Predator with a Popsicle? Our Crazy Fear of The Ice Cream Man

As I wrote drtindetde
in this month’s Reason Magazine

We All Scream for the Ice Cream Man’s Head

The idea that ice cream men cruise around looking for victims is simply an urban myth.

Paul DiMarco has been selling ice cream in Poughkeepsie, New York, for two decades. He owns a fleet of trucks. When one mom confided to him, “You gotta be careful because there’s a lot of pedophiles in this world,” he recalls replying, “That attitude falls into the same category as ‘All black people that drive Cadillacs are pimps,’ and ‘All clowns kill little kids.'”

Of course, some real-life ice cream men do have soft-serve for brains. There were the guys in Bensonhurst, Brooklyn, who sold weed from their truck. Elsewhere in New York, an ice cream guy named Kenneth Leiton was busted in 2009 for selling pills and coke; cops caught him when he was dumb enough to park the truck in front of his dealer’s house. In Philadelphia in 2011, an ice cream truck was spotted weaving through the streets. Its operator was found guilty of driving drunk, and in his freezer authorities found not only ice cream novelties but a couple of bottles of his frozen pee. (In his defense, I’ve read it’s hard to find a bathroom while on the job.)

And yes, even the classic nightmare scenario has happened: An ice cream man in upstate New York was found guilty of violating a 9-year-old in his truck in 2004. The incident inspired a state law making it a misdemeanor for a sex offender to operate an ice cream truck. The New York State Senate is now considering bumping that up to a Class D felony.

But hard cases make bad law, and this is no exception. There are more than 700 Mister Softee trucks alone in 15 states, and that’s not counting all the other brands. A predator or two, a gaggle of drug dealers, and a horror movie—1995’s “The Ice Cream Man” didn’t do the industry any favors—do not an entire profession dishonor.

Fear of ice cream peddlers points to a larger problem few parents want to admit to: our collective mistrust of any man who chooses to work with kids.

Read the rest of my piece here! And then send your kid out for a dip cone!- L.


GO AWAY, YOU CREEPY CHILD MOLESTER! (But first could you add some sprinkles?) 


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34 Responses to Predator with a Popsicle? Our Crazy Fear of The Ice Cream Man

  1. M June 15, 2017 at 10:10 am #

    People like to be afraid of something they think they can avoid, i.e. ice cream trucks. They don’t want to face the reality that the molester will most likely be someone they trust, like a family member, boyfriend or girlfriend, close family friend, day care worker, teacher, etc.

  2. Coasterfreak June 15, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    I used to dread hearing the ice cream truck driving around our neighborhood because I knew it meant the kids were going to come running to me for money. Then we moved to a new neighborhood, and I haven’t seen or heard an ice cream truck in over 12 years. I miss it. In fact, there are times when I wish an ice cream truck would drive by so I could get some for myself!

  3. Helen Armstrong June 15, 2017 at 10:56 am #

    Excellent point, M. I, personally, love ice cream trucks, especially the music they play to attract attention – it really brings back good childhood memories for me. I would hate to see children being denied that pleasure because of their parents’ paranoia/fear about men selling ice cream to kids.

  4. WendyW June 15, 2017 at 11:54 am #

    Apparently this particular fear has not reached my town. There is currently a discussion on the community FB page with parents begging the local ice cream truck to please come to their neighborhood.

  5. James Pollock June 15, 2017 at 11:57 am #

    If you want to buy overpriced frozen treats, your local 7-11 will be happy to accommodate you. AND they’re there when you decide you want one, not when they feel like driving through your neighborhood, AND they won’t play “Turkey in the Straw” on endless repeat for 2 or 3 hours.

    I get that people have happy memories of buying the ice-cream right off the truck, right in the neighborhood. I get that, to a 5-year-old, it actually tastes better than the exact same frozen novelty treat bought from the supermarket for 1/3 the price.

    But MY happy childhood memories involve making ice-cream in the backyard or on grandma’s porch. You can buy a machine now that will do all the cranking for you, you don’t even have to do it by hand.

  6. John B. June 15, 2017 at 12:00 pm #

    Years ago, I saw a funny comic in the local newspaper featuring two young boys hiding behind a building as the “liver and onions” truck made its way thru their neighborhood….LOL.

  7. John B. June 15, 2017 at 12:03 pm #

    Damn, that ice cream cone in the picture looks soooo good!!

  8. AmyP June 15, 2017 at 12:11 pm #

    I do see plenty of ice cream trucks and the kids go running up to them so don’t think predator paranoia has hit my area in that regards, but this reminds me of something. When I was a kid (I’m in my early thirties) we would get scoops of ice cream on a cone. Nowadays, my kids can only get frozen popcicyles in a wrapper. I’m not sure if this is a sign of the times or just particular to my area (being from a military family my early childhood days were spent in Europe and I live in the southern US now). It’s not a huge deal, but it kind of makes me sad in the same way kids can only get wrapped candy for Halloween and not homemade goodies.

