By MARTHA SMITH
Special to the Standard
NORTH KINGSTOWN – The 1973 three-quarter ton Chevy P-20 truck is just the same as when it rolled off the assembly line. It has 357,000 miles and only two people have owned it.
Of course, none of this matters to the legions who clamor at the side window when the van rolls up playing the theme from “The Entertainer.” From the smallest toddler to the giddiest bride to the most dedicated construction worker, they all share one thing in common.
This is Jack’s Ice Cream truck, a musical purveyor of summertime happiness.
Jack McGarry, of the famous Providence restaurant family – the downtown eatery was renowned for its lime rickeys – has been in the rolling fun business 27 years, moving here to the Hamilton area a half-dozen years ago. At one time he had 11 trucks on the road.
“I worked Silver Lake for 20 years,” he notes. “I started with some kids then had the next generation. I became part of the neighborhood.”
One thing that makes Jack’s operation special is the enormous realm of possibilities when ordering a frosty treat. “I carry 70 things; most others have 20 or 25. I want to offer more than the other guys do, to be better than the next fellow.”
By far his most enthusiastic patrons are pre-schoolers whom he visits at daycare centers and nursery schools. For their benefit, he keeps a list of dollar-and-under specials displayed close to the ground “for the little kids to see.” Included are are the always-popular Hoodsie cups plus popsicles and ice cream sticks with packaging displaying likenesses of Spongebob, Tweety, Ironman, Bratz and the Powerpuff Girls.
“The kids made up their own names,” he says, laughing. A Pink Panther bar, for instances, becomes a “pink doggie”; a Hoodsie cup is “the round brown one.” A little boy asked for a “world pop” because its green-and-blue color reminded him of the globe.
Jack, who is 58 with a prodigious beard he’s been sporting for the last 32 years, is prone to wearing a T-shirt, shorts, socks, sneakers and a floppy chef’s hat decorated with dog pawprints.
“I could cook at 14-15 years old,” he says. Later, he worked at the Brown University book store as an assistant textbook buyer until he became fed up with the revolving door of management.
“I had four bosses in five years,” he explains. “I kept training bosses.”
One day he saw an ad for an ice cream truck and, $300 later, was sealed. It was covered with sprinkles.
“I learned the business from a soft-serve guy,” he says, noting that, in the mid-90s, he stopped driving through neighbors because the cost of gas and sugar went up.
“I could see everything changing.”
Jack thought outside the popsicle box and began marketing to a specialized clientèle including birthday parties, corporate events, employee appreciation days, daycare centers, nursery schools, weddings, showers and even factory shift changes.
Recently he appeared at an open house at the Pet Refuge on Stony Lane and, soon after, provided goodies for a wedding at the Towers in Narragansett.
“I like to be where people want me,” he observes.
One place he’s popular is the third shift he visits regularly. “I like to do that shift because they feel forgotten. I’ll go at 2 or 3 a.m.”
He also has a regular client in Shawmut Construction whose owner pays for ice cream for entire crews working on projects.
His bill of fare runs from the simple dollar specials for the pint-size set to the more exotic for the high-end offerings preferred at corporate get-togethers: hot fudge, turtles and choco tacos – priced at $2.50.
His personal favorite: chocolate eclair which is vanilla and chocolate ice cream with crumbled cake on the outside.
“I eat ice cream every day,” he says.
Ice cream season runs from April 1 to Nov. 1 after which Jack works at Lupo’s, the Providence nightspot, setting up equipment for musicians. He and his wife, Carrie Jacobson, also enjoy traveling.
While he doesn’t carry soft-serve, Jack is definitely a soft touch. Recently two little girls appeared at his door wanting ice cream but lacking funds. They left with what amounted to frozen memories, treats dispensed on the honor system.
The next day a note, with currency, was left: “We’re sorry we did not have money yesterday.”
Call him sentimental, but Jack keeps all the hundreds of notes he receives.
“They’re very touching,” he says. He is also a local celebrity when going about his errands.
“Little kids tug on my shirt in the market and say ‘Hi, Jack!’”
His motto is something we all might take to heart: “I never rush anyone. I want everyone to feel special.”
Martha Smith is an award-winning journalist and author. Retired, she is an independent contractor for SRIN and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org