Our World: The ice cream man

The song "Turkey in the Straw" tinkers out of a small speaker attached to a 1977 Chevy step van — turned ice cream truck — driven by Larry Ozturk.

"They don't call me the ice cream man; they call me Larry," he says.

The 42-year-old native of Turkey has been driving the pink truck with purple hubcaps in Naples-area neighborhoods for the past seven years.

Metallic tape covers the rusty holes of his "work horse." But the children he serves — like Raul Santano, 5, second from left, and his brother Rainiel, 3 — don't care what the truck looks like. As long as it comes around every day.

Its driver knows everyone. And they all know him.

"I could write a story about everyone I meet here," Ozturk says.

"This is Matthew." A dark-haired boy in a gray T-shirt runs up to the truck in Poinciana Village.

"I love Larry," says Matthew Novak, 11. "He's so good. Not like other ice cream men who rip you off — like $1.50 for a sno cone."

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Photo with no caption

Photo by LEXEY SWALL, Daily News

"The only thing killing me about this business is this long line of traffic and the price of gas," says Ozturk, waiting through four rotations of a traffic light as he heads south on Airport-Pulling Road.

"It is driving little guys like me out of business," he says, adding that he drives 30 to 35 miles a day.

But he keeps doing it for the people, to create memories for children and bring back cherished ones for adults.

Waiting at the light next to his truck, a woman yells out of her window into his. "I love those," she says pointing to the Two Ball Screw Ball picture. "Are you going by my house?" she asks with a laugh.

Unfortunately, he's not, but he tells her he will pull over so she can buy something. She agrees.

"You should come to my neighborhood," the woman, Debra Axline, says as her four children pile out of her SUV to decide what they want. "We're the purple and pink house, the same colors as your truck."

As her children try to make up their minds, Axline announces, "I'm getting a screw ball. They were my favorite growing up...".

"Well, I'm glad we pulled up to you," he says, grateful for the extra sale.

On to the next neighborhood.

He's watched the children in this part of the Gordon River area grow up. He started selling treats to Latesha Whittaker when she was in fifth grade. She's now 15.

Ozturk feels like a mentor to these kids. "It's like I'm their teacher," he says. He teaches them to throw their trash away in a hole on the side of the truck, "to keep their neighborhood clean," and to say please and thank you.

"They learn to respect. It's like a mom-and-pop store," he says. "This is a dying business in the U.S. But I will try to keep it alive."

© 2006 marconews.com. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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