The Return of Saint Eclair

The difference between a dream and reality is all in how one views them.  A dream is a lovely thought that remains forever elusive:  swing upon a star, wish on a moonbeam, if I had a million bucks – you know how they go.   To dream is to be human while knowing that all possibilities, though out out reach, are limitless.  Yet I have a dream each winter that has a door to reality in one small corner of it, and having a door like that makes all the difference.  Round and round I go, playing my dream through the dark and chill, clinging to my Woolx (steal the rug out from under my feet, but nobody, not nobody, gets my Woolx) until, suddenly, on that certain spring day, I hear the approach of bells that no longer reside just in my head.  The dream is quite suddenly dissolving and reality lies but a tongue-tip away.  Man, I’ve waited for the neighbourhood ice cream truck long enough!  The chase is on and down the road I run after the bow-tied man with loose change a-janglin’ in my pocket.

Not 1920s prices, but more choices. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015.

Not 1920s prices, but more choices.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015.

Yes, you got me; some of what I said simply isn’t true.  Everything in that paragraph is dead-on, especially the Woolx, except for a couple things.  First, the music.  I haven’t heard bells on the street for years.  Sometime after the Ford administration, it seemed to me, the bells went away.  When I looked up the history of the ice cream truck I found my memory more accurate than usual.  They did mostly go away about then, a victim of, in particular, the sudden high cost of fuel.  When they did return again their voice had changed.  Respectable, joyful bells had been transformed into ditties like “It’s a Small World”  or the more sophisticated “The Entertainer” by Scott Joplin.  Second, those guys don’t wear bow ties anymore either, not to mention nice white caps.  I guess the bow tie went out with the phonograph record.  Now I think of something else, too.  Loose change doesn’t buy an ice cream anymore.  Good grief, I better stop this or I’ll lose my whole story.  Let’s move back to solid ground.

The idea of selling ice cream out of a truck, like so many things we take for granted today, came out of the first genuine consumer boom in America.  The 1920s contained all the right ingredients for an explosion in personal consumption.  Incomes were growing, advertising hit its stride, and the idea of personal gratification became magnified by the freedom associated with the automobile and a Brownie camera.  Putting ice cream on a truck seems like a no-brainer today;  back then, it was novel.  Autos were relatively new and people were discovering new uses for them at a dizzying rate.  And something very important gave the ice cream truck the final touch of success:  ice cream on a stick.  The most profound inventions are so often the simplest.

Spring arrives when this window opens. Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

Spring arrives when this window opens.
Copyright James V. Michalec 2015

So the incredibly American ice cream truck is loose again.  Today I heard the wacky music while planting the garden.  In a flash I activated my action plan.  A dash for money, a call upstairs if anyone wants ice cream, and a leap out the front door jumping almost all front steps in a single bound.  There he is at the end of the street!  I join kids coming from all directions like moths drawn to a lamp.  It’s the Pied Piper again, luring us with sweet, cold, cow candy, preying on our weakness for pleasure (count me in for the pleasures of life).  I’m a kid again, racing to that magical machine that transports me back to all those lost days at elementary school when the man in the bow tie and white cap would cheerfully take my fifteen cents at lunch recess, reach through that impossibly small hatch on the side of his truck, into that dark icy cavern heaped with treasure, and slip me a cold, mind-bending, alluring, insanely delicious . . . chocolate eclair.