Decoder Ring

Decoder Ring: Ice-Cream Truck

 A creamy, dreamy summer treat, with a side of slashed tires.

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Episode Notes

A pink ice cream truck careening off a hill.
Illustration by Benjamin Frisch

Decoder Ring is a podcast about cracking cultural mysteries. Every month, host Willa Paskin takes on a cultural question, object, idea, or habit and speaks with experts, historians, and obsessives to try to figure out where it comes from, what it means, and why it matters.

Why is the ice-cream truck business so bananas? On this episode of Decoder Ring, we find out via three separate stories of the strange world of ice-cream trucks. Our first stop is in Suzhou, China, where their first-ever ice-cream trucks only arrived there in the mid-2000s, imported by Turner Sparks, an American whose experience in Suzhou revolutionized ice cream in China. Then we stop in midtown Manhattan to examine the ongoing ice-cream wars between Mister Softee and New York Ice Cream. Our last stop is in Brooklyn, with Maria Campanella, the “Ice Cream Girl,” whose story gets at the rewarding and tolling emotional life of an ice-cream seller.

Links and further reading on some of the things we discussed on the show:

Turner Sparks’ official site
Vintage Mister Softee commercials on YouTube
Maria Campanella, the “Ice Cream Girl,” on Facebook
Andy Newman’s reporting in the New York Times


This episode was written by Willa Paskin and edited and produced by Benjamin Frisch.


About the Show

In each episode, host Willa Paskin takes a cultural question, object, or habit; examines its history; and tries to figure out what it means and why it matters.

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