The Working Writer on Location

“What’s that one?” I asked.

“Tequila Lime. Would you like a sample?”

“Ummm.” I sucked the tiny spoon dry then made a notation. “What’s that one?”

“Coconut Tropicale. Would you like to sample that one?”

“Ummm.” I sucked the tiny spoon dry again then recorded it in my notebook. “What’s that one?”

“Dulce de Leche. Like to try that one, too?”

“Ummm.” This time I balanced the spoon in my mouth, while making a notation. “What’s that one?”

There was no immediate answer. I looked up. The entire staff of three at Gelato Americano on Front Street in Avila Beach was watching me. “You’re from the corporate office, right?” A large guy asked.

“Ah, let’s just say I’m on assignment.”

He nodded knowingly. “Right. Assignment. Well, we aim to please, don’t we?”

The others smiled widely. “Oh yes,” they said. “The customer’s always right in our shop.”

“Always right. I like that.” I wrote it down.

“Maybe you could go for the record,” one of the women said.

“What’s the record?” I asked.

“Twenty-eight tastes and four large fountain drinks.”

“Wow!” I wrote this down, hesitated then took off my Montecito Journal sweatshirt. “Maybe I’ll just have a few more...”

The three of them quickly stuck spoons into tubs of colorful Italian ice cream and held them out.

“Papaya.”

“Nice!”

“Champagne.”

“Tasty.”

“Zabajone.”

“Different.”

A crowd started to gather. Spoons were thrust forward with focus. “Who’s keeping track?” I asked.

“I gotcha,” someone yelled as they wrote down the last few offerings. More spoons came my way.

“Lemon Cello.”

“Tart.”

“Tiramisu.”

“Sweet.

“Sugar Free Raspberry.”

I stopped tasting and looked at the young woman.

“I’m so sorry,” she said. “No more sugar free, right?” Quickly she gave me a double dose of Passion Fruit and smiled coyly.

“Nice comeback,” I said.

There was some light applause. Out on Front Street I heard a murmur. “Some guy’s going for the record.”

“Local?”

“No way, dude. I heard he’s from the corporate office or something.”

More people squeezed into the small shop.

“What do they call you,” one of the servers asked.

“My friends call me Ernie.”

Another round came my way.

“Mango.”

“Very nice.”

“Blood Orange.”

“A real delight.”

“Amarena.”

“I like the way you say it.”

A soft chant started. “Ern-ie, Ern-ie, Ern-ie…”

A hand with a napkin appeared and dabbed at the corner of my mouth.

“Thanks, kid,” I said. The young surfer smiled.

Someone handed me a fountain drink and I took a large sip. “Oh, that’s good.”

“Thirteen tastings and one fountain drink in… less than ten minutes. He’s ahead of the winning pace!” someone yelled.

More applause. I glanced out the front window. The beach was practically empty now. Everyone was on Front Street, trying to get closer to the action.

“Ready?” the three counter people asked, not trying to rush me.

“Ready,” I said.

Three spoons dipped and came up full.

“After Eight Mint.”

“Sophisticated.”

“Cappuccino Espresso”

“Lively.”

“Peanut Butter.”

“Smooth and chunky.”

Another fountain drink came my way. I just might do it. I just might win. I just…

“Our table’s ready,” someone yelled. I looked up. Fellow MJ columnists Jim Alexander and Grace Rachow were standing in the doorway.

“Wow, that was quick,” I said. I grabbed my sweatshirt and started to follow them out of Gelato Americano to the Custom House a few doors down.

“Wait. What? You said you were from the corporate office.”

Ah, actually, I never said that, you did. I just said I was on assignment. See, I’m up here with a bunch of writer friends and I have a column due for the Journal, so I thought I’d just wander around and see whether I could find anything fun to write about. This was my first stop.”

The crowd parted as Jim, Grace and I headed for the door.

“But, Dude,” someone said. “What about the record?”

I looked from worried face to worried face. Then I looked back at the proprietors. They stared at me for a minute then one of them held out a spoonful of rich dark chocolate.

I tossed my sweatshirt into the corner. The crowd went wild. “Go ahead and start dinner without me,” I said to Jim and Grace. “I’ll try to get there in time for dessert.”