First I’ll tell you about the Mister Softee Bronx-Manhattan Rescue Mission of 2008.
We met Fausto The Disgruntled Ice Cream Man sometime in Spring. He asked, “How long do you think seven months is going to go?”
We didn’t get it. How long?
“You know, do you think it’ll go slow, or will it go fast?”
He had seven months of soft-serve cones, slushies, sprinkles, dips, pops and swirls ahead of him, and there was almost anything in the world he’d rather be doing this this. He drove down to Manhattan from the Bronx in his Mister Softee truck every day, as he had everyday for five long, seven-month summers. This was his sixth summer as a Mister Softee man.
“I hate my job,” he said. Every cone he sold brought him one day closer to October, when the Mister Softee season finally closes. I imagined him keeping count on a little calendar under the dash.
Most afternoons you can catch him just off Broadway, parked on 109th. He pulls down the street and around the corner at around 3 or 4 PM to a spot by the taqueria on Amsterdam. There the clientele shifts from chatty Columbia students, stone-faced girls with yoga mats, and young, middle-class families to Caribbean and Latino teens, girls in flip-flops and booty shorts, and older Dominican and Puerto Rican women holding their grandchildren firmly by the hand.
On one of my last days in New York, walking down Amsterdam, we spotted his truck. It was a perfect opportunity to grab one last cone from our man, we thought, and walked up. The truck was parked, running, window shut, and Fausto nowhere to be seen. The cook from the taquería waved to me from his window front and pointed down the block. Fausto was three doors down in Jumbo Slice buying himself lunch or dinner or a snack or something. One of those Dominican grandmothers was standing waiting for him already, a little girl’s hand pressed to hers. The child’s other hand was mashed anxiously against her mouth, anticipating the rainbow sprinkles she would soon be tasting.
We all waited together for Fausto to come out of the pizza joint to serve us. We didn’t notice a cab creep up alongside the truck, didn’t notice it sneak into the tiny space between the door and the curb, and didn’t notice the driver park and walk off. The cab blocked off Fausto’s door and part of the curb-side serving window–SHIT!–but the other door facing the street was still clear, so all good, right?
“Oh shit,” said Fausto. “I only have the key for this door.”
He struggled with his pizza box and drink, measuring the space between the cab and his truck with frantic eyes, his arms rising and falling at his sides as his sense of panic ebbed and swelled. The Dominican grandmother took turns complaining to me and cussing him out in Spanish too rapid-fire for me to understand. He just shook his head. “I can’t get in!”
I watched Fausto struggle to squeeze between the two vehicles, his belly getting in the way each time. The taquería guys had come outside to laugh by now, and Fausto was even more frazzled. “Now they think I’m fat,” he complained, “because I can’t fit.” Passers-by had gathered to watch the fracas, and they were laughing too.
It was damn hot out. I was wearing a dish halter dress, and nervous about the feeling of a hot car’s roof on my skin, but this was no time to hesitate: my MacGyver moment was up.
I slipped behind the cab, hoisted myself up onto the side, and pressed my legs and hands onto the Mister Softee truck to slide across towards the front. Fausto, looking hopeful, stretched his arm to unlock the door, I shimmied it open with my feet, and jumped inside. Success! Ice cream victory!
The little girl finally took her hand away from her mouth, smiled and hopped up and down a little bit, her other tiny hand still wrapped in her grandmother’s. The taquería guys went back to work. All was right with the world. Fausto finally served me my last vanilla cone — but yo, would you believe that dude, he wouldn’t even give it to me for free!
Damn Fausto. He really does hate his job.