writer, speaker, content creator

Wait… Those Aren’t Dead Yet?

In Conundrums on June 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm

It’s the start of summer, and I’ve seen and heard ice cream trucks lumbering around Portland. This might sound strange, but I can’t shake the feeling that they really should be obsolete by now.

I do not have a coherent reason why this should be, but some gut part of me seems to think that ice cream trucks really should have gone the way of, say, milk delivery and personal letters. Their presence seems to have this unshakable quaintness about them, as well as this aura of imminent obsolescence. Whenever I see one I think, “How much longer? How long is this business model going to be tenable before it collapses? Surely driving around in a truck and selling cold treats will become a thing of the past eventually.”

I suppose I find it odd because it is so irredeemably analog. The business model is basically “Let’s physically enter urban areas, announce our presence, and see if people want to buy our stuff.” There’s not much in the way of sophisticated marketing there, nor is there a way that consumers can shield themselves from the advertising. I’m so used to seeing ads on the internet that target particular sites I like or stuff on Facebook that’s tailored to my interest that hearing marketing (i.e., ice cream truck music) that’s targeted at literally everybody seems sort of weird. Moreover, I’m quite used to blocking popups, deleting spam, and ignoring banner ads. I gloss over lots and lots of marketing every day, so it’s sort of odd to hear something that is so unavoidable and, by extension, retro.

I’m sort of alarmed by this expectation, too, though. I guess it’s good to be able to accept change and such, but I also just sort of expect institutions and things to die, be replaced, or be upgraded. I find myself having bought in to the idea of planned obsolescence, anticipating additional shininess and often wondering how long something or other will last. I’ve often wondered what will kill Facebook, for instance, and I wonder what we’ll use instead of Google in twenty years. As nice as it is to be able to speculate, there’s a certain amount of morbidity to this mindset. Instead of thinking “hey, it’s hot… oh look, ice cream!” I think “Wait.. those aren’t dead yet?” That’s probably not the most fair attitude to have towards venerable institutions, ice cream trucks or otherwise. I can hear one right now, as non-dead as ever.

  1. I think gas prices could kill the ice cream truck, unless they upgrade. It's the perfect candidate for an electric model because it doesn't need to go real fast, so it doesn't need a terribly butch engine.

    But I have a great idea! This is how we can get people to eat better – The Costermobile! Yes, that's right, coster mongering for a brave new world. Refitted electric ice cream trucks, playing "Mary Mary Quite Contrary" ("…how does your garden grow / with silver bells and cockle shells and pretty maids all in a row"), traveling through neighborhoods bringing them locally grown farmers market goods. Oh man, someone has to do this! This is the best idea I've ever had. You could print cooking instructions on little cards to attach to the veg, so people wouldn't be all like, "Kale, what the hell?" And snack packs! For kids! Frozen peas, frozen blueberries, cold carrots and broccoli and berries! Okay, Internets: get this done!

  2. Hm. How about a traveling jamba juice? I used to love the polar ice (frozen lemonade) trucks.

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