Jessica Leigh Hester is a former senior associate editor at CityLab, covering environment and culture. Her work also appears in the New Yorker, The Atlantic, New York Times, Modern Farmer, Village Voice, Slate, BBC, NPR, and other outlets.
Hot days are the worst.
Name: Teddy Athas
Occupation: Driver of a Mister Softee truck
City: Brooklyn, NY
Teddy Athas is running late. It’s 7:30 on a balmy May evening—still light out, and 72 degrees—and every time he tries to steer his ice cream truck down the street, more families jog up to the window. According to his route schedule, he’s supposed to be many avenues away by now. (He’s followed the same route each summer for 12 years, looping through South Brooklyn from noon until nearly midnight.) The telltale jingle draws families up the block, and he sticks around just a little longer, doling out his top seller, vanilla custard with rainbow sprinkles. He answered CityLab’s questions while he handed out a few more cones.
This is a pretty iconic seasonal job. What attracted you to this kind of work? Do you just really love ice cream?
No, I’m lactose intolerant, actually. But this is a family business, and a bunch of friends of mine do it, too.
What do you do for the rest of the year?
Work-wise? Not much. We start driving around late April and go until the end of the summer. But I make enough money doing this that I don’t have to work for the rest of the year.
Tell us what you love about this job.
I like serving people. I’m good with people. It’s a fun job.
What’s tough about this gig?
It’s hard to maintain the vehicle. I buy a new engine almost every other year. I don’t really keep track of how much it costs, but it’s a lot. Plus, I have to pay for gas. The truck has two tanks, so that’s the expensive part. And we get evaluated by the health department, so we have to keep everything really clean and up to date.
Give us an example of a bad work day.
On really hot days, the generator in the back—it works off of diesel—can overheat. It happens. Not so much anymore. It hasn’t happened in years. But when it does, everything’s garbage.