"What We Did On Our Summer Vacation," originally aired May 17, 1992
Is there anything greater than summer as a kid? It’s not always entertaining — sometimes you have to work or babysit or go on long car trips with your parents — but just the idea of summer, of three full months of free time, is exhilarating. The swimming and ice cream alone make it potentially fever-inducing.
That excitement — particularly over the ice cream — translates right over to the citizens of Wellsville, who look forward every summer to the first really hot day of the year when the mysterious Mister Tastee will roll up in his ice cream truck — freshly waxed, of course — and start slinging his wares. But what happens when Ellen, during the course of her job in a parking lot photo kiosk, finds out that Tastee is actually the loneliest man in the world? Will he let her and the Petes become his friend?
As it turns out in “What We Did On Our Summer Vacation,” yet another one-off pre-season one episode, nope. Tastee’s an ice cream man, and that’s all he’ll ever be. Like Michael Stipe’s ragged Cloghaven Beach ice cream man character Captain Scrummy puts it, “Aren’t we here on the first hot day of every summer? Don’t we carry 49 different flavors including Pineapple Blurt? What else do you want from us?” Of course, he might be a little off — he did think Pete was a bonafide sludgecicle man after all — but, really, what did these kids expect? Even in his personal photos Tastee doesn’t take off his swirly head.
That kind of mystery, though, is what can keep kids going. What’s under the bed? What do teachers do in the summer? Exactly why do you have to go to bed by 10? Does X really equal Y? Despite the fact that finding out what teachers outside school is like seeing a dog walk on hind legs, these are the kinds of things that kids really want to know, and that they can develop huge mythologies behind. Parents must be doing something really awesome after 10, right? Definitely not just hanging out in peace and quiet.
Compound that kind of paranoia with not having an ice cream man for a whole summer, and things can get a little hairy. That’s the whole point behind “Summer Vacation.” The kids get too close to Tastee and he flees. Ellen sets up a command post in her photo booth to find him after Artie, fresh off a staring contest with a killer bee, spots his truck somewhere in Kentucky. Little Pete — with a very large back tattoo of a pirate ship — sets up shop on a high dive at the Splankton Municipal Pool, ultimately driving lifeguard Den Cleary to insanity, and Big Pete just kind of walks around looking forlorn.
Without those blue tornado bars, though, summer slinks slowly by with nothing to do except look at the neighbor lady’s arm flub (“It’s like a human avalanche.”) and watch ol’ Pops Wrigley try to find hidden treasure with his metal detector. Of course, because it’s Pete And Pete, they find a 1978 Oldsmobile Cutlass Supreme buried under tons of sand at Cloghaven Beach, which they dig out and drive home in. (“It ran perfectly and had tons of leg room.”)
One chilly night in September, long after he and Artie had beat up the ocean, Pete gives up his post on the high dive, and Ellen closes up her command post in the photo booth. Mysteriously — of course — one last knock comes on the window, and Tastee’s back, ostensibly to pick up his photos. Somehow, during his absence, the kids have made peace with Tastee being just an ice cream man, (“I am what the summer is. When it goes, so do I.”) and Tastee’s coming to terms with maybe being at least a little bit friendly with the kids. Heck, he even invites them to wax the Tastee mobile with him and he snaps a Polaroid of them all together before he drives away until next summer. And after all that trouble, that’s totally okay. Maybe, as Big Pete says, “Some things are supposed to stay mysteries.” Amen, brother. Amen.
• Kate Pierson of the B-52’s plays mysterious, blind millionaire neighbor Mrs. Vanderveer in this. She seems to know Tastee, in that she calls him Leonard and says he told her that her eyes are “bluer than a Blue Tornado bar.” Heather Matarazzo plays one of the neighborhood kids who thinks, under the mask, Tastee is, “that guy, you know — I think he was married to Cher.”
• Other popular options in the Tastee truck besides the Blue Tornado include The Boomerang Bar, Chocolate Thunder Chunks, Lemon Licky Nubs, Meringue Kebang, Orange Splurto Sticks, and a Blueberry Blowtorch.
• Toby Huss, who plays Artie The Strongest Man In The World, voices Tastee, though it’s unclear whether that’s him in the costume or not. Probably, right?
• Awesome Little Pete insult of the week: “Suck Chowder, Musclehead,” directed, of course at lifeguard Den Cleary right before he drives him insane by making an increasing number of high-dive jumps every day, ultimately topping out at 269 jumps.
• There’s nowhere for Ellen to go to the bathroom in her Quick Pics booth, so she just has to hold it in all the time