There’s an unwritten rule that only kids younger than 12 seem to follow: Immediately after purchasing ice cream, you must hold onto it tight and run as fast as you can.
Run toward friends to gloat. Run toward a shady spot to enjoy the tasty treat. Run toward summer and its three months of freedom. It doesn’t matter where, just take the ice cream and run.
Larry Collins is providing the ice cream tonight. And the kids younger than 12 in three northwest neighborhoods are running with it. Everyone else is just placing a transaction.
It’s a nice night by Las Vegas standards. Ninety-four degrees with a slight breeze. Anything hotter and Collins, driver and owner of Popsicle Pete Ice Cream Truck, might have one lonely drive ahead.
“Sometimes it’s too hot for ice cream,” Collins says.
And when you’re relying on piggy-bank accounts, sometimes funds are too tight. Yesterday a kid tried using the bartering system. Collins could have his basketball if the boy could have some ice cream.
Who’s to say whether it’s the taste of that Big Dipper waffle cone, the chocolate-dipped vanilla scoop with salty nuts sprinkled atop, that had a kid willing to surrender a summer of hoops. It could’ve been the sweet nostalgic sound of nursery rhymes chiming over a loudspeaker. Maybe it was the sight of that slow-moving white truck. Or the feeling of melted ice cream dripping down anxious knuckles.
There’s certainly a pull that comes, not just with ice cream in the summer, but ice cream from an ice-cream truck.
Right now it has the attention of six boys huddled around a remote-control car. One of them breaks from the crowd and makes a dash for Collins.
The boy buys a grip of Otter Pops and pivots his tanned, sandaled feet to sprint back to his buddies. Not so fast, Collins calls after him.
It’s the primary difference between a kid making the purchase and an adult doing it. Kids frequently forget their change.
Mike Abe, 28, won’t make that mistake. He looks over the menu that decorates Popsicle Pete and places his order as uneventfully as anyone who’s been doing it more than 20 years.
“I’ll take four Bomb Pops. ... Let’s do one of these (pointing to the Big Dipper). Do you have any Tear Jerkers? Let’s do two of those.”
Thirteen dollars later, Abe heads back to his apartment, where his son and wife await their indulgences.
Just ahead, the six boys have taken a break from the remote-control car to take a load off. Lining the street curb, they suck on their Otter Pops the same way much older versions of themselves would sip cold beers: “Ahhh.”
Although he’s had Popsicle Pete six months, Collins has only been driving it about three.
After buying the truck off Craigslist for $9,600, he had to replace the transmission and fuel pump. He put another $325 into a health department license, more than $100 on a state business license and endured a stringent background check that involved 28 pages of paperwork for what’s called a privilege license.
He’ll decide if it was all worth it at summer’s end. For now, he’s moving on to the next neighborhood, one that meets his criteria for profit potential.
“The best ones are usually lower- or middle-class neighborhoods,” he says. “The others have money for stuff but they don’t buy it off trucks.”
Collins can drive Popsicle Pete wherever he pleases. The only rule he has to follow concerns other trucks. He can’t operate within 1,000 feet of them.
It has only been an issue where he actually lives. Of all the neighborhoods in all of Las Vegas, another ice-cream truck driver moved into his. The two now know each other’s schedules and respect them. Other than that, there’s no such thing as turf. He picks his own routes and selects them based on his reception, which appears welcoming right now.
Collins pulls up to a street of townhouses that curves around a small park. Right away, Steven Gutierrez, 4, begins waving his arms, turning his head back and forth from Popsicle Pete to his mom, Popsicle Pete, Mom.
Mom, Suzana Gutierrez, rolls her eyes. “He didn’t drive through the circle last time,” she says of the cul-de-sac. “Everybody cried.”
Hannah Finlay, 10, isn’t crying, but she isn’t smiling, either. She and her brother, Jakob, 7, who just rolled up on his buddy’s Stingray bike, couldn’t get their mom to cough up any cash today. Now they’re watching kids line up as Collins’ hand extends from the truck window with frozen goodness.
“I usually get the Snow Storm,” Hannah says, still watching. “It’s full of Oreos and cream.”
One by one, her neighbors take their treats from Collins and then run as though an ice-cream-craving pit bull was hot on their heels.
Judging from the crowd, tonight could prove a good one for the novice ice-cream man.
Collins has a pocket calendar he uses to track his profits. After the expense of stocking the truck, he figures his take-home at the end of the day is about 50 percent of what he actually counts in cash and change. With most the kids clinking down a handful of coins and asking, “What can I get with this much?” there’s a lot of change.
On June 18, he made $178. June 17, $110. June 16, $98.
April 13 brought in $330 and May 18 garnered $315, but his best day was March 2, when he worked a lacrosse tournament and brought in $491. That counted as an event, though, which means he had to divide his earnings with the host.
The only thing worse than dividing ice-cream money is dividing actual ice cream.
Brothers Johnnie, 12, and Jordan Youngblood, 15, each got their own treat. Jordan doesn’t even want to admit he stood in line. It’s for kids. But the chocolate on his teeth gives him away.
As he blushes, a youngster darts from out of nowhere past Johnnie, Jordan, Hannah and Jakob. He’s wearing cargo shorts, a turtleneck and no shoes. And he’s waving a dollar bill.
Contact Xazmin Garza at email@example.com or 702-383-0477. Follow her on Twitter @startswithanx.