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The Box Trucks of Spring

Spring is here, and the box trucks are cautiously emerging from their winter quarters, ready for another hot summer.

The first harbinger in our neighborhood was the salsa truck, an elusive nocturnal vehicle that arrived in late February. I have never actually seen a salsa truck, but you can hear them whenever they pass within ten blocks or so, delivering salsa music to those unlucky neighborhoods that can't blare it on their own radios like our downstairs neighbors do.

The salsa truck on is easy to identify late at night, with its distinctive, maddeningly unsyncopated BOOM-BOOM-BOOM two-note bass line. If you are very lucky, and your neighborhood is unusually quiet, the salsa truck may even come pay you a visit some night, stationing itself under a window until your salsa-depleted apartment fills with joyful music.

Next to arrive was the close diurnal cousin of the salsa truck, the ice cream truck, which showed up some two weeks ago playing its soft ice cream jingle. Our own neighborhood is a little rough, so it attracts an armored subspecies of the ice cream truck with slits for windows and a high maximum speed, distorting the Mister Softee ice cream song with high Doppler effect.

The ice cream truck remind me of the street bagpipers I encountered when I first moved to Edinburgh. The first time I heard a piper play "Scotland the Brave", I had a sentimental "aye, truly I am living in Scotland now" moment; the second time was amusing and fun, but somewhere between the fifth and four-hundred-and-forty-seventh time I began to develop a burning hatred towards the bekilted musicians, and a new understanding of why they carried a big knife in their sock.

Now after two weeks of ice cream jingle, I'm starting to feel the same way about ice cream trucks, and understand why the ones in our neighborhood look so bulletproof, and go so fast.

There was talk last summer about Mayor Bloomberg's efforts to replace the ice cream jingle with a little bell, but it's not clear whether this will happen now that all the Mayor's energies are focused on building a west side stadium. But I am more interested in that article's mention of a rare tropical box truck, the taco truck, which I would be delighted to see but which perhaps has not yet returned from its wintering grounds in Mexico.

The latest box truck hatch happened just a couple of days ago, as I was sitting drinking a beer outside a Greenpoint bar. I was trying to switch off the Polish parser in my brain so I could ignore the argument at the next table (two guys disagreeing about how boat anchors work, two girls entering their twenty-third consecutive minute of silence) when suddenly there roared past a little white box truck with the words "MOBILE WASH UNIT" stenciled on its side in blue block letters.

A moment later there was another one, followed quickly by three more, this time racing down a different side road. They were all unmarked save for the "MOBILE WASH UNIT" stencil; white box trucks with a kind of rotating chimney vent on top and a grim-looking, black-uniformed driver. Over the course of half an hour, more and more of these shot out into the dark city, popping out like bees from a hive on their mysterious, mobile, hygienic mission.

It must be spring cleaning time for the black helicopters.

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