At 2:30 on Tuesday afternoon at Dan & Whit’s in downtown Norwich, VT, Jonathan Teller-Elsberg was at the window to protect his streak. For the past four years -- or is it three? -- he has been the first customer for soft serv ice cream. He gripped his twist cone with jimmies the way Sam Snead told Arnold Palmer to hold a golf club: like it was a live bird.
He found out that May 1 was opening day from the sandwich board in front of the store. As he worked his way through his favorite frozen confection in the region, a friend asked him if he would be able to work anymore that day.
He responded in the negative, and added, “And I don’t care!”
The person in charge of the ice cream machine offered a tour of the basement facilities. He had helped get everything set up for day one, from cones to cups, spoons, and napkins. Last summer, he trained with a maestro on the finer points of twisting. He did it for many days, moving cones and dishes all around, until he liked the end result. Whoo! “It’s pretty easy after a while,” he adds, with genuine humility. “The dish is harder than the cone, because it is so much wider.” His data may not be pure, but he thinks that chocolate with jimmies in a cone is the most popular order.
A ringing cowbell interrupts the tour, and he bounds up the stairs for the season’s second order.
The customer zeroes in on the minutiae of the ice cream window, pointing at the weight that prevents the paper napkins from blowing away, asking “Does anyone know what’s in the can?”
It is a mystery can. Peas and carrots? Cranberry sauce? Cut green beans? Something to ponder in between licks.
Another adult strides up, bellowing “This mean spring is here?” his optimism as welcome as a daffodil.
Cone in hand, he laughs, “Don’t take a picture of me! Told my wife I came to Dan & Whit’s to get a rake and then she sees me eating ice cream!”
There are signs of preparation everywhere. Jersey barriers have been moved out into the parking spaces, a wake of winter’s dust behind them. Orange plastic cones — how appropriate! — are out. Child safety is part of the plan.
Once the clock hits 3:10, grown-up time expires and children race out of school under sunny skies with only one thing on the mind. The first breathless youth arrives, hooting “It’s a good day! It’s a hot day!” His friend asks, “Do you guys have like large?”
The worker bee is up and down the stairs, giving people happiness they haven’t had in a few seasons. “With sprinkles please!” one youth yells down the stairs, eager to stave off disappointment.
In full sprint, a girl arrives, panting. Ice cream.
Faster than one can say “fee-bee!” a line forms. Just as quickly, people seek shortcuts. “Devin, am I your friend?” a girl asks, looking to jump the queue. Surrounded by his male compatriots, he demurs.
One wonders if, maybe, they will eventually marry.
Moms and dads accompany their offspring, and laughter cascades over the line, like “Flight of the Bumblebee” on a xylophone.
In an honorable but fruitless effort, a mother says to her two children, “You guys are sharing one.”
“I want the same as my brother,” a five year old exclaims. Other children profess not to know what they will order once it is their turn, but no one blinks under pressure. “One vanilla cone, please,” they say, making the community proud with their manners.
An authority figure -- the school principal himself! -- arrives. “You don’t mind if I go to the front of the line do you?” he asks the assembled masses. Shrieks of protest ensue.
A woman wonders if this is the longest line all year in Norwich. To pass the time, she practices math with her kids. “If we all get one, how much would it cost? And what if I don’t get one?” Later, cone in hand, she comments, “This might be my favorite day of the year. Other than Christmas.”
Children describe the experience as “The best ice cream I’ve tasted this year in 2018,” “refreshing,” and “delicious.”
The first rainbow jimmies are ground into the sidewalk in what will become a Jackson Pollack-esque tableau by mid-summer.
By 4:00, the crowd has abated. Our heroic server notes, “That was an insane line.”
His remuneration? “Seven bucks.” Good tips for an hour. A broad smile.
As some quiet returns to the area, the words of Teller-Elsberg hang in the air:
“It never tastes as good as the first.”
Note: This is the sixth in a series of stories about Dan & Whit's. Previous stories are available here.