It must have been when I was about 10 years old that I’d rush out of my house at the sound of the ice cream truck, nearly losing my balance going down the stairs every single time. We lived in an almost exclusively Mexican immigrant apartment complex, and word would spread quickly of the Indian ice cream man’s arrival. My brother would call out “lla llego! lla llego!”—He is here, He is here, and we would rush out trying to beat our neighbors across the hallway.
My goal was always to get the Worldwide Wrestling Foundation (WWF) ice cream bar with the random collectible card it came with in hopes that I’d get my favorite wrestler, the heartbreak kid, Shawn Michaels. I remember practicing for hours the “sweet chin music” move, all the time, hoping that it would come in handy at some point in my life. The ice cream man was a very nice man, always happy, giving us kids ice cream for what ever change we had.
Each time I ran short of a dollar, which was the price of the bar, the ice cream truck man would let it slide. His signature move was to look at the change in my hand, give me a skeptical look, wiggle his bushy eyebrows together, fold the wrinkles around his eyes to make me think he wasn’t going to take what I had for the ice cream. Then he would smile, a genuine smile, and hand me the ice cream I coveted.
The ice cream man had a long beard, the longest I have ever seen to date. We always thought it was a mysterious thing to have a beard that long. The beard went along with his accent, it was like nothing we had ever heard, so at times it was hard to understand him. But we got used to it.
My neighborhood was and still is full of kids running around, and this is probably the reason why street vendors love coming to my neighborhood. Street vending is very common in Mexico and in India, I suppose. Walking through these countries in impoverished areas you can probably buy just about anything on the streets without having to step into an actual store. My neighborhood is a bit like that. It’s a street where people of all sorts of ethnicities come together through street vending.
The ice cream man stood out because he was the one who always tried to talk to us and knew just about all the neighborhood kids by our names and nicknames. He even tried to learn Spanish by talking to us. There was another ice cream truck vendor before the Indian man who stopped coming to my neighborhood one fine day. He was unfriendly, seemed to hate his job, and his prices were 25 cents more expensive.
I still don’t know why I never asked for my favorite ice cream truck man’s name. One day I asked why he would always let us get away with paying less than what the ice cream costed. His response was, “If you saw where I came from, I just gave you the world.”
At that age, I didn’t understand what he meant. Now, I am guessing that he, like my own family, grew up in a place of poverty and struggle. And that it is a joy to be in a position and place where he can give a young boy his favorite ice cream.
Octavio Martinez, aka Tiburon, is a Silicon Valley DeBug writer and photographer. This article was part of the series, “Arriving and Becoming—First Person.”