Monday, September 8, 2008

It Ain't Your Mother's Ice Cream Parlor anymore...

This column originally appeared in the Sun Chronicle on August 30th, 2008.

I made a big mistake last weekend. I volunteered to go out and get ice cream for the family.

This used to be a fairly simple task. You took the family order for ice cream or sundaes and made the trip to your local ice cream parlor. The most complicated part was remembering who wanted whipped cream and who didn’t.

But today things have changed. It is no longer enough to have a plain old hot fudge sundae or a simple shake. And the old-fashioned ice cream parlor has given way to a virtual ice cream assembly line, where strange and unusual concoctions are slapped together before your very eyes.

My wife’s new favorite ice cream palace is in the new Mansfield Crossing mall. Whenever I announce my travel plans might take me within a five-mile radius of this devilishly addictive place, my wife’s eyes light up the way they did for me many, many years ago.

But a trip to this ice cream nirvana is not an easy journey for this old-fashioned husband. You don’t just go to a window and order. The process is much more lengthy and involved, lacking only a credit check.

First, you stand in a line to get to a long counter. While standing you get to view the large wall signs that display the many offerings available for your gluttonous pleasure. And through the glass counter you can view the tubs of ice cream, complete with flavor names designed to confuse small minds such as my own.

In addition to the usual and boring chocolate and vanilla flavors, you get to choose from flavors like Cake Batter, Cheesecake, Sweet Cream and Cookie Dough. And then there is Orange Dreamsicle, Caramel Latte, Green Apple Gummy Bear and other varieties my tired eyes were too exhausted to peruse.

The wall also boasts of the signature choices, special products with catchy names. You can order a “Cookie Doughn’t You Want Some”, a “Strawberry Blonde”, or the Hollywood-inspired “The Pie Who Loved Me”.

When you order your ice cream selection, the young people behind the counter go into interrogation mode. What do you want with your ice cream? Would you like chocolate chips, or M & M’s, or Rainbow Sprinkles? How about raspberries, pineapple, or apple pie filling? Would you care for some Almond Joy, Black Licorice, or Malted Milk Balls mixed with your ice cream?

That’s right, I said mixed. Not only can you get these additional elements added on top of your dessert, you can get them chopped and mixed into your ice cream with near-surgical precision.

Using large metal shovel-looking devices, the employees slice your ice cream more than they scoop it. It is rolled and spread on a counter. Then all these extra choices are mixed in and rolled into a giant ice cream ball, and placed into either a large waffle cone bowl or a more standard dish.

But even the dishes are complicated. I discovered I could not ask for a small, medium or large. Rather I am forced to choose from one of their custom sizes known as “Like It”, “Love It”, and the overwhelming “Gotta Have it”. I admit to being uncomfortable ordering an ice cream and telling them to make it a “Love It”.

Once I finally get my ice creams and move down the line to the register, yet another surprise awaits. As I paid my bill, I saw a jar for tips. I dropped a dollar in the jar, and began to walk away.

I stopped when I heard someone yell, “Hey guys, we got a tip. How about a song?”

In a moment the entire working crew behind the counter began chanting a clever (if somewhat unenthusiastic) little jingle about their ice cream and service. I paused to listen, somehow feeling obligated since my unwitting donation had started this whole thing. Then I smiled politely, and made a break for the car and a clean getaway.

The things I do for my wife. I’m just too good to her.

Of course, I did eat my entire sundae. I forget what it was called. But believe me, I earned it.

Bill Gouveia is a local columnist who has clearly enjoyed far too many ice creams. His column appears every Saturday, and he can be reached at

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