Street Beat: Ms. Softee

Sylvie Goldner, ‘21

What is Street Beat? Street Beat is a series of interviews with the people who make up our  fast-paced, special city. Each article, (which is published in every newspaper issue), focuses on different people who add stories and moments to our lives. These people, however, are those who we don’t usually speak too, but take for granted. From people that take us to school, to a food vendor on our city street and a singer on the subway. All of these people are part of our daily routines, but we really know nothing about them. This series of articles is created to understand the perspectives of those who we encounter everyday, and who experience the world from a different pair of eyes and feet than our own.

Credit: Sylvie Goldner

Credit: Sylvie Goldner

We are all familiar with the cheery song that sings in all directions, and our brains implicitly signal to us: The Mister Softee truck is here. Kids line up to decide which ice cream they want to spend their cherished 3 dollars on -- a vanilla swirl with rainbow sprinkles or a fluorescent yellow Spongebob popsicle with the black eyes that turn into gum. The ice cream truck is a happy place for children. It encompasses love, fun and for most of us who no longer are quite children, it is a nostalgic symbol of childhood.

Sitting on the corner of East Houston and Columbia St is one such emblem of happiness, but instead of Mister Softee, a Ms. Softee owns it. This Ms. Softee is a woman named Berta. Berta is a petite person, with tan skin and short hazel hair. She has wrinkles next to her lips that fold into creases when she smiles, which she does frequently. Berta has owned her truck for 30 years now, always located on the same corner, snuggled between BHSEC, PS 188, and Nest, attracting students from all schools.

When I asked Berta where she is from, she told me that she originally grew up in Peru. She explained that her 36 year-old son lives there now: “Yes, my son is far away from me, whom I love very much, but I am good. I have my husband and two dogs. Plus I get to visit once a year.” She said this happily and went on to say how she FaceTime’s him everyday, which takes away the distance between them, as she can see his face every night when she calls him -- though she added that this does not make up for not seeing him in person.

The two dogs Berta mentioned are Choco and Roxy -- they sleep on her bed every night (taking up most of the space) and are each other’s best friend. She could not help but let out a large, beautiful laugh when she shared that they both always want all of her attention when she is home, and not working in the ice cream truck. Berta has a remarkable laugh, and her happiness and laughter make you happier too. “My dogs are my happiness” Berta stated.

The joy momentarily left her face as Berta despondently revealed a very sad reality: “My husband has a brain tumor. He has had one for 5 years now. It’s not getting better and it is difficult for him to move and perform day to day tasks.” Her husband is not able to work and so Berta works for both of them. When she gets home she takes care of him and the dogs and then has to get prepare for another day of work. She reassured me with her sweet spirit, “It’s going to be okay. We are okay.” And then quickly jumped into explaining her love of fishing. She fishes on the East River every Saturday, transporting her back to her childhood, when she would fish in Peru.

I ended the interview with one important question: “Do you like ice cream?” Berta paused for a moment, and then the creases of her lips turned upwards and she replied, “Who does not?”

So next time you are on the corner of Columbia and East Houston St, whether on your commute to the F train or you are grabbing a bite to eat at Pause Cafe, when you pass by the white and turquoise ice cream truck, stop by and say hello to Berta.

I promise you she will appreciate it.