If you assume that selling ice cream with a pushcart in the Mission District is an easy job, then you are wrong.

The men behind the Mission’s ice cream carts said they need strong feet, patience, a friendly face, and a wary eye to watch for street crime. Oh, and they need sun.

“If there is a sun like today, we go,” said 62-year-old Ramiero Gutierrez as he waited on a recent Wednesday for customers on the corner of Mission and 23rd Streets.

Gutierrez, one of some 30 men working for Oakland’s El Michoacano ice cream supplier, began his day as he usually does at 10:15 a.m. in the supplier’s storehouse at 2342 International Boulevard, Oakland.

In the 2000-square-foot room, dozens of ice cream men moved ice cream bars from three big tanks to the little pushcarts they will walk behind in places like the Mission District and nearby Oakland and Richmond.

Twenty minutes later, Gutierrez and six other men were off to board a van for the Mission.

By 11:15 a.m., Gutierrez had pushed his cart from the Harrison Street drop-off point to 23rd Street, where he began his five-hour circuit.

The Mexican immigrant covers 23rd and 24th Streets, St. Peter’s Catholic School on Florida Street and Cesar Chavez Elementary School on Shotwell Street. But there’s no monopoly in ice cream, so he often shares some of his more lucrative spots with others.

On this particular Wednesday, business for Gutierrez was slow.

After two hours of selling between 23rd and 24th Streets, he had made only three sales.

“Let’s go to the school,” Gutierrez said, rolling his cart toward St. Peter’s Catholic School on Florida Street. Inside the cart, he stores ice cream bars with prices ranging from $1.25 for an eggnog ice cream bar made by Delicias de Michoacán to $2 for a Malt Cup Chocolate under the Blue Bunny brand produced by Wells Diary Inc. Gutierrez also sells Popsicle ice cream from the Good Humor-Breyers Ice Cream Company.

When he stopped at the 24th Street BART station, he met two regulars, chatted with them in Spanish and sold them ice cream.

“They are my customers,” he explained, moving toward St. Peter’s.

When he arrived at about 1:50 p.m., however, one of his buddies was already there.

Later, another ice cream vendor arrived. The latter took the initiative to open the gate where students would exit.

As expected at 2:15 p.m., schoolboys and girls came out from their classes, but they passed right through the three ice cream men without buying a bar.

“Not good,” said Gutierrez, who made $600 a week or $2,400 a month working at a restaurant in the Mission District before being laid off a few years ago. Nowadays, he’s lucky to earn $20 a day or $120 a week. To economize, he moved from the Mission, where two friends shared a $750 a room, to Oakland, where he pays only $100 a month for a shared room.

But, he said, he loves the Mission and on Wednesday when it appeared he would find no customers at St. Peter’s, Gutierrez pushed his cart to Cesar Chavez Elementary School on Shotwell Street.

Standing in front of the school, he and his friend, who arrived later, were luckier.

“Ice cream…” a young girl shouted as she saw the pushcarts.

Both vendors sold to at least six children each.

One young girl wanted an ice cream, but she only had $1 in her hand–25 cents too little for the cheapest bar.

“This is for you,” Gutierrez said while handing the ice cream to the girl.

Gracias,” she said.

In the background, other students begged their mothers to buy ice cream, but failed to convince them.

No matter, Gutierrez moved on to Mission and 23rd streets and ended the day at 24th and Mission Streets where he found four more buyers.

“It is good exercise walking in this area,” he said. “My feet are strong.”

He said that compared to other neighborhoods, the Mission District has been relatively safe for ice cream men.

“In other cities such as Richmond and Oakland, ice cream men feel not safe because they often get robbed,” he said.

Gutierrez said his worst experience in the Mission occurred a year ago when two cars crashed and broke his cart while he was parked on 23rd Street.

He said he avoided 16th and 18th Streets because both have a reputation among ice cream vendors as high-crime areas.

Still, it has been a slow business, said Gutierrez, who has been in the United States for 18 years and is unsure when he will go back to his home country.

At least, said Gutierrez, he has one son who lives in San Francisco. His other three sons and two daughters are back in Mexico.

At 4:15 p.m., he counted his sales—a total of $20 and half of that will to the ice cream supplier.

“Not a good day,” he said. “But it is OK. I did not spend much as I cook at home. Now I have to go home.”

Then he turned and walked down 24th Street, heading toward Harrison Street where a multipurpose van would deliver him back to Oakland.

“Tomorrow might be better. You never know.”

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  1. He’s probably an illegal alien. Where in the article did it say anything about this guy not being on welfare? I would almost guarantee the fact of the matter is he is an independent contractor. He is paid cash which I’m sure he doesn’t claim when he goes to get his AFDC and food stamps. He probably lives with 15 other illegals in Oakland in a small apartment or house and cooks beans in which $2 will feed the whole house. Being from Mexico, he is used to living in such conditions and feels right at home. All the while, the criminal employer of this man gets fat pockets and claims the 1 legal guy he has working on his books who must be a miracle worker pushing about 50 pushcarts around town.

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  2. Jocelyn, you’re so right. Interesting to see how readers take in a story. Thank you, lc, editor.

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  3. Hooray to the ice cream man who instead of opting for welfare sells ice cream and hoping situation will get better. History tells us the economy will get better. And we have to have hope. Meantime, we should cope up with the down slope by changing our way of life. What the ice cream man did-moving to a cheaper apartment, cooking at home are ways and means he is is coping with this darkening economy. We hope this New Year brings in a better economic situation! Shalom.

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