Work of Art: Lack toast . . . and tolerant

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By Art Trujillo

On a trip last weekend to Missouri, my wife and I were among the last breakfast eaters on the Amtrak unit, their probably having run out of items on the menu. I chose toast with my omelet but received a (not-too-shabby) croissant instead.

The waitperson explained that earlier diners had consumed the railway’s supply of toast and therefore, all they had to offer were the croissants. “We lack toast,” the waitress said, in a manner that seemed as if she’d said it before and was expecting a cute reply. That gave me an opening to say, “Well, I’m tolerant.” Almost as if we’d rehearsed the dialogue, we put together “Lack toast and tolerant,” which is the way some people render the condition of being “lactose intolerant.”

That was good for a chuckle. It also triggered questions as to why today my consuming ice cream often leads to an hours-long belch-o-rama within my intestines. Am I “lack toast and tolerant?” I ask myself. It may have started decades ago when ice cream was a luxury.

In my youth, we lived across the street from E. Peña’s Grocery — there were grocery stores on virtually every corner of Las Vegas, back in the days when we used to eat dinosaurs.

One of the Peña children, Ernesto (Teto), the legend goes, found a $20 bill under a mattress and accordingly treated the entire neighborhood to a feast that would take place on the triangle on Grand, Third and Columbia, where Workforce Solutions sits. Several of us went to the Creamery, an ice cream place where Quality Motors used car lot resides.

The volunteers returned with gallon containers of hand-packed ice cream, chips, hot dogs and soft drinks. My lust for ice cream knew no limits that day. So, thanks to Ernesto’s windfall, we ate and drank to satiety.

• • •

One other ice cream event occurred to me, coincidentally, just this week. Amid all the excitement of the purchase of the Hotel Castañeda, the name Fred Harvey has surfaced. Harvey was the entrepreneur who developed Harvey House lunchrooms, restaurants and hotels, the local Castañeda being an original Harvey House.     

My exposure to the Harvey name came in the form of a misunderstanding about who exactly was the wealthy man who operated restaurants and hotels in several states.     

Let me explain:
In the olden days, precious few people owned refrigerators; rather, many owned iceboxes. So long was that item a part of our household and meal planning that I’ve caught myself saying “ice box” when we’ve in fact owned a real fridge or two in our lifetime. When my parents bought their first fridge, the hoopla was tantamount to the celebration taking place this week, over the Castañeda, the building recently purchased by hotelier Allan Affeldt and his partners.

Every Saturday evening, in the ‘40s, my dad explained to us, local railroad workers received a bonus with their paycheck: a gallon of ice cream from the train, as their shift ended. A neighbor, who worked at the station and lived close to the Castañeda, owned a fridge but apparently didn’t care much for ice cream.

Therefore, every Sunday morning, Dad would whip out a dollar, which I delivered to the fridge-owning neighbor in exchange for a gallon of ice cream. A gallon is an enormous amount, and it was still quite solid by the time I took it home. As we dipped into the first gallon of vanilla, Dad announced, “This ice cream comes courtesy of Fred Harvey.”

Even though we PAID a dollar for it, Dad still referred to the exchange as “courtesy of,” or “compliments of.”

For years, I simply assumed it was Fred Harvey himself who’d greet me each Sunday at his house by Railroad and Columbia for the creamy exchange. Dad, probably thinking my misunderstanding was cute, never corrected me when sending me “to Fred Harvey’s house to pick up ice cream.”

Strange, but from what I’d heard about the hotelier and restaurateur, I was surprised about this humble man whose wife called him Larry, in a modest house, who traded a gallon for a dollar.

We had some neighbor school friends, Levi, Chris and Anthony, whom we invited over to share ice cream, at the shelf life of that treat was brief. We timed the ice deliveries to coincide with the ice cream arrival. So, when the Iceman Cometh, we partied.

Our friends also had a modest icebox that kept the food just a few degrees below room temperature. And once, when we dropped by, Levi spread ice cream over some slices of bread, as if it were peanut butter.

“Haven’t you ever heard of an ice cream sandwich?” Levi asked, as the rest of us looked at him incredulously. An ice cream sandwich, in our parlance, was not something spread like jelly over a slice of Rainbow Bread but a combination of ice cream and a chocolate or vanilla cookie, frozen solid, costing a dime, and available only at the Serf Theater.

On movie Saturdays, Dad provided my siblings, Bingy and Severino, and me with 78 cents, providing us an extra dime apiece after paying our admission fee of 16 cents. Sometimes we chose popcorn, for a dime; a candy bar and a Coke sold for a nickel each, and on occasion, we’d save the dime to buy a balsa wood airplane at Funk’s, the 5-and-Dime store next to Murphey’s.

Art Trujillo is a copy editor at the Optic and a contributing member of the newspaper’s Editorial Board. He may be reached by calling 425-6796 or by e-mail to atrujillo@lasvegasoptic.com or art@rezio.net.