An Ice Cream Quest

IMG_0429Khristopher J. Brooks Ben & Jerry’s employee Bernice Wooden hands out a scoop of Maple Blondie

For days I had been trying to track it down — a large truck with Ben & Jerry’s employees passing out free ice cream. It had been driving around Manhattan aimlessly since June 16 and would leave July 29. I was determined to find it.

I don’t eat most sweets and desserts. Pies, cakes, doughnuts and candy bars taste like a mound of sugar when they hit my tongue. But I fold for Ben & Jerry’s ice cream, especially Strawberry Cheesecake and Willie Nelson’s Country Peach Cobbler.

And so, I went looking around Manhattan for this truck, hoping that the Ben & Jerry’s crew would give me a scoop.

But there was a problem. The truck was part of a special promotion designed to expose New Yorkers to the company’s newer flavors. The truck had no pre-determined stops; it spent most of its time going wherever New Yorkers tweeted for it to be. Taking the subway to catch the truck would have been a sucker’s game.

After some strategic phone calls and e-mails, I caught up with the truck at Pride Fest.

IMG_0475Khristopher J. Brooks After six minutes, a 15-foot line.

The truck had been open six minutes and there was already a 15-foot line. When I walked over, I was greeted by Dan Bookmiller, the truck’s promoter, a younger guy wearing a sky blue Ben & Jerry’s t-shirt

“It doesn’t take much coaxing to get people free ice cream,” Mr. Bookmiller said. “Usually when I’m out here doing promoting, I have to yell and I’m projecting. Here, I’m actually trying to be quiet.”

I waited patiently and eventually got to the front of the line, where a woman in sunglasses handed me a tiny cup. “We have Late Night Snack here,” she said.

Late Night Snack is a new flavor inspired by talk show host Jimmy Fallon. It’s vanilla bean ice cream with a salty caramel swirl and fudge-covered potato chip clusters. When I put it to my mouth, it tasted like very sweet French vanilla with Whoopers candy chunks.

I finished the ice cream and threw the cup away. After that, Terrance Kelly, the truck’s manager, stepped out the truck to chat with me. He was a nice guy from Queens who spent last month on the truck in Miami. While we talked, Mr. Bookmiller, the promoter, stepped inside the truck to scoop ice cream.

Mr. Kelly made it a point to tell me that this truck tour was not a Ben & Jerry’s new flavor experiment.

“Many believe we’re out here using people as our guinea pigs, but these flavors are already out there — in stores, in major distribution centers,” Mr. Kelly said. “We’re just out here sharing love through ice cream.”

IMG_0467Khristopher J. Brooks Sampling the truck’s wares.

The conversation was brief and informational. I shook Mr. Kelly’s hand and thanked him for his time. He went back into the truck as I let the idea of ice cream love swirl around in my head. When I finished, I noticed that the line in front of the truck had doubled in size and the temperature was heating up. Sweat beads formed on my forehead. I moved under a large tree, but no relief. I ducked inside a nearby restaurant, but that didn’t help either.

It was just as warm inside the truck, where Mr. Bookmiller and Mr. Kelly scooped ice cream and discussed ingredients.

“I noticed there’s no nuts in any of these,” Mr. Bookmiller said.

“No nuts at all,” Mr. Kelly said.

“Was that done on purpose?”

“Yeah. Last year we had ones with nuts in there, but people with allergies —”

“Yeah, you would think people would look out for themselves, but apparently not,” Mr. Bookmiller said.

Inside the truck looked like a hollowed-out UPS delivery truck with a giant silver freezer in the middle. The freezer held boxes of Ben & Jerry’s ice cream. On top there was a bag full of plastic spoons and a stack of empty cups.

Mr. Bookmiller and Mr. Kelly scooped ice cream into cups and placed them onto a serving tray. The serving tray was then passed to the woman outside with customers.

IMG_0399Khristopher J. Brooks A quest fulfilled.

Wiping my forehead, I stepped out of the truck and the lady handing out ice cream gave me another cup. She said it was Maple Blondie.

Maple Blondie, which was inspired by Olympic medalist Hannah Teter, is maple-flavored ice cream with blonde brownie chunks and maple caramel swirls. My scoop, which didn’t have brownies in it, tasted like sugary butter pecan.

To avoid a sugar overdose, I decided I had enough ice cream for one day, so I waved goodbye to Mr. Bookmiller and Mr. Kelly. I walked away and saw that there were even more people standing in line. The long line reminded me of another line that formed for strawberry ice cream during New York University’s Strawberry Festival last month.

At that moment, I learned something revealing about humanity: Whether it’s a familiar flavor they love or something new that they might not even like, people will wait in line for free ice cream.

The Ben & Jerry’s truck rolls now until July 29. Today it will be at a bakery in Yonkers.