The first summer I spent in New York, I was distressed to find that in a sticky hot city that concerns itself with sugar and fast food, a DQ was nowhere to be found. How had this oversight been made? Even Shanghai, the city I had just moved from, a place where the most beloved ice cream flavor is red bean, had one. Dairy Queen was the one thing I loved that I thought I would have no matter where I moved in North America: summer nostalgia on demand and a socially-acceptable means of eating both a candy bar and an ice cream in one sitting, with that classic long red spoon.
I'm as much of a self-proclaimed chain store-disdainer as the next Brooklyn-identifying cosmopolite. I will risk caffeine headaches over allowing my misspelled name to graffiti the side of a Starbucks cup, and I have only once bought anything at Walmart (that time in the Poconos with my friend Dottie's aunt—the memory foam pillows were $19.99, who wouldn't?).
And so I tried, I really tried, to support the small guy. Mister Softee had an undeniable charm. I lined up, braving small children, carbon monoxide asphyxiation, and the risks that came with having that song stuck in my head the rest of the afternoon. And while I’m sure he’s crammed his way into the memories of generations of diabetic children with his colored sprinkles and siamese-twin towers of soft serve, let’s face it, that ice cream is just weird. It doesn’t melt; it foams.
Then Van Leeuwen’s opened up on East 7th Street and things were really looking up, until I actually went there. $8.50 for a chocolate milkshake? Enough said. And don’t even try to bring up the 50,000 frozen yogurt stations, clinically displaying an unhygienic buffet of toppings that attempt to disguise the fact that this dessert is…. two words… “non fat”. Gross.
In the end, however, I’ll blame the nostalgia for my fixation on Dairy Queen (by the way I don’t go along with this new “DQ” branding. I am a purist: a plain vanilla cone kind of purist). There's something about the image of the old drive-up Dairy Queens with bulbous Chevrolet Bel Airs and (later) puke green Dodge Darts pulled up out front that makes me want to be part of that metal past.
Before long, every road trip out of state became a mission of shame, seeking Formica and the non-organic, non-local, non-artisanal soft serve product. I went to those states more fortunate, I traveled down and then up the Jersey Shore in a rental car. With every fast food roadside beacon my heart would jump a little until the red D and Q would come into focus.
But everything turned out to be a false lead. The DQs in New Jersey were a seasonal, fickle animal, closed after Labor Day. I slammed my hand against the dashboard, cursing this land that could not bear to eat something cold in the winter. Down around Maryland, a Radio Shack employee told me I was out of luck and out of season. He directed me to a Dumser's, which was everything DQ wished it could be. And yet.
So this month, we will reunite at last in Union Square, where I'll be first on line for a Blizzard.
Amber Scorah is a writer from Vancouver, Canada. She spent six years in Taipei and Shanghai, where she was creator and host of the podcast Dear Amber: The Insider’s Guide to Everything China, about life as a foreigner in mainland China. Amber now lives and writes in New York City. Follow her on Twitter here.