Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Good Humor Divides Scottsdale

Alright, I already told you mine (see above), now you choose your preferred headline for today’s post:

Scottsdale Ends Ice Cream Freeze-out!
Kid Knocks Council Out Cold!
Teen Licks City Hall, Claims ‘Tastes like Maple Walnut’

The headlines may be fictional, but the inspiration for them isn’t, as our neighbors over in Scottsdale can attest.  

You might say it has churned up some controversy.    

Alright, forget about the bad puns.  The fuss has to do with the Scottsdale city council’s decision to allow ice cream trucks, which had been banned by the city since the seventies, to once again ply their wares on residential streets.  Children all over the city broke into spontaneous rejoicing at the announcement, although many of them didn’t know exactly what they were cheering for, having grown up without the merry, jingling vehicles that tend to pass by their houses just in time to ruin their appetite for dinner, but were instead cheering the general concept of ice cream, and expressing their enthusiastic approbation for anything that might make it easier to get some.* 

*For all those poor, deprived kids in Scottsdale, I have provided a link to the Wikipedia page for ‘ice cream truck,’ which gives a comprehensive description of the vehicle as well as a general overview of the service the operators provide.

Who is it that all those children, not to mention all those other people who are just too lazy to drive to the corner to buy their Choco-Tacos, have to thank for this remarkable reversal of fortune?  The unlikely hero (or villain, depending) is an 18-year-old high school senior by the even unlikelier name of Leo Blavins.  Almost two years ago, Mr. Blavins bought an ice cream truck for the purpose of starting a business, only to discover that the reason he thought it was such a good business opportunity – namely, the conspicuous lack of ice creams trucks in the area – was not due to some oversight on the part of hapless fellow entrepreneurs, but because the practice had been prohibited by city ordinance long before he was born.  While most of us, especially at the tender age of sixteen, would have frozen up in the face of such obvious futility and focused instead on turning our ice cream trucks into supreme-mega-ultra party vans in time for prom, Mr. Blavins chose to challenge the status quo.  It only took eighteen months, but last week’s announcement means he will at last be allowed to realize his greatest dream, which, if it were me, would be to drive up to the steps of city hall in said ice cream truck, hand out complimentary fudge pops to the recalcitrant members of the city government, and tell them to stick it where the sun don’t shine. 

But, perhaps Mr. Blavins isn’t as vindictive as I am.

That’s why they have to be fudge pops.

In an ironic twist of fate, Mr. Blavins doesn’t even own his ice cream truck any more, having sold it so that he can go off to college in the fall, presumably as a professor of economics, or perhaps political science.  And so, as often happens in situations like this, it will be Mr. Blavins’ successors who reap the benefits of his pioneering efforts to stand up against such ugly and virulent discrimination.  In some ways, it parallels the story of Jackie Robinson in the recent film 42.  Except that instead of a black man standing up against the racial prejudices of a nation while holding nothing more than a baseball bat, it’s a white kid in a privileged town waving a Tweety Bar. 

As hard as it may be for anyone not living in Scottsdale to believe, opposition to lifting the ban ran strong.   At the city council’s public hearing, people stepped forward to express seemingly unappeasable concerns at the prospect of ice cream trucks returning to the city’s streets.  Some were worried that these ‘so-called ice cream vendors' would, in reality, turn out to be nothing more than drug dealers offering convenient curbside delivery.  One elderly man in the crowd cautioned the council to “remember the Red Scare,” which may have referred either to a communist plot or to Red Dye #2, or both, which he claimed was the real reason behind the ban forty years before.  Another man, this one much younger, rose up and stated that “while I have nothing against capitalism generally, or even kids, the prospect of hearing ‘The Entertainer’ played incessantly every day is more than anyone should have to bear.”

By and large, though, the most vocal opposition came from those who were worried about the safety of the children in their community.  “Our kids aren’t used to these kinds of vehicles in our neighborhoods,” said a woman who identified herself only as Midge.  “Most people think the problem is that children might run out into the streets and get hit by speeding cars.  But our kids are used to cars speeding on our residential streets; my real concern is that they will chase after the ice cream trucks and, not knowing how slowly they go, run right into the back of them before they can stop themselves.”  Then she paused briefly, as if seeing potential tragedy unfolding in her mind’s eye, before concluding somberly, “And we all know that when a car and a child collide, the child never wins.”

City officials were quick to reassure opponents of the ban-lifting plan.  Exorbitant application fees and excessively high insurance coverage requirements would be implemented to make sure only wealthy, preferably non-immigrant persons can afford the licenses required to do business in the city.  Strict background checks are planned to make sure that workers have a clean record, and ice cream truck operators will have to comply with all food-safety and food-handling regulations, especially the one that says you can’t scoop or serve the ice cream with your toes.  And, in response to Midge’s heartfelt concern, all ice cream trucks will have to post another yellow sign on the sides and back which says, “Warning:  truck moves very slowly.  Please adjust your approach angle and velocity accordingly.”

The city council feels it did everything it could to meet the concerns of its citizens, with even councilman Guy Phillips, one of two members who opposed elimination of the ice cream truck ban, grudgingly admitting, “It’s probably easier to purchase a gun than get an ice cream truck in Scottsdale.”  Mr. Blavins, who happened to overhear Mr. Phillips’ comments, was visibly struck by his words, as if by inspiration.  “I can’t say much right now,” he told our reporter, who was really only there in the hopes of there being free ice cream, “but why not have something like an ice cream truck business, except instead of ice cream, we sell guns and ammo out of the truck?  Wow, I can’t believe I didn’t think of this sooner.”  Mr. Blavins then pulled out his smart phone, saying he needed to contact his patent attorney immediately.  He was last heard speaking into his phone and saying, “And so much less bureaucratic red tape to deal with!  Somebody’s gonna make a fortune with this!” 

