The roaring 1 train clanging along elevated tracks, booming car stereos, the humming, hissing Bx7 bus. These are some of the sounds pedestrians traversing West 231st Street and Broadway know quite well.
The Mister Softee jingle, however — that indelible tune of summer that for some evokes keen childhood memories — probably isn’t the first thing that comes to mind.
But on warm days the truck’s often there, on the southwest corner right next to the subway stairs, between lunchtime and suppertime. Yet, the music is all but impossible to hear, because the driver — who identifies himself as Victor Emmanuel — plays it at a volume even the sharpest listeners, amidst the din, might not notice without standing inches from the truck, ears perked.
Beloved by some, the famous jingle also apparently is the chagrin of many a Kingsbridge resident.
Parts of the neighborhood — including the Bailey and Fort Independence playgrounds, as well as Van Cortlandt Park South near Hillman, Saxon and Orloff avenues — are among the city’s top areas for noise complaints about ice cream truck songs, according to a report from Localize.city, a website that analyzes neighborhood data.
Kingsbridge residents filed 92 noise complaints to the city’s environmental protection department over 37 days in the year leading up to July 30, putting the neighborhood third behind only Captain Tilly Park in Jamaica and the area around Union Square and Madison Square parks in Manhattan, said Amy Zimmer, Localize.city’s head of content strategy.
In Kingsbridge, most complaints came — not surprisingly — during warmer months on weekend afternoons.
Complaints primarily clustered around parks and playgrounds. Drivers “know that the kids are there,” Zimmer said. “Once they hear that song, they’ll ask for ice cream.”
The city’s noise code prohibits food-vending vehicles from playing jingles while stationary. But enforcement can be difficult since trucks travel from neighborhood to neighborhood, so DEP works with the consumer affairs department to remind the vendors they license their responsibility under noise rules.
Still, lax enforcement remains a problem amidst a sea of noise complaints, where Mister Softee’s jingle is just one of many, said Alan Fierstein, president of Manhattan-based noise consultancy Acoustilog.
“For sound like that, if it’s plainly audible, the inspector can write a violation,” Fierstein said. “Stop it at the source.”
Emmanuel knows he’s breaking the law by playing the jingle while parked, and he’s happy to shut it off once someone complains. But he’s far from alone.
On warm school days, an ice cream truck parked right outside her Van Cortlandt Park South office is a familiar sight to Christina Taylor, executive director of Friends of Van Cortlandt Park.
“It can be rather annoying,” Taylor said. “This year seemed better, but for the last few years, there were plenty of days where it played that song over and over for what felt like forever. I understand they play it to get kids’ attention, but it often made it impossible for me to concentrate on my work.”
Sara Kempton, who lives in the Amalgamated on Van Cortlandt Park South, said that although the music from her local Mister Softee truck isn’t particularly loud, the driver leaves it on the whole time he’s parked, even after attracting a line of customers.
Emmanuel, meanwhile, claims he hasn’t been the source of too much ire, with only a couple of residents complaining to him about his truck’s music in the three months he’s been driving. Most residents he encounters, however, don’t seem to be too perturbed by the jingle. In fact, for quite a few, it elicits fond memories.
Aisha Ramos bought daughter Charlisse a rainbow sprinkled cone at Emmanuel’s truck last Friday. The jingle never irked her.
“I grew up with the music,” she said.
It’s not troublesome to Yonkers resident Sandy Victorio either. “When I hear it, it makes me want to get more.”
DEP has its own enforcement officers, but from time to time police from the 50th Precinct address ice cream truck-related noise complaints when they’re not tied up fighting other crime, Deputy Inspector Terence O’Toole said. But it’s also important to note most mobile ice cream vendors are like anybody else in Kingsbridge, O’Toole added — hard-working women and men hustling to make ends meet.
“Usually (the trucks) are operated by immigrant businessmen and women trying to provide for their own children,” he said. “When we encounter them, we ensure the licenses and permits are valid and that they are operating safely.
“There are some people in every precinct that hate the Mister Softee truck, for whatever reason,” O’Toole added. “I like them to park in a legal parking space and vend safely. However, sometimes they don’t follow that advice.”
Peter Bouziotis, Mister Softee’s Bronx distributor overseeing the company’s territories in the borough, urges his drivers to abide by city noise regulations — namely, don’t blare the jingle when the truck’s stopped. Ultimately, however, he can’t control what each of the company’s roughly 200 drivers do — including one found last weekend at West 238th Street near Bailey Avenue blasting the jingle while serving customers.
While the music box on Mister Softee trucks has a delay that can be set to prevent the jingle from playing constantly, there’s no mechanism to actually prevent it from playing when the truck stops.
All trucks are individually owned and franchised, said James Conway, Mister Softee’s vice president. While drivers aren’t direct employees of the company, they’re all made aware of the noise code.
Plenty of Mister Softee imitators also don’t follow the rules, Bouziotis said, but his company still takes the blame, since residents often refer to any ice cream truck as “Mister Softee” since the brand is so well recognized.
But ultimately, the game is customer service, and the goal is to sell ice cream.
“We’re not out there to upset our customers,” Bouziotis said.
And that’s certainly not Emmanuel’s intention. He has big dreams of saving up for a truck of his own, eventually passing it on to his kids — a son, 21, who actually drives his own route, as well as a 17-year-old daughter about to start college.
“There’s money in it,” Emmanuel said, “if you’re an owner.”
Until then, he promises he’ll turn down the volume if anyone’s bothered.
“It’s Mister Softee,” Emmanuel said. “It’s not like I’m blasting my music, like some kids blasting their stereos.”