The ice cream truck has arrived in the neighborhood, harbinger of warm weather, sunny days and cheeriness. But the ice cream trucks of the tens aren’t the bow-tied, dapper ice cream men of the ’50s. The number of ice cream trucks has declined somewhat in recent years, but some distributors say it’s going through a recent uptick now.
Valerie Sabatino started off selling ice cream from a truck in Columbus in the early ’90s with her husband. “Unsavory” was the word she used to characterize the majority of drivers today. I told her of my plans to ride along with some South End peddlers for an interview. “It’s gonna be scary,” she said. “Good luck.” She left peddling to go into ice cream distribution.
Bow ties have given way in recent years to tattoos and gauged faces, from sleeve garters to inked sleeves. When I inquired about a “savory” ice cream peddler, Sabatino recommended Lesley Fitch in Pataskala.
“It was supposed to be my little adventure,” Fitch said of her ice cream truck. She is a mother of six boys from a family of 15. “It used to be a novelty.”
Although it started off as a way for her to spend time with her boys while bringing in extra income, her ice cream endeavors have furnished yearly trips to Florida, a new deck and a pool. Unfortunately, she believes her venture has been tarnished by less reputable vendors.
“Every year someone is busted selling drugs,” she said, adding that a record of abuse often accompanies the bright trucks and their merry music. Fitch agreed with Sabatino, “They’re sometimes scary.”
At first glance, Tucker Lhammon and JD Arnold, the ice cream truck drivers of my Southside neighborhood, might fit that bill. Tattoos cover their arms. Two facial piercings adorn Arnold’s face. Both “Juggalos” who have Hatchet Men tattoos, the two, along with Lorenzo Brihm, another Insane Clown Posse fan who rides with them on busy summer days, stress professionalism and courtesy in their ice cream peddling.
They run a tight ship. Arnold, 26, drives – very slowly. Lhammon, 19, handles money, and Brihm, 22, grabs the ice cream.
“We’re 100 percent legit with our trucks,” said Tucker.
“A lot of people don’t like their kids coming up to the trucks because of pedophiles,” said Arnold. The two explained the precautions that have been taken to maintain wholesomeness in the ice cream business. They operate with a food handling permit, clean driving licenses, and a peddler permit. Ice cream truck drivers also undergo a federal background check to ensure they’re not child abusers.
“We have people who come up to us all the time,” asking for drugs, explained Tucker. “And we say, ‘Yeah, it’s not gonna happen.'”
People ask them for weed, pills and “all sorts of stuff,” but they say their business is profitable. They sell more than $600 a day at normal peaks and more than $2,000 worth on the Fourth of July. It’s a high-volume business; individual ice creams cost between $1-4.
“We’ve done this area – everybody knows us by name. They won’t go up to other trucks,” said Arnold, who has been selling ice creams in the Southside for four years. His regulars buy from him daily.
Bettina Smith and her son, Ernesto, are daily ice cream eaters. “Even when he’s asleep, I go and buy ice cream for him or he’ll become upset,” Smith said. Once Ernesto was at his grandmother’s house when a strange truck came; he refused its ice cream because the truck wasn’t his unwavering blue one.
The herald of Arnold and Lhammon’s ice cream truck is their “Hello Song,” the only jingle the truck ever plays. A series of playful hellos, quacks and woofs punctuate it.
Fitch also only plays one song “over and over and over again.” She too has no idea what hers is called, but agrees that her distinct tune alerts patrons to her truck and not that of a foreign peddler.
But not everyone loves the ice cream men. Some hate them. Why? “The music,” Lhammon, Brihm and Arnold said in unison. It cuts both ways.
“We’ve been run out of areas before,” said Arnold, with people “yelling, cussing and throwing stuff at the truck.” Seniors have complained to the police.
“There are a lot of Juggalos in the neighborhood,” Arnold said of their Southside turf. Despite their identification with an oft-maligned subculture, they strive to act professionally. “You can’t dress in bandanas and all this other kind of stuff,” said Brihm. “You have to dress halfway decent.”
They say their ice cream truck is the top seller for their distributor, Captain Tom’s Ice Cream. Their mix of professionalism and courtesy serves them well, but what inspires love of the ice cream man?
“It’s the music and the brightly colored truck. It’s fun,” Brihm laughed.
“Woof woof!” echoed the wide-smiling Ernesto as his favorite ice cream truck puttered down the street.
Poor little juggalos need to put on decent clothing to do their jobs ..