Despite the council’s recent actions, Scottsdale’s reputation for going to extraordinary lengths to protect the safety and well-being of its youngest and most vulnerable citizens is well known.  The Institute for the Complete and Insurmountable Protection of Children, a Washington-based think-tank, recently gave the city a B+ in its most recent review, the highest grade it’s ever given.  How the lifting of the ice cream truck ban may affect the city’s rating remains to be seen.  However, the city still has several other well-known bans in place that makes Scottsdale “as safe a place for kids to live as can be found in this great country of ours,” according to a city development board publicity pamphlet.  It goes on to say, “The only place safer than Scottsdale might be a hole in the ground.”

Here are some of the more surprising bans focusing on child safety we found in our thorough review of the city’s ordinances:

Kites.   Many people don’t realize this, but Scottsdale was the first city in the country to ban kites in 1966.  The city was thoroughly alarmed to discover the growing threat posed by kite-eating trees, as famously illustrated by Charlie Brown’s recurring encounters in the comic strip Peanuts.  “The feeling amongst the community at the time was that kite-eating trees might become too accustomed to the presence of children and turn into kid-eating trees,” recalled Etuncia Lopez, a neighborhood activist who, as a child, was involved in generating support for the proposed ban.  “Some people felt that kite-eating was merely a ploy on the tree’s part, luring the children up into the trees after their kites, and then swallowing the pobrecitos ninos (poor children) whole.”  Prior to banning kites, the city attempted to outlaw the kite-eating trees themselves, but horticultural experts were unable to identify the exact species type based on existing evidence, which consisted only of several rather crude drawings of a single-trunked tree with a bushy but very generic canopy of leaves, and, in some instances, a smile.

Repeated requests to Mr. Schulz, the cartoonist responsible for Peanuts, for a more detailed picture, or even a thorough verbal description, went unheeded, and the artist passed away in 2000.  In response, the council felt it had no choice but to ban kites instead, in the hopes of stemming the tree’s spread beyond its traditional range.  “I think it worthy of noting that, to this very day, we have never had a confirmed report of a kite(or kid)-eating tree within city limits,” said former assistant city manager Jerry Knowles.  “Not one.  I, for one, sleep better at night because of that.”

Small, furry animals.  The sharp rise in child abductions in the 1980’s led the city to ban all types of small, furry animals.  “Think about it,” Cliff Hendershaw, a Scottsdale resident who spoke at a public hearing on the proposed ordinance said, “If you want a kid to get into a car with a strange man, a small, furry animal is your best bet.  In fact, I’ve tried many different things; candy, toys, credit cards, and the one thing I can say kids respond to every time are small, furry animals.  Bunnies, kittens, puppies, and for some reason, especially ferrets.”  Mr. Hendershaw was immediately handcuffed and hustled off to jail, but the council took his advice anyway and passed the ban. 

Balls.   Rubber bouncing balls have the distinction of being the very first thing to be banned by the city council.   In fact, some city historians believe that the initial motivation to incorporate came because early residents were so adamantly against balls of any sort.  “The idea that they might be able to actually outlaw balls, instead of merely verbally discouraging their use, which was all they could do at the time, was what sparked the idea of becoming a city,” historian H.I. McDunnough claims.  “The act of incorporation provided the legal apparatus by which they were able to implement their goal of establishing a pure, ball-free community.”  Mr. McDunnough goes on to say, “Interestingly, the original intent of the city fathers was a full ban on balls of any variety or type; however, the golf and tennis lobbies exerted a powerful influence, even in those early days, and so the ordinance was gradually modified and narrowed until it reached the rubber-and-plastic bouncing ball ban familiar to Scottsdale residents today.” 

Some may see this ordinance as unfairly penalizing children, but Mr. McDunnough defends the reasoning behind the ban, saying the actual intent was to protect children.  “The folks in what was to become Scottsdale recognized one indisputable fact early on:  balls attract kids.  For instance, if you put a ball somewhere, say in your yard, or driveway, or on your roof, you’ll find that sooner or later a kid is sure to come along and kick it, or bounce it, or throw it, or in some other way try to play with it.  And once a kid starts playing with a ball, where does it end?  Well, those old-timers knew exactly where it would end:  in tragedy. Why, in my research I remember reading an op-ed from back when they were debating this issue.  It said, and I’m quoting here: ‘The child who has been mesmerized by the innate appeal of the ball will end up trampled by horses, or impaled on a cactus, or a fate worse than that.  Why, what is a ball anyway but an orb of mayhem and death; a round, colorful, bouncy pied piper, leading our innocent children heedlessly to their premature demise.’  Nowadays, ‘course, the dangers are even greater, what with the cars, and Fed Ex vans, and riding lawn mowers tearing through our neighborhoods.  No, our city fathers saw early on that you could have balls, or kids, but not both.  They chose to ban the balls, and keep the kids, ’though it was a nip-and-tuck vote.”

So, rest assured, people of Scottsdale.  Although you have sacrificed a small bit of security for an even smaller, but tastier, bit of freedom, many substantial protections for your children remain firmly in place.    

And for those of you out there looking for the safest possible place to raise your kids, you could do worse than Scottsdale, Arizona, where even the ice cream isn’t above suspicion. 

But if you happen to see Leo’s ice cream truck roaming the streets of your neighborhood, please don’t be afraid.  Go ahead, try it.  Live a little.  But, please, for the sake of the rest of us, visit the website at and look at the menu first.  Nothing’s worse than the person who takes forever deciding which frozen treat to order. There oughta be a law…

No comments:

Post a Comment