In the summer of 1965, having just graduated high school, I needed a summer job. Somehow, I found one driving an ice cream truck for the Judy Ann Company, on Bloomingdale Road, right behind the old, and now greatly missed, Farmer's Market in Bethpage.
People asked me how I could drive a truck and be a peddler without a peddler's permit when I was only 17 years old. I didn't much care. I had a job. The boss, Benny, told me it was OK and he would get the permit one of these days, but I could still drive for now.
Our trucks were not state-of-the-art, even for 1965. They were mostly 1948 or so with what amounted to iceboxes on the back of a pickup truck.
Ice cream had to be stored in the walk-in freezer at night and the trucks then were hooked up to be cooled down. In the morning, I would reload all the ice cream into the truck, which, once it was unplugged, would start to warm up, and, of course, ice cream would melt. By the late afternoon, I hoped to have run out of the pops and Creamsicles so that people could buy the items they ate with those wonderful little wooden spoons.
Driving the trucks was an adventure. I say trucks because I rarely had one truck stay in service for more than a few days. I remember breaking down and looking for a pay phone to call for help. I had to try to find a phone that was in sight of my truck so I could be ready to stop anyone who might decide to help themselves to my goods.
Help for the truck usually involved a mechanic my own age. In fact, we went to high school together, though I'm not sure he graduated. He would cheerfully show up with another truck and tow me back to the shop with a rope. A day later and my truck would be sitting untouched while he was installing a 389 engine into his '57 Pontiac.
I clearly remember him "road testing" his Pontiac on Bloomingdale Road. Since road testing for a 17-year-old meant trying to burn rubber, I'm sure the neighbors were not too happy.
When the truck was running, I was on my route from 10 a.m. until 8 p.m. every day. The trucks were stick shifts with no power steering. The cab was open to the weather, and we never even thought about air conditioning. There was no white uniform and not even a cap, but I did have to wear a white jacket. And, don't forget that while driving at about 5-10 mph. I had to manually pull the string to constantly ring the row of bells that were hung on top of the windshield while shifting, steering and watching and listening for children.
The trucks were painted with a Betty-Boop-like cartoonish little girl with the name Judy Ann spelled out in large letters. I remember driving through neighborhoods with the older children yelling and singing, "Judy Ann the garbage can." Apparently, these things are passed down from older brothers and sisters and never go away.
I was paid a flat commission on the ice cream sold, minus anything that was missing. Missing usually meant eaten. I still love ice cream. I never figured out if Benny at least gave me commission on the missing ice cream. I also accepted Benny's explanation that all the visitors he had were salesman and vendors. I always took home $20-$25 per week. Benny paid cash and did not worry much about things like withholding or taxes.
I couldn't understand why Benny wouldn't give me the route that included Roosevelt Raceway. On that route the driver (another guy from my high school) made about $100 a week. In 1985, when I saw that driver at our 20th high school reunion, he told me that he was running numbers for Benny and that's why he had the raceway route.
Near the end of that summer, my wonderful mom got me a real job working at ShopRite for $1.25 an hour. A week after I left Judy Ann, Mom showed me a newspaper article. My old boss, Benny, had been arrested for trying to bribe a Nassau police lieutenant. [A September 1967 Newsday story reported that Benny was convicted of attempting to pay a $200 bribe to the officer to change evidence against him in a gambling case.] Apparently, the ice cream business was a front for some other operations. Not exactly the greatest first job of a lifetime, but certainly one of the most memorable.
Paying true attention to fitness
I thought my seventh- through ninth-grade gym teacher at North Babylon Junior-Senior High School was a mean, unbalanced woman. She'd routinely assemble us en masse to stand at rigid attention for her 45-minute diatribes of what was wrong with society and how it was our generation's fault.
This was 1963 to 1966, and we 12- to 15-year-olds just took her abuse like robots. Or perhaps not; I, for one, started rebelling by cutting gym class. Aside from circumnavigating her, I lopped physical exertion out of my life.
Fast-forward to my late 20s. My husband and I joined a gym and, for the first time ever, I earnestly began exercising. I discovered the joys of a fit body. We even quit smoking cigarettes and started running.
I am so grateful for this one particular awakening. In my younger years, I felt powerless and at the mercy of strong forces. I did not realize the power one person truly possesses, all within him or herself.
You can reshape your life by first taking hold of your physical self. What you put in your body, you marry. Eat bad foods, and poor nutrition will erode your foundation. Indulge in too many excesses, and you'll fall off a cliff. Avoid physical exertion, and your body will become weak and immobile. Surround yourself with thoughts of lack and anger, and these same things will be exhibited throughout your life.
It's taken me a lifetime to learn the above. Now, I am 61 and wonder what the future will hold for me. Will I age gracefully? Will my body continue to be my ace in the hole? Will I always be able to do the early-May Long Island Half Marathon at practically the drop of a hat?
Maybe that gym teacher did me a favor. I didn't burn out young. She initially caused me to bolt, but I turned myself back on again when I was ready and able to make positive changes in my life.
--Gail Boyd, Eastport