I scream, you scream

A salute to ice cream trucks
By DAVID MASHBURN  |  August 27, 2007

In 1927 Paul Hawkins rigged a mechanical music box to the roof of his ice cream truck in California and started blasting the Polish folk tune "Stodola Poompa" from it. Forget Pavlov's bells and that drooling dog. Irrefutable proof of aural conditioning is that 80 years later, kids still stream toward the siren song and that holy grail — frozen treats in paper packaging, paradise in the guise of a push-up pop. 

But that little ice cream truck jingle turns out to be not so innocuous. After all, there's a thin line between the nostalgic recollection and the obnoxious cacophony reported by many Boston City residents. City Councilor Sal LaMattina worries that some vendors are trampling that line. According to LaMattina, several ice cream truck operators blare their chime at levels far above the legal limit of 70 decibels.

"We need to empower the police so that if they go out and hear loud music and loud noise they can issue a violation and fine," said LaMattina at a hearing in August. He's also suggested enacting laws similar to those in New York City that prohibit ice cream truck vendors from playing their music while parked in an effort to cut down on the “noise pollution.”.

Somewhere along the line, between Hawkin's music box and the booming digital sound system currently drawing the rancor of Boston, the ice cream truck and its jingle achieved iconic status, immortalized in pop culture. Like soda fountains and tie-dye, ice cream trucks evoke a nostalgia that has little to do with their tangible impact on our lives and more to do with their presence in the collective conscious of pop culture. Because of the threat facing ice cream trucks and in honor of the many years of service on our streets and in our television shows, films, and songs, we present the top ten ice cream trucks in pop culture.


10.  “Fahrenheit 9/11”—When Michael Moore learns that almost no one in Congress read the Patriot Act before voting to pass it, he decides the only patriotic thing to do is read it to them. And how exactly to attract the attention of Congress? Logically, being a man of ample stature and not above self-deprecatory irony, he drives around in an ice cream truck playing the jingle and reciting the Patriot Act to anyone who'll listen.

9.  "Today"—The Smashing Pumpkins’ video for “Today” was inspired by Billy Corgan's childhood memory of the local ice cream truck. On the day the driver quit, he passed out free ice cream to  the children in the neighborhood. Maybe, like Corgan, he drove off through the desert, picking up a beautiful hitchhiker and repainting his truck to resemble the Merry Prankster's acid bus.

8.  On the Road with Borat—In “Borat,” Sacha Baron Cohen irreverently redefines America through the lens of the fictitious Kazakh journalist's mockumentary. Fittingly, Borat buys a used ice cream van to drive on his odyssey, exploring the heart of America. What better symbol of Main Street USA than a used ice cream truck? Except maybe that chicken or those drunk frat boys...

7.  Serial Killer with a Sweet Tooth—The “Twisted Metal” video games are known for their  demolition derby game play, their black humor, and a killer clown named Sweet Tooth. Twisted Metal Black's storyline has Sweet Tooth murdering 23 people with his ice cream truck, surviving the electric chair and escaping from an insane asylum before driving the truck in a demolition derby tournament while the flames of hell spurt from his head. Why was I allowed to play this game as a kid? Check out this clip of a very insane Sweet Tooth and the most violent ice cream truck in history.

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 See all articles by: DAVID MASHBURN