  9. Michael Blackwood June 15, 2017 at 12:18 pm #

    I remember when many people, including teachers, didn’t trust men who wanted to teach elementary school. Their motives were considered suspect. Some administrators refused to hire men in those roles. One told a friend of mine that there were no coaching positions in elementary school and asked why he sought a position there. (That goes to another bias and stereotype. In my defense I’m a former teacher and prone to digression.)

  10. Coasterfreak June 15, 2017 at 12:23 pm #

    I considered starting an ice cream truck business in my area since it seems to be an untapped market. I would be tempted to use Van Halen’s song, “Ice Cream Man,” just to be goofy, but I fear that would only serve to fuel the paranoia. 🙂 LOL

    The truck that used to go through my area when I was a kid didn’t play a song, it just had a bell that dinged every several seconds. I think that’s much more tolerable than the cruddy music the trucks play these days.

  11. K June 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    I have nothing but fond memories of the ice cream truck, particularly the Choco Taco. But I admit that when my son was younger, we let him believe that it was a “music truck,” and he still thinks that’s all it is. He’s 3 now, and I can’t imagine the delusion will last through the summer, but every time we hear the truck go by and all he wants to do is listen to the music, my husband and I think, “How long will we get away with this?”

    I never even knew there was predator paranoia surrounding ice cream trucks, although I know plenty of people who suspect they only stay in business by selling drugs on the side – a thought even I’ve had when the ice cream truck drives through my neighborhood in November!

  12. Another Katie June 15, 2017 at 1:28 pm #

    I cringe a little when I hear the ice cream truck – because I never seem to have cash in my purse for the kids to go get an ice cream. Gotta keep a $20 on the mantel or something so that they can have the fun of going and getting a nice treat.

    Around here you can hire ice cream trucks to come to private events – birthday parties, sports team celebrations, etc. It’s always a huge hit with kids (and adults).

  13. Jessica June 15, 2017 at 2:07 pm #

    My mother, who is a social worker and also of an older generation, has always embodied this fundamental mistrust of men around children. I worked in a daycare for a while, and their (absurd) rule was that the male employee could not change diapers. When I expressed how absurd that policy was, my mom responded by interrogating me about WHY a 20-year-old man would WANT to work in a daycare. I tried to explain that, for minimum wage, it was much more pleasant than roofing houses or loading trucks. But the attitude that “any male who tolerates children must want to molest them” is very deep-seated.

  14. Jessica June 15, 2017 at 2:09 pm #

    That is an excellent point. You can’t prevent your child from attending school, or having friends who have fathers, but you can keep them “safe” by avoiding the ice cream truck.

  15. Beth June 15, 2017 at 2:23 pm #

    Oh good, James arrived early to tell us why anyone who likes the ice cream truck is stupid.

  16. James Pollock June 15, 2017 at 2:55 pm #

    “James arrived early to tell us why anyone who likes the ice cream truck is stupid.”

    Oh, look, Beth showed up for the sole purpose of bitching about something I said. (AGAIN)
    And, for good measure, ignores what I said and instead complains about something I didn’t say.

    Here’s the deal, Beth. I didn’t say “anyone who likes the ice cream truck is stupid”. I said “anyone who likes the ice cream truck has happy memories involving ice cream trucks”. Now, I didn’t come right out and say it, but I thought it was implied, I don’t have happy memories involving ice cream trucks. I then identified the actual source of my own happy childhood memories. The point you were supposed to come away with is that you can make your own happy memories, and happy childhood memories for your children, and you don’t have to wait around for someone else to deliver them. You somehow came away with something different… almost as if you WANTED to come away with something different.

    But while I’m calling you on this particular case, in which I did not call anyone stupid, if you’d like to go on (and I KNOW you’d like to go on), you may go ahead and pretend that I said that you, specifically, are stupid. Imagine some other personal insults, if you wish. Just leave everyone else out of it, OK?

  17. DrTorch June 15, 2017 at 3:20 pm #

    Did you really use “Mister Softee” as your example!? Seriously? Pfft.

  18. Derek W Logue of June 15, 2017 at 4:06 pm #

    Well, some states have taken it further, banning registrants from any food truck or moving van.

    There should be a law automatically giving SSI to registrants since we’re not allowed to work at growing numbers of jobs.

