I was at a loss as for another job. My folks wanted me to start a real job, even a career of some type since I wasn't planning on going to college that fall, but it was summertime. No way was I going to enter the drudgery of a grownup life the summer I was 17! The song Summer of '69 came to mind, even though it now was a year plus a decade later, the Summer of '80. I wanted it to be the summer of my life!
Suddenly it came to me. I'd be a Good Humor Man! I took what little money I could grub up that hadn't been poured into beers, driven into my car, or enjoyably spent on dating; and rented a Good Humor Truck full of Frozen Treats. I wanted to be a bit different than all the other Good Humor Men, so I whipped out my paint compressor and spray gun and got a little creative on my new Good Humor truck. Soon it proudly announced that it was the "Rock N Roll Ice Cream Truck," and I hooked my boom box up to the PA system. Soon I was cruising the streets, cranking what I thought was the perfect tune, Van Halen's Ice Cream Man and finding places to park for a few hours at ball parks and other places where folks congregated.
A core of good friends joined me each day, helping make sales, flirting with all the pretty girls dressed in mini-skirts and short shorts who seemed to be the majority of our customers, and scarfing up much of my profits as we gobbled down ice cream bars until we were on a sugar high and filled to the brim with Good Humor and bonhomie. (The mini-keg of beer stashed in the depths of one of the ice cream freezers didn't hurt either.)
I loved that summer and my good Humor Truck. Cranking up some 70's Rock and Roll and all the top 100 radio hits of '80, jingling and jangling my bells, and selling tasty frozen treats to other like-minded people who wanted to cool off and be in Good Humor too. A heat wave hit and business was great. I was pulling in the cash so fast that soon my car was in perfect shape, given a new Black and Fire Engine Red paint job to replace the factory green, and I was looking for the time when I could get it out on the road. But first came business. I had to take advantage of the summer heat and sell ice cream.
Eventually the heat wave came to an end, as did the summer, and as sales slowed I started to think about my future. The golden but crisp days of fall crept up and I made my decision. It was time to retire the Rock N Roll Ice Cream truck, and move on to my next adventure, working for a wine shop as a wine expert and sales. I stocked up my home freezer with all my family's favorite ice cream and gave away what little was left. My time as a Good Humor Man was over. As you can tell, that summer meant a lot to me, as does Good Humor ice cream. Even today I succumb every now and then and buy a Toasted Almond bar from the Good Humor Man, or even a box from the supermarket if the mood strikes. It's always a guarantee of Good Humor for me. What about you?
Filed Under: Spirit of Summer