Sunday, July 22, 2012

Road food

Tiny ears can hear the tinny sound from miles away, like a whistle only a dog can hear. I know this because my children usually clamor for money long before the mangled music emanating from the ice cream truck even reaches my radar.

It's always the same:

There's usually a panicked rush to find pocketbooks and piggybanks, followed by a temporary terror that the truck has turned toward another neighborhood. The music always sounds squashed, like it's coming from a warped record or a dented loudspeaker. It could be coming from or going toward anywhere. Ominous … like the Pied Piper.

“It's creepy,” my husband says as a drab, gray truck -- colored only by photographs of artificially flavored confections – practically screeches to a stop as it nears our house.

The man behind the wheel knows where all the weak links are in his territory chain.

Our house might be the weakest.

The kids have hauled pockets-full of nickels and dimes to the curb, depositing it on the window of the van and then stepping back to see the menu and make their choices.

They bounce back and forth in a familiar dance of indecision, made even more long and drawn out of a performance by the fact that Rocket Pops are out of stock.

Ittybit, innocently enough, will settle on the most expensive treat the man in the paper hat has to offer. The Champ, ironically, will want the head of a superhero on a stick. As the driver sweeps their money into a chocolate smeared apron and settles back behind the wheel, they will declare this the best ice cream they've ever tasted.

“Blasphemy,” my husband huffs in disgust. He can barely believe he has sired children who would rather eat frozen milk and artificial colors from a battered truck than make the pilgrimage to the mecca of locally sourced homemade ice cream just a few miles up the road.

There's no sense reasoning with him.

He claims he doesn't understand the draw of bad food.

He's not the type of man who despises McDonald's just on principal; he'd rather have a root canal than eat a McRib sandwich. “Special Sauce my eye teeth … it's just sugared-up Thousand Island dressing,” he grumbles.

That horror show of an ice cream truck is almost worse than the freak show that is road food,” he says from the comfortable cocoon of his front-porch hammock.

The kids mostly ignore his self professed high-brow tastes until rivers of neon blue, green and red start to trickle down their arms onto their sneakers.

It's hot and their truck treats are outrunning their tongues.

While I will protect this artificially flavored and unnaturally colored rite of summer passage, I won't put my white capris in harm's way. The only thing worse than an uneven cone is a rainbow colored stain on stark white clothes.

Out of desperation, they offer him a lick.

He turns up his nose at first, grousing that he'd rather eat a sponge that had been backed over by the garbage truck than taste even a single lick of a trademarked spongey character (who ordinarily lives in a pineapple under the sea, but in ice cream form has gumball eyes). Then, with a great, thespian gesture, holds out his hands to accept the horrific chore.

To watch him you'd think he was eating poison. He sputters and gurgles and bobbles his tongue.

They watch each lick with squinty eyes.

“Ok … okay,” The Champ tells his father forcefully. “That's enough. I can take it from here.”

They know their father. They know he doth protest too much.

“Listen,” I tell him as he reluctantly relinquishes the treats. “I think I hear the demonic music of the ice cream truck headed this way … . I'll buy you a frozen sponge pop with gumball eyes. I'm sure the ice cream man will be happy to back over it with his truck if you insist.”

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