Who doesn't love the ice cream man? Not many people. Which is why Matt Allen is pretty popular, since he is, after all, THE Ice Cream Man. Allen drives around the country handing out free frozen treats - so far his travels have taken him (and his '69 Chevy ice cream truck affectionately named Bessie) from St. Jude Children's Hospital to Bonnaroo to McCarren Park Pool (where he'll be this Sunday). Recently, we asked him what life on the good ship ice cream truck is like...
Photo by Noah Kalina.
You've slung a lot of ice cream around New York, any good stories for us?
Last summer I had planned on spending a week or two in NYC and ended up spending a month. Actually, the best day of my life was in New York last year. It was the day of the first Pool Party at McCarren Pool. We set a record for most free ice creams we’ve given away on one day (over 2000) and rocked out to Les Savy Fav, Beans, Holy Fuck, Dragons of Zynth, and Proton Proton. We couldn’t have asked for a better day and as we were wrapping things up the guys in Holy Fuck told me they were planning on hitting a Broken Social Scene/Metric show in Manhattan and asked if I wanted to come along.
I had been keeping tabs on shows going on around town and hadn’t heard anything about this one. It turns out it was a private party for an international contest for Miller Brewing. There were less than a hundred people there and they were flown in from all over the world for the show. Broken Social Scene started off with a ten minute funk jam and midset I hollered out a request for “It’s All Gonna Break,” my favorite BSS song. Kevin Drew, the front man, thought about it for a sec then said. “well, we’re not really following a setlist” then they rocked an extended version it. After the show a representative for Miller walked around the audience and informed us “you should head upstairs, DJ Premier is spinning” WOW... I couldn’t believe it. Once up there I found I was the only one on the dance floor for a few songs. Eventually some friends and I ran downstairs and convinced a lot of the folks there to head up for a dance party. We danced til three or four in the morning. It was a bit weird the next day looking back on everything and realizing that was the best day of my life.
Is there a favorite frozen treat amongst your patrons?
That’s a tough call. I’d say the most popular is usually the standard Vanilla Ice Cream Sandwich. Sometimes certain items just take off. Yesterday we were at William Morris in Manhattan and five of the first six treats I dished out were Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. I had 48 sandwiches on board but only 12 turtles so I was a bit nervous. It all worked out in the end though and I even stashed a Strawberry Fruit bar for myself, which ended up being my lunch.
We’ve given away over 90,000 free ice creams on our way to half a million. The more ice cream I eat the more I like the simple ones and the fruit bars. Some people don’t think they like the “fruit” bars much but once they have a cantaloupe, pistachio, watermelon or some of the other exotic flavors we’ve been known to carry (cucumber w/ lime, tamarindo w/ chile) they get hooked and then those flavors start flying off the truck.
How much ice cream do you consume a day?
I try to only consume ice cream on days that I’m giving it away. I’d say on average it’s a piece or two when we’re slingin’. When we have a good selection of fruit bars on board, like Fruitiki ones, I’ll eat a few more. I think I set a new personal best while driving Bessie through Yellowstone National Park a few weeks ago. I was filming some bits for an upcoming motion graphics piece we’re doing and ended up eating 7 or 8 different treats over the course of a few hours. I topped it all off with a Pink Panther... yum.
What sort of events will you be at while you're in town?
I know we’re going to be at two or three of the Pool Parties while we’re around. They’re some of my favorite events we do all summer so I’ve been looking forward to them for a while. Especially since a lot of bands I really like are playing; Superchunk, Illinois, Man Man, and Octopus Project to name a few.
I think we’re gonna try to hit up the New Pornographers/Midlake show on July 4th at Battery Park. If I can get Bessie, the ice cream truck, fixed up today there’s a slight chance we’ll hit up Manu Chao tonight. I’m not sure what we’ll be doing on 7/7 but there’s a ton of stuff happening (Live Earth, Cinematic Orchestra at Summer Stage, and Boredoms 77 drummers).
If anyone has any ideas of places we should stop by while around, email me at matt (a) icecreamman dot com and we’ll see if we can work it out. A couple weeks ago we did an ice cream social at St. Jude Children’s Hospital in Memphis and I’d love to do something like that again around New York.
I’m really curious to check out the Brooklyn Superhero Supply Company so maybe we’ll roll by there. Levi’s is our main sponsor. They make it possible for us to drive around the country and give away ice cream so we’ll stop by the Levi’s Store and their showroom while in town to give away a bunch of ice cream.
Are you doing any collaborating with the www.songsforicecreamtrucks.com?
I found out about Michael Hearst and Songs for Ice Cream Trucks around a year and a half ago via myspace. Since then we’ve kept in touch and we try to do as much as possible together. Yesterday Michael accompanied me to William Morris. While I was giving away ice cream he played ice cream truck music on his melodica in the background. It really helped set the mood and his ice cream truck music makes people smile.
We’re gonna be doing some filming around town with Michael as well. I’m not even sure what it will consists of outside of rocking Songs from Ice Cream Trucks from Bessie and giving away free ice cream.
Tell us your playlist while driving your truck around New York.
Most of the time if I’m driving around giving away ice cream I play Songs for Ice Cream Trucks. I used to have a CD I bought off eBay years ago but it was just one guy on a synthesizer and there wasn’t much soul. Michaels music is perfect for trucks and the horn speakers that it gets played out of.
We recently did some work with Warner Brothers and White Stripes and we debuted tracks off the new White Stripes album “Icky Thump” while giving away free ice cream in custom White Stripes boxes at Coachella, Sasquatch Festival, and Bonnaroo.
Which New Yorker do you most admire?
Oooh... that’s tough to say. We gave away ice cream backstage at Bonnaroo a couple weeks ago and I was a little star struck when Jim Jarmusch came by the truck for a Mayfield Brown Cow ice cream bar. I guess I expect to see rockstars back there but not someone like Jim Jarmusch. He’s responsible for one of my favorite film moments involving ice cream. It’s the scene from Down By Law when John Lurie, Tom Waits, and Roberto Benigni are all in jail chanting “I Scream, You Scream, We ALL Scream for Ice Cream!”
Do you have a favorite New York celebrity sighting or encounter?
I just met Marty Markowitz while at the Pool Party last weekend and that was pretty cool. He told me about an Ice Cream Lady in Brooklyn that I should meet, Maria Campanella. She drives her truck around selling ice cream but also does a bunch of other great stuff. According to this page I found on Kingsborough Alumni (http://www.kbcc.cuny.edu/sub-support_kcc/alumni_success.html) she does a toy drive for kids, hands out yellow ribbons for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and she’s even saved an elderly man’s life by administering CPR after she saw him collapse on the sidewalk. I’m going to try to call her today and see if we can meet sometime while in town. People like Maria help inspire me and those are the type of people I want to know and work with.
Would you rather serve up some free ice cream at a Yankees or Mets game?
Lou Gehrig is probably my favorite baseball player of all time. When I was younger I was a Yankees fan but nowadays I find myself rooting for the underdog more often. I think Yankee Stadium is a bit more classic and iconic though so, if I were to give away free cream, I think that’s where I’d choose.