What is music to the ears of children can be annoying cacophony for adults. The looped Casio keyboard-sounding renditions of "Turkey in the Straw," "Pop Goes the Weasel" or "She'll be Comin' Round the Mountain" interspersed with a parroting electro-vox squawk, "Hello?!" announces the passing of the mobile ice cream vendor.
These are not the Good Humorous variety of your parents' and their parents' memories, but a new breed in vehicles — former parcel delivery trucks that have been converted to contain frozen goods by cutting a square panel in the vehicle side, inserting box window fans and home deep-freeze coolers.
Central dispatch would appear to be between the coordinates bordering Hamtramck and Detroit: Conant, Holbrook, Caniff and Mt. Elliot. The territory of the routes, however, is usually within the city of Detroit. Matter of fact, when one Hamtramck resident was asked if he sells around his own neighborhood, he pointed to his "Big City" mural: "Hamtramck is small city. Detroit, big city." Even so, I suspect most vendors extend coverage to Highland Park and Hamtramck.
Many of the drivers are of Bengali descent — some have chosen this career as their first in the United States. They have bravely taken on a risky independent venture that affords only four to five months of business per year and requires driving around town all day with the price of gas at an all-time high.
In Michigan, the Department of Agriculture licenses the warehouses supplying the trucks, rather than the driver, so perhaps that lack of red tape is reason enough to hawk treats. Plus, an array of Popsicles and ice cream bars shaped as Bugs Bunny, Power Puff Girls and comic book super heroes that trucks can offer aren't available in the supermarkets.
Ice cream trucks are decorated with funky folk-art styling, the handiwork of the driver or a commercial painter, such as one who signs off "Queen Bee." Their renderings are rudimentary (art brutal?), although they're somehow striving for a polished look. The nacho chips depicted on the side of one truck are as sharp and deadly as martial arts throwing stars. Banana Boats would seem to be popular, at least with the painters, if not the public.
Many characters are kiddie faves, such as Elmo or Sponge Bob, though judging from the double cone-fisting Bob with the dazed eyes and lolling tongue, vendors could also be chasing the stoner contingent. A scoop of rainbow swirl rates as poor man's psychedelia.
The aforementioned "Big City" truck mural is a one-of-a-kind, depicting a busy freeway overpass against a backdrop of the downtown skyline (note the Ren Cen). One automobile cruising against truck traffic looks like it's driven by a drunk with a death wish or a Demolition Derby daredevil.
Bonus hot tip: Those of you with adventuresome taste buds — who don't want to chase down your treats — should consider heading to Southwest Detroit for more unusual chilled concoctions. Located on Vernor Highway near Clark Park, Neveria La Michoacana is a stationary vendor selling tamarind, piña colada and jalapeño-flavored frozen treats on a stick. It's well worth coming to them. Hang out in the park, enjoy the sweet treat.Tim Caldwell is an artist, accumulator and archivist. Send comments to
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