Wednesday, February 15, 2012

My Worst Job

I think it was the summer of 1975.  Yes, that feels about right based on the people I was working with and the economic times.  There was a recession on, and jobs were scarce.

Somehow I and a couple of pals ended up working for a guy who had a bunch of ice cream trucks.  I don't recall the name of the business, we all just called it Bomb Pop City. 

The garish, multicolored "Bomb Pop" was supposed to be the signature frozen confectionary of the fleet.
Nasty stuff, I actually ate one once.  Among other aesthetic issues the melting synthetic syrup flowed down the channels between the ridges.  They were messy by design.  We also had conventional popsicles and so forth.  But no ice cream sandwiches, which later caused a minor dust up.

The proprietor of Bomb Pop City was a crook.  He had all of us drivers sign a closely printed contract that made us independent contractors who bought our products from him and drove his trucks.  We were paid part of what we brought in, with a large chunk of our money being held back to successful completion of the entire summer season.  Leave early and say adios to your bonus money.

And a lot of people did just that.  The owner of the business was paranoid and twitchy.  He was said to be using the business to launder money from his real business as a drug dealer.  He was also said to keep a machine gun in his office somewhere.  Sometimes I guess he would just sit in his office and cry for no reason.

Our main source of gossip along these lines was May, his impossibly beautiful secretary.  She was a good person who vaguely disapproved of the shifty goings on, and unwound from the stress of dealing with her boss by going home each night and having a glass of wine and a joint.  There was no romantic attachment going on in the back office.  In fact May eventually took a shine to an implausibly naive and innocent young driver.  She would take him home for several days at a time, returning him tired, stunned but probably incrementally less naive.

We drove a fleet of former US Postal Service mail trucks, repainted white and with lurid pictures of Bomb Pops on the side.  They were outfitted with freezers and with little PA systems that played a continuous loop of gentle jingling music intended to draw in the sugar craving tykes like a magnet. 

In addition to the contract there were various other aspects to the business that smelled funny.  There was one very poor neighborhood in Minneapolis.  Lots of housing projects.  Area 7, as I recall it being designated, was off limits to all other drivers, awaiting the return several weeks late of a legendary driver from previous years.  Lets call him Jim Snark.  Jim would pull in ridiculous amounts of money.  Double what any other driver pulled in.  Of course he was ripping off poor people who had insufficient access to real stores where you could get ice cream much cheaper.  Boss held Mr. Snark up as the ideal driver, chiding us for our lesser take.

May let on that the Boss was sifting through all the coins we hauled in, seperating out the silver.  This was shortly after the transition to the cheap copper sandwich fiat coinage we now use.  Silver coins were much prized, and would be worth even more now.  Tipped off, we drivers started to cull through the day's haul ourselves, replacing all the old silver coins.  Sometimes there would be a whole handful, and we suspected that kids raided dad's sock drawer when they heard the Pied Piper bells of our trucks.

We always got asked if we had ice cream sandwiches.  Well, no we had none, as the Boss did not stock them.  A couple of us renegade drivers figured that, being independent contractors and all, we should just stock a few.  Our own little side line if you will.  And so much better morally and legally than whatever the Boss was selling on the side.

Oh my goodness, the day he found an ice cream sandwich wrapper on the grounds of Bomb Pop City.  He went ballistic. 

Summer wore on.  The sock drawers had been cleansed of loose coin and the weather turned cool and damp.  And there was still a recession on.  So with ice cream sales dropping I quit a few weeks ahead of the date that would get me my bonus money.  Actually I think the official bonus date was September 15th, which would make it impractical for most of the college student drivers.  Gee, I wonder if that was a coincidence.

I thought the contract was a little vague in places, so I eventually contacted the State Labor Department.  They knew the Boss well.  Very well in fact.  In a rare instance of bureaucratic prowess some sort of action was undertaken, and around Christmas I got my bonus check from Bomb Pop City.  I practically burnt rubber driving to the bank to cash it.

The Boss didn't tell us much about himself, and May would only drop a few anecdotes after a drink or two.  But there was a seedy mid 30s mechanic who worked on the trucks.  Nice fella, but I got the distinct impression that he was an ex-con, and that he and the Boss had some, er, institutional acquaintance.

Years later when I was in Med School I happened to read in the paper that the one time Czar of Bomb Pop City had been convicted of counterfeiting twenty dollar bills, and was heading for Federal Prison.

1 comment:

Honeybee said...

I'm trying to think of the exact quote, something like "What doesn't kill us makes us stronger". So it goes with Bomb Pops and bosses with machine guns, I guess. Sounds like an unforgettable summer. P.S. "gybanta" is the word verification of the day. Must be able to use that somewhere...