Ramiro Gutierrez Ortiz is one of the many paleteros – ice cream sellers – in the Mission District, but few have probably been doing it as long – 12 years.
Ortiz, 75, lives in public housing in Alameda, but says he prefers working in the Mission.
“It’s dangerous over there, I’ve been assaulted and robbed,” Ortiz said in Spanish.
He mostly walks Valencia, Mission, and 24th streets as well as dropping in on the local parks.
On Wednesday, Ortiz was at the Mission Playground sitting on a bench and chatting with a fellow paletero.
Ortiz spent much of his life working in restaurants, but eventually reached an age where he could no longer keep up with the demand for fast-paced work. Pushing the ice cream cart at his own pace has suited him.
But not as safe as he thought.
While pushing his cart down Mission Street last June, Ortiz passed a worker on a ladder putting down sheet metal who accidentally dropped a piece onto his head, he said.
Ortiz said the hit nearly fractured his skull and left him with chronic back pain, making his usual route more difficult.. He needs surgery to fix his back problems, but said his insurance won’t pay for it.
And though doctors said they didn’t identify any serious damage to his brain, Ortiz has noticed a change since the accident.
“I’ve been coming to the Mission for 30 years, and now sometimes I don’t recognize where I am, I get turned around and don’t remember where I’m going,” Ortiz said.
While Ortiz is frustrated by his new health problems, his demeanor changes entirely when families approach to buy his goods.
As a little girl runs up to the cart, her mother in tow, a smile spreads across Ortiz’s face as he gestures to the collage of ice cream flavors on the side of his cart and says “What would you like?”