  19. Garfield Pennington June 15, 2017 at 5:26 pm #

    I strongly concur with the stance that you are taking here. While we must be sure there are reasonable safeguards for our children the notion of having our children and youth grow up fearful of all strangers creates a culture that is wrong-minded and ultimately harmful to those we are intent on protecting. Trust rather than fear must be the values that we foster in our young people. Again, it goes back to the question of what kind of society we wish to promote. We need to look more closely at some of the myths that over-govern our kids’ lives.

  20. David N. Brown June 15, 2017 at 5:36 pm #

    I’ve noticed a lot of what gets cited as signs of deviants, slavers, Satanists and such can be accounted for as prosaic drug-related activity. It would be disconcertingly reasonable for the drug rings to create or promote these stories themselves, though that would PROBABLY be giving them more credit than they deserve.

  21. Peter June 15, 2017 at 5:42 pm #

    You can buy a machine now that will do all the cranking for you, you don’t even have to do it by hand.

    Didn’t anybody ever tell you that cranking builds character?


  22. Donald June 15, 2017 at 6:03 pm #

    Some of my fondest memories of my childhood were the ice cream man. It wasn’t only a treat, it was my first experience with commerce, counting money, and receiving change.

  23. Donald June 15, 2017 at 6:29 pm #

    @James. You brought this on yourself. I know that you didn’t say, “anyone who likes the ice cream truck is stupid”. Nevertheless, you criticise so often that many people mistakenly believe a harmless comment from you to be criticism.

  24. BL June 15, 2017 at 6:31 pm #

    “Didn’t anybody ever tell you that cranking builds character?”

    Yeah, but what kind of character? A cranky character?

  25. Roger the Shrubber June 15, 2017 at 6:32 pm #

    None of my happy memories involve reading JP’s comments.

  26. MR June 15, 2017 at 6:35 pm #

    We LOVE the ice cream truck. Where we live it is too cold for about 9 months of the year and our summer vacation from school is only 2 months here, so when it finally becomes warm enough we are all excited to hear that music. Summer to me is running around the neighbourhood barefoot to find where the music is coming from and to pick a tasty treat. I try to keep some money in the house just for that purpose for our kids, but with 5 kids and the exorbitant costs of the ice cream I have to have at least $20! Luckily we only catch him 2-3 times a year so it is worth it to see how excited my kids are! It never even crossed my mind to be suspicious of the driver!

  27. Abigail Hakala June 15, 2017 at 9:27 pm #

    James, just own that you are occasionally a fun sponge. Like you take the fun out of some light hearted banter. I still read your entire post because I value your input occasionally as well.

    Today – fun sponge.

  28. Dingbat June 15, 2017 at 9:45 pm #

    I’ve never lived in a place with an ice cream man. 🙁 I’ll continue to live, though.

    I don’t know how we get off this hell ride of parental hysteria. It’s been a giant, out of control, snowball for so long. It will never end as long as particular groups keep pushing and promoting fear and hatred of men.

  29. Puzzled June 15, 2017 at 10:23 pm #

    James, I’m pretty sure it does taste better than what you get at 7-11. The sequence is – beach ice cream seller, then truck, then store-bought. And there’s a reason. The 7-11 tends to have stock longer, with people opening and closing the doors (if you’re lucky – sometimes they open but don’t close) leading to crystals. The trucks move stock quickly and are handled by a person with a vested interest in closing the door right away – and who, through familiarity, can find things quickly. Then there’s the trucks that actually have soft-serve, my favorites.

  30. JTW June 15, 2017 at 11:46 pm #

    Ice cream men are trying to lure children into temptation, the temptation of buying sweet tasty ice cream.
    Can’t have that…

  31. shdd June 16, 2017 at 8:02 am #

    The ice cream man used to come right up to our condo pool. Everyone would run over get their treat and then socialize before heading back into the water. He hasn’t come in several years probably makes more money and the larger pools but we enjoyed it while it lasted.

    I did buy the ice cream for my daughter. Her only job was to take her trash and anyone else who asked her to the garbage bin. This summer part of her job as a CIT, is picking up trash and she is fast and does it with a smile.

  32. DrTorch June 16, 2017 at 2:11 pm #

    How much of this can be traced back to awful poetry by E. E. Cummings?

  33. Art June 18, 2017 at 11:29 am #

    The truck that goes through our neighborhood plays Christmas music. Yay…I guess :-/

    Nothing like “Here Comes Santa Claus” when it’s 100 degrees.

  34. C June 21, 2017 at 8:21 pm #

    I remember the days when kids could be kids, they could play outside, walk to their friends, ride bikes outside and around, run to get ice cream from the ice cream truck. It is a shame that everyone wants to live in fear for their kids, yes you should watch them, yes you should teach them, and yes there are bad people in the world, and there are drug dealers, child molesters, killers, and more, but this is life and we need to learn how to live it not fear it.