A Soft Spot For Ice Cream

Truck's jingle lures young, old

Maryland Journal

June 20, 2005|By Sumathi Reddy | Sumathi Reddy,SUN STAFF

In the grand symphony of summer sounds, there is one strain that swells far above all else.

Close your eyes, and listen closely.

Here comes Mis-ter Sof-tee. The soft ice cream man.

The cream-i-est dream-i-est soft ice cream you get from Mis-ter Sof-tee.

Ah yes, it's a jingle that is maddening to some. But for many more - usually the likes of 9-year-olds and your nostalgic 40-year-old with a sweet tooth - those seductive notes are the sweetest summer sound of all, the siren call of the ice cream truck, in this case one Mister Softee.

Or Miss Softee, aka Louise Cundiff, a 55-year-old airline baggage handler turned ice cream diva, the handler of all swirls frozen and sweet, dipped and sprinkled, and delivered into eager outstretched hands.

Make no mistake, Cundiff's is not the only ice cream truck in Pasadena. There are at least two others she unhappily crosses paths with. "That's not a good day," she says.

But when it comes to the authentic trademark blue-and-white Mister Softee truck - complete with the smiling, bow-tie ice cream cone and ubiquitous jingle - this is it. She thinks.

`There was one in Hagerstown, and there might be one in Deep Creek Lake, but that's it," says Cundiff, rumbling down Edwin Raynor Boulevard on a recent evening, the faint notes of the jingle resonating in the stifling heat.

For a re-fre-shing de-light su-preme Look for Mis-ter Sof-tee.

My milkshakes and my sun-daes and my cones are such a treat.

It wasn't summer yet but it sure felt like it on what was the hottest day of the year so far, with the mercury rising into the mid-90s and the heat index near 100.

Cundiff's job on wheels for six months is air-conditioned, but she was feeling the heat. No matter.

"This is a very good ice cream day," she says as her truck lumbers into the parking lot of a local pool in Chesterfield, the hypnotic spell of the jingle beginning to work its power.

One, two, four, seven - they come scrambling to the truck, barefoot and wet, in swimming trunks and change in hand.

"What can I get you, dear?" Cundiff asks, peering down at a barefooted boy.

"You have to wear shoes when you come to the ice cream truck," she jokingly scolds the boy. "Or you don't get any ice cream."

"There was another man here before," another kid blurts out.

"Oh well, I'm back. The real ice cream lady is here," she says.

"She's better than the other one," declares Chris Casey, 12.

Casey is dripping wet and apparently doesn't like wearing a swimming suit, as he's soaking in his shirt and shorts. He orders a chocolate-dipped cone, which he says he gets every day.

"Almost every day," he corrects himself, taking a big bite of ice cream, which is quickly melting.

The pool crowd is a little smaller than usual, Cundiff says after selling to about a dozen people.

So she's off to the neighborhoods of Chesterfield, where tightly-packed townhouses line block after block, and where Cundiff, once a shy girl in high school, is the most popular gal on the block. "No one comes up to the truck in a bad mood, and if they do, they go away with a smile," Cundiff says.

She turns on the music and slows to a crawl, on the lookout for the turn of doorknobs and the sound of pattering feet scrambling down front steps and over lawns.

Lis-ten for my store on wheels ding-a-ling down the street.

It doesn't take long for them to come. Some come short on change. Cundiff will still give them something.

She's sweet like that - sad for the kids who never have enough change. She even makes sure to not hit the same neighborhoods every day because ice cream is, quite frankly, fattening. Hers especially. "Mine's real creamy," she says with pride.

The cream-i-est dream-i-est soft ice cream you get from Mis-ter Sof-tee.

Eryn Woolwine, 12, says she likes the music. After all, another ice cream guy came down the block the other day, and he was playing - gasp! - "Christmas music," she exclaims. "That's just weird."

Nearby, Zachary Bernard, 5, is being told he absolutely cannot get a milkshake.

"You're not getting a milkshake," says his father, Wallace, 33. "You're getting an ice cream. What do you want?"

The elder Bernard knows what he wants. A cone with both chocolate and vanilla soft serve.

"You want one of them?" he asks his son pointing to a slushy. "What flavor?"

"Blue raspberry!" the Zachary exclaims.

"He just had a milkshake," explains his father, who doesn't mind buying his son ice cream almost every day. After all, "I eat ice cream every day," he says. "Just about. Especially when it gets hot."

For a re-fresh-ing de-light su-preme

Look for Mis-ter Sof-tee.

S-O-F-T Dub-ble-E Mis-ter Sof-tee!

The music winds down and appears to be malfunctioning. But that's OK. Cundiff had a good day, pulling in $350 to $400. This is her fourth year in the business, and each year sales get better.

It's close to 8 o'clock, the sun is low, and Cundiff is beat. Six months, seven days a week and at least eight hours a day will do that to you.

Even a Miss Softee can get ice creamed out. Time to go home to her husband and off to sleep, where even in her dreams she can't escape the jingle of Mister Softee.

Duh-DUH-duh-duh-duh-duhduh-duh-duh-duh-duh-DUH-duuh-duh ...

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