Saturday, August 6, 2016

My Own Personal "Pokémon Go": What I've Been Searching For This Summer

I have not downloaded Pokémon Go. I have not played it. I have not located Pokémon, or captured one, or trained one or battled one. 

I have, however, spent hours upon hours this summer exploring the city -- not for virtual pocket monsters from Japan, but rather for something else entirely, something not quite as obvious.

Pictures of ice pops.

It began with an idea for this blog. The backstory: It was a typically warm summer day in New York City, and I was in the mood for an ice pop. But not just any ice pop. I was in the mood for a red, white and blue ice pop. You're undoubtedly familiar with this ice pop. It's a staple of virtually every ice cream truck. It's cool, it's colorful, it's patriotic. It's the quintessential frozen American treat.

Fortunately, I live in a city where ice pops are easily accessible this time of year. Walk no more than 10 blocks in Manhattan, and you're sure to find an ice cream truck parked on a corner.

Allow me to repeat myself, for emphasis: You can walk to an ice cream truck here. When I was a kid, I'd have to run for my ice pop. I would hear the ice cream truck jingle from inside my home, and I would have a Pavlovian response -- I would drool, bolt out the door, chase after the truck and bark. "Stop! Please stop! I have loose change in my pocket and am willing to spend it all!" More often than not, I'd fail to catch up, and I'd have to turn around, sans ice pop, as the music faded in the distance.

But here, the trucks wait for you. They're stationary. I don't need to run. Or bark. This is what makes New York so great.

So, I wanted a red, white and blue ice pop. I casually strolled a couple of blocks, taking my sweet time, and, sure enough, there was an ice cream truck. I surveyed its menu. I was specifically looking for the Rocket pop. I was pretty sure that was what it was called. That's how I remembered it from my childhood. It is shaped like a rocket.

But I didn't see a Rocket pop on the menu. I did see this:

The Firecracker. It was shaped like a Rocket pop. It shared the same colors as a Rocket pop. But it wasn't a Rocket pop.

I better not risk it, I thought to myself. I needed the real deal.

I searched for another ice cream truck. Ten minutes later, I located one. It was selling this:

The Firecracker Jr. The son of the ice pop I'd been introduced to just moments earlier. Somehow separated from one another. They were clearly related: same pointy head, same ridged surface, same height, practically. The resemblance was uncanny.

I moved on. Eight blocks later, another truck, and another variation on the red, white and blue ice pop. It was called, strangely enough, Red, White & Blue:

It didn't look like a rocket at all. It looked more like a low-calorie barbershop pole.

Feeling a little frustrated and impatient, I decided to hunt for the Rocket pop in Central Park. Central Park is the epicenter of ice pops and ice cream bars in New York City. It's teeming with ice cream carts. There are more ice cream carts than trees in Central Park. Surely, I'd find a Rocket pop there.

I found this instead:

The Bullet/Firecracker/Red, White & Blue. I'd never come across a frozen dessert more unsure of itself than this one. It was suffering from a major identity crisis.

By this point, I'd lost interest in eating a Rocket pop. I was far more interested in tracking down other variations of the red, white and blue ice pop. This would be my own personal Pokémon Go. There would be no app or GPS tracker. I would just have a vision, persistence, and way too much time on my hands.

For weeks, I eagerly examined the menus of every ice cream truck and cart I passed. Along the way, I discovered the Bomb Pop:

The Cyclone:

And, finally, the Turbo Rocket:

That's seven different names for a red, white and blue ice pop -- not counting the plain-old, non-turbo Rocket pop from my youth, which I never did find. Sean Combs has never had so many names.

The idea for the blog was to share pictures of all of these red, white and blue ice pops and add my own dry commentary on how absurd it is that there are so many of them. You may have noticed that I did snap photos, and that some of them are slightly out of focus, or were taken from a distance or at an awkward angle. There's a reason.

I was nervous.

I was reluctant to hold my phone in the air, in plain sight of ice cream vendors, and photograph their menus. I couldn't shake this feeling that they would be unhappy if I took a picture without giving them money and making a purchase. Like an Elmo in Times Square.

I tried to be as discreet as I could. I'd wait until the vendor was looking the other way, or waiting on a customer, or was otherwise distracted. There were several close calls. My heart raced each time. There's no way I could ever take photos of ice cream menus professionally.

The last photo in this post, of the Turbo Rocket, is courtesy of an ice cream truck near Central Park. I'd taken it while the vendor was busy with work inside the vehicle. I walked away, proud of myself for having successfully collected yet another red, white and blue ice pop pic with my phone's camera. I was 20 feet from the truck when I turned my head around. Why I did this, I have no idea. But I noticed that the vendor was now sticking her head outside of the truck window. She was staring right in my direction, with an agitated look on her face.

I whipped my head back around and picked up the pace. I was rattled, but it was OK. I'd captured one final photo of a red, white and blue ice pop on my phone. I'd caught them all.

UPDATE: One month after publishing this post, I found a new red, white and blue ice pop: the Mega Missile. Maybe I haven't caught them all.