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Ice-cream and Yakimo

On hot Summer days in Cleveland, Ohio, we listened for the cheerful sound of the ice cream man. Although every truck had a different melody, but they all had a familiar tone. To my adult brain, it sounded like creepy circus music. To my childish mind, however, it was a joyful noise. We could always hear the ice cream man coming from a couple of blocks away. He drove slowly so that all the children within earshot could beg their parents for money and race to the truck before it was gone.

The ice-cream men in our neighborhood were never like the ones in the movies. Hollywood made theirs smiley and nice as if they had loaded their trucks in magical places where nothing bad ever happens. Our ice cream men were surly and down on their luck. They had gnarled hands and missing teeth. We barely noticed and didn’t care. They were the heroes who brought us chocolate cones, funny feet, bomb pops, and ice cream sandwiches. Our parents probably could have gotten these things at the supermarket, but they never did. Because of that, the ice cream men were the Pied Pipers of the city.

I don’t remember seeing any ice cream women. The closest I ever got was a lady in the neighborhood who used to sell frozen juice in paper cups. We called them icees. She made them herself. It’s funny because I had no idea who the woman was, but I would ring her doorbell anyway and give her 25 cents for a red, blue, yellow, or green cup of frozen miracle. Of course, there is no way in hell I would have let my own kids buy icees from a stranger’s house. Those were different times, I suppose.

In Japan, the closest thing they have to an ice cream truck is a yaki imo (roasted sweet potato) truck. When you hear it, it sounds like yakimo. Just like the ice cream trucks in the US, the yakimo truck plays a signature song as it drives slowly through the neighborhood. The driver shouts through a loudspeaker… ”Stone roasted sweet potatoes. Get your stone roasted sweet potatoes.” Although there are more yakimo men than women, I have seen a few women too. Yakimo is much healthier than ice cream, but, for me, it lacks the same magic as the ice cream truck. Maybe Japanese kids see it differently.

When I retire, I am thinking of buying an ice cream truck. I will drive it slowly around Tokyo and Kanagawa in places that are far away from convenient stores. I don’t think it will make me rich. I just want to spend my days bringing joy. Hopefully, I will be a lot less surly and have all of my teeth.


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