Growing up in mid-century Long Island, no sound was more welcome than the suburban siren call of summer – the seductive jingling bells of the Good Humor truck.
Normally at the first ring of that irresistible ding-a-ling-ling, slippery tots would jump out of vinyl sided pools, Stan Muesial baseball mitts were tossed unceremoniously to the ground, and gun slinging cowpokes shifted their attention to the thought of a toasted almond or a chocolate éclair bar, as a blur of pigtails, baseball caps and scraped knees would appear.
Salivating like Pavlovian dogs, they would go running to the nearest parent, their tiny hands thrust out impatiently for a coin.
But discerning ears knew that not all chimes were created equal.
Bungalow Bar in the Burbs
On certain afternoons the jingling of bells brought no buyers, the streets remained remarkably empty of Dixie cup craving children.
This was because the chimes belonged to the Bungalow Bar truck, that trespasser from the city Boroughs. A stranger to the burbs, the truck roamed the streets like an unwelcome tourist in a foreign location which in fact it was.
I’m sure the Bungalow Bar man was as friendly as Nick our Good Humor man, always impeccably dressed in his blindingly white uniform, just as I’m sure he was equally skilled at reaching into the ice cream compartment steamy with condensation and able to pull out exactly the item you wanted without even seeming to look.
No doubt he was just as adept at working the silver metal coin organizer that he wore on his belt quickly clicking the little lever that would eject a coin at the bottom for your change.
But he was never even given a chance.
At the appearance of the truck I would join the rest of the kids chanting at the top of our lungs a mean-spirited ditty that was mysteriously passed from neighborhood to neighborhood, without any real foundation to it: “Bungalow bar/tastes like tar/ the more you eat/ the sicker you are.”
The truck itself was quaint, its white rounded corners reminiscent of an old-fashioned Frigidaire the kind found in a Grandmothers apartment.
It was designed to look like a small bungalow complete with a white picket fence instead of a door, topped with a dark russet-brown shingle roof and a fake chimney, which if it were real would probably belch out black smoke from its coal furnace.
In the shiny new suburbs where everything you saw and touched was not just new but never before new, it looked plain old-fashioned, and woefully out of place.
Their only customers were the occasional family nostalgic for the old neighborhood, families like my neighbors the Moskowitz’s, who would often sit on lawn chairs set up on their stark concrete driveway as if they were still sitting on the stoop of their Bensonhoist Brooklyn apartment watching the nonexistent foot traffic go by.
Like a doddering old Dinosaur, this interloper that had originated in Brooklyn and Queens had stumbled across the Nassau County border hoping to join the stampede pouring out to the suburbs of Lon gIsland.
Maybe for those crowded, apartment dwellers who escaped the heat each summer to the fresh air of the Mountains renting tiny, 2 room, asbestos shingled, gable roofed bungalows in the Borscht Belt, the sight of that Bungalow on wheels brought back bucolic memories of pine scented air,and screened porches.
Perhaps in Bushwick or Bensonhurst, Flatbush or Forest Hills, a world of two family attached houses, broad stoops with great balustrades in lieu of backyards, narrow concrete alleyways where little boys rode bicycles and little girls played Double Dutch, Bungalow Bars may have ruled unchallenged but in the modern suburbs of swing sets and split levels Good Humor was king.
This was the land of Exodus where so many seemed to have found the Promised Land, and Bungalow Bars were a remnant of a former life, a reminder of a past left behind.
The boroughs were the Old World and for some, Brooklyn and the Bronx were as far removed from this first generation of suburbanites as Minsk was from my first generation American grandparents.
The Cadillac of Ice Cream
So we would wait for the big spanking white porcelain truck with the modern clean square edges, its familiar logo with the picture of the chocolate covered bar with a bite taken out of it, baked into the tiny freezer door.
Yes, we were willing to pay an extra nickel more for the privilege of eating a frozen treat from Good Humor the Cadillac of ice cream trucks, the standard by which other ice cream trucks were judged.