The Truck, First Story.
It’s important for you to know that when Big Gay Ice Cream started we… well, we didn’t know shit about shit. We were faking it, the whole thing. Let me try a first attempt at explaining Big Gay Ice Cream TRUCK. TRUCK in all caps because I'm talking about the physical truck.
To this day we have never owned an ice cream truck. It’s a fairly convoluted story but let’s just say that in the ice cream truck days I was a day laborer. I found some guys who owned a bunch of ice cream trucks. The owners knew the trucks inside and out but there is no way they would have gone out and worked them and that’s where I came in.
There were established drivers- guys and girls who had been working trucks every summer for a few years. They were the top of the pecking order. The best trucks, with the Mr. Softee franchise branding on them (the “cone head” logo, the blue stripe around the bottom, and the menu) went to the senior drivers. They used the same truck every day, all summer, until they were borderline insane. Some were legitimately nuts- the drivers will be discussed in a later post, or maybe it needs to wait until the book. Down at the bottom of the pecking order was me, the guy with no vending experience who wanted to put a ridiculous sign on the truck and advertise my whereabouts via Twitter; this was 2009 and they (like many people) had never heard of Twitter.
Low man me was given whatever truck happened to be free that day, meaning I was assigned to one of about three trucks that didn’t have Mr. Softee branding on it. In fact the trucks I used the first summer were such shitboxes that they only ran intermittently. Every morning I would find out which of the jalopies I would use, take the rolled up Big Gay Ice Cream signs out of my duffel bag, and start setting up. I carried EVERYTHING in two duffel bags. All the toppings, the topping bins, the menus, the signs, tape, you name it. Since I never knew what truck I would be assigned to the next day it meant that every night I had to completely clear out. In addition to setting the truck up inside I had to check the oil and coolant every single morning. Often the oil would all be gone after a single day. In my years working on various trucks I had to:
- Make a cardboard “cushion” for the driver’s seat, which was just a mess of springs
- Jam a refrigerator door closed with a shoe
- Cover a giant hole in the floor with a garbage bag when I drove to keep the wheels from spattering mud up into the truck
- Shift with a screwdriver
- Start with a screwdriver
- Jam the window shut with a screwdriver
- Re-attach the steering wheel with duct tape
- Remove the engine cap and pour diesel in when I wanted to start the truck
- Bungee the back doors shut because they were flapping around as I drove across 14th street
- Bail out through the window when the starter burst into flames on Queens Boulevard
I could keep listing and listing, but you get the idea.
Here are a three photos I found online that will give you a quick look at what we were up against.
This photo is of our very first day, back in June 2009, at Brooklyn Gay Pride in Prospect Park. Neither Bryan nor I had ever been on an ice cream truck, never measured one, never considered how we would get our logo on it. We just ordered big-ass banners that didn’t fit anything in particular and stuck them on. I’m so pleased that Raphael Brion (then with the now long-defunct Eat Me Daily) was there with a camera to memorialize this perfect display of our ineptness.
A few weeks into the life of Big Gay Ice Cream Truck we had our first catering job. The gig was a wedding reception and the truck was supposed to roll onto site just as people were starting to wonder if there would be dessert. I waited at a fire hydrant on 10th Avenue. My cue came to drive around the corner and guess what? The engine was completely and utterly dead. Wedding guests happily rolled up their sleeves and pushed the truck into place. This was both incredibly embarrassing and wildly heart-warming. This was the first time we felt as though New York City was on our side. People were going to make Big Gay Ice Cream Truck a success even if they had to push it into place themselves.
This final shot is by Big Gay Ice Cream resident photographer Donny Tsang. Donny has been shooting us since nearly day one and is behind the amazing photography in Big Gay Ice Cream Book. By the second summer I was “established” enough at the ice cream truck depot that I was able to use the same truck ("Number 11") all summer. It was still a wreck, but it was *my* wreck. This photo was taken on July 4 2010 on one of the west side piers. The Big Gay Ice Cream sign on the back is hung with blue tape, the menus are held up with blue tape, the specials signs are held up with blue tape. The hood was barely held in place and you can see that the bumper is ready to go. This was Big Gay Ice Cream Truck’s heyday. This truck, coming apart at the welds, was where Big Gay Ice Cream really came together.
Ain't it all beautiful?