As a child, chasing the ice cream man was a rite of passage for me. Fast-forward a few decades and here I was again chasing the allusive ice cream man as a reporter in pursuit of a story about commercialism, parental paranoia and the decline of Americana, but with much less success.
The City of Alexandria is no longer giving business licenses to ice cream men (or women for that matter), and losing this American icon was something the people in Alexandria need to know about. I set out to find the local ice cream man, and he soon became my own personal Loch Ness monster of sorts minus the grainy photo to prove his existence.
My quest started at a Del Ray coffee shop, and from the caffeine-fueled chatter about the ice cream mans daily schedule, this sounded like a piece of cake. Although no one remembered exactly what kind of truck it was, he started his daily route at the north end of Mount Vernon Avenue around 3:30 and worked his way south, weaving a nondescript route through the city.
At first chance I hit the pavement and headed for the swimming pool on the avenue, singing Van Halens song Ice Cream Man, the whole time. It became my theme song of the quest. Oh, weve seen him all right, I was told by teenagers in the parking lot who directed me to the parking lot at McDonalds. I took to the street, looking every which way before backtracking down Russell Road, Mount Vernon Avenue and Commonwealth, scanning the side streets, before giving up for the day.
More chatter a few days later led me to the city pool on Cameron Street and again, the ice cream man had been there earlier but was nowhere in sight. I was told to come back around quarter till the hour, when break was called, because thats when he would show up. I came back and made chit-chat with the lifeguard at the desk until it was clear he was not coming. I was told the ice cream man visits the community behind the pool on Princess Street as well, so off I went but still no luck.
Eventually I wised up and went to City Hall to get a contact number from the commercial license department, but since I didnt know exactly what this ice cream man was called, I had no luck. How about the Good Humor man? I asked, but still nothing. Thats when I was told that the city no longer issues business licenses for ice cream trucks, creating a certain amount of urgency this was a story after all and I was going to break it if it took me all month. Even my editor reported seeing him a few times around the city.
A week later, precisely at quarter of the hour, I pulled to the pool parking lot, but nothing. Oh yeah, said the guard, he was here yesterday, but I had heard that before, so I gave out more business cards, waited around a bit, and left. Mothers were starting to give me that is he a stalker? look. For the next two weeks, including one hot, humid Sunday afternoon, I showed up at the pool around the same time, and trolled the familiar neighborhoods and pool parking lots, to no prevail. I was starting to feel a bit stalker-ish.
Alas, Labor Day weekend arrived and conditions couldnt have been better the sun was out, a slight breeze filtered through the trees and kids were at the pool. I took a spin around the neighborhood, and got reports that one neighbor had heard the ice cream man. Right as I pulled in the city pool parking lot, I heard the familiar whistle announcing break, and whipped out my pen and pad, ready for action. He was here today, said the guard, describing the white, boxy truck so I stuck around for a few minutes before admitting defeat.
The ice cream man saga will have to wait another year.
Mike Salmon is a reporter for The Alexandria Times. To tell him where he can reach the ice cream man, email him at [email protected].