Music lures customers, jogs memories


Ice cream truck tunes are the soundtrack of summer :::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::::

Summer means the music of the ice cream trucks will be filling city and suburban streets.

It's 12:52 p.m., and Willie Gosheh is running late. Rumbling north along Cicero Avenue in a truck crammed with ice cream bars and Dreamsicles, he hopes to fill up the gas tank, drive to West Garfield Park and flip on the music-all within the next eight minutes.

"I teach my customers to be out by 1 [p.m.] every day," Gosheh says.

The music, a clangorous collection of calliope chimes, heralds his arrival, attracting customers like a Pavlov's doggie dinner bell. And though the electronic music box attached to the dashboard features 32 different songs-from "Turkey in the Straw" to "Happy Birthday"-Gosheh sticks with "two or three-people know my sound," he says with the pride of a hip-hop DJ.

The music plays a big part in the competitive world of ice cream sales. The songs, like the calls of certain birds, announce a truck's presence and help drivers establish their turf.

In competitive areas, people associate certain songs with certain trucks. "People know the truck they want from the sound," says Suliman Tarawneh, who has driven a truck around the West Side for about five years.

Though Tarawneh plays a more varied selection, his clear favorite is what he calls "The Hello Song," which begins with the cheery greeting before bouncy siren beeps take over.

Sitting in his soft-serve truck, painted with a giant green Incredible Hulk, Tarawneh blasts a little concert over the parking lot at Pars Ice Cream Co., 4825 W. Arthington St.

Rows of boxy white trucks, 80 in all, fill the lot at Pars-Grand Central Station for Chicago's ice cream trucks. In the garage, Aniceto Ron works to get the fleet ready. It is his job to equip the trucks with music boxes and speakers.

He keeps a few dozen music boxes on a shelf in a back room of the garage. In an age of digital iPods, the boxes are charmingly low-tech: one dial for the tune, one for volume and an on/off switch.

"Most of [the songs] we use are in the public domain-songs that were written, for the most part, in the late 1800s," says Mark Nichols. He owns Nichols Electronics, the Minnesota company that supplies the boxes to Pars.

Copyright restrictions limit the musical choices. Disney tunes, for example, are off limits. So, most ice cream trucks play older, traditional tunes-the kind that people recognize but can't quite identify. Even so, the songs lodge themselves into memory.

"It's a city sound," says Mike Brown, 55, a bookseller who lives in Albany Park but grew up in the Back of the Yards. "I can still remember from when I was a kid the old Mister Softee truck-and that was 40 years ago." Michael Morain, Medill News Service


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