I Scream, You Scream, But At Least We Have Ice Cream

I find humanity in the Andy’s Frozen Custard drive-thru.

Frozen custard occupies a special place in the fast food hierarchy. It is not a McDonald’s, scarfed down for speed and convenience and, above all else, for the fries. It is not a Subway, where we feel some degree of control and personalization over the available toppings. This is mine and it has everything I like, we think as we dismiss the fact that there are only two cucumber slices and it would be nice to have more, but now someone is squirting mustard and ooh that’s too much but there’s no turning back.

Andy’s is different. People go through the frozen custard drive-thru under the guise of convenience, but mostly to remain undetected and safe in an enclosed space where no one can see that they’re alone and eating a giant plastic container filled with what some might deem an unnecessary indulgence. To walk away from the please-order-here window and back to the car with a single cone or sundae is much bolder than remaining inside, where there is time to deliberate, a window to roll up and a cupholder to stash the container inside. The only interaction is between you and the cashier, who has seen isolated ice cream eaters before. It is safer to speak the childish menu item name with your foot on the brake. To let the halting be significant. To intentionally pass over a penny that is heads up, in case someone else needs the luck, and to drive away quickly while pretending the flush in your cheeks is solely due to the change in temperature from the open window.

There is humanity in the Andy’s Frozen Custard drive-thru because it is filled with remnants of pain. Middle-aged men somberly scooping mouthfuls of sundaes from behind their steering wheels, the sweetness in their mouths relieving work woes or family feuds or, perhaps temporarily, mid-life crises. College-aged women, who wear Greek letters, playing with their spoons. They watch as ice cream drips off the white plastic and onto their shirts, the stains hanging on until there are enough quarters to have a laundry day. Elderly women offering licks to their dogs and then tasting from the same cone, their love matured past concerns of germs yet reduced to a primal bond over food.

In the solitary dining sessions, there are seldom smiles. These are also quicker. The task of eating can only linger so long when the only thoughts to distract you are your own.

There is humanity in the Andy’s Frozen Custard drive-thru because it is mostly filled with solitary people, many of whom could be sitting alone at a bar. Sitting in a car offers a semblance of privacy that doesn’t exist in a bar, where the mulling and sipping seems stereotypical and expected. Andy’s is a secret tradition, one disguised to housemates with blasé, “I’m just going to the store,” or “I have an errand to run. I’ll be right back.” And the moment, even if tinged with embarrassment, is yours.

Happy Andy’s exists, yes, but Andy’s as a celebration treat still has the slightest flavor of a pain just passed. You made it through that mind-numbing test. You turned in a huge paper. You got a job!

You made it through today.

My sadness tastes like cookie dough frozen custard. This is not a terrible thing. It could be copper or salt water. A bland lump that can’t be swallowed. Blood. An insincere kiss.

After I order, I park and idle, but I can’t turn off my thoughts. Instead, inside of the other cars, I find slices of souls hidden in the empty gazes we wear as daily defense masks.

I am reminded of humanity in the coldness we consume to numb the aches. I am reminded when I see that, within minivans and sedans, the ways we cope are similar. I am reminded that I am not the only one who will scrape the sides of my plastic container and ingest bite after bite of cookie dough custard heartache.

I scrape, scrape, scrape until the taste is gone. Until nothing is there.