A road sign that says ‘CAUTION, Ice Cream’ is bound to stir more intrigue than circumspection. Even more so, if you are traveling on an exceptionally hot day, in a car that seems to be made of more glass than metal. So here I am, traveling on CA-180, with the sole ambition of reaching the point where this winding highway ends, somewhere at the foot of some giant monolithic granite rock in Kings Canyon. At one curvaceous turn, there is a sign board that says ‘Caution. Ice Cream’. Firstly, ‘ice cream’ is one of those words that completely masks any emotion written (or implied) before or after it. If one day, the headline in ‘News of the World’ would have said ‘Aliens land on Earth and Steal Ice Cream’, the general mood among public would be that of sadness generated at lost ice cream, completely overlooking alien landing. Secondly, ‘Ice Cream’ is hardly, if ever, preceded by word ‘Caution’. The only possibilities I can think of is, if an ice cream parlor is on space-sharing agreement with a weight-loss clinic, or somebody somewhere using his extraordinary creative thinking decided to name a flavor of ice cream ‘Caution’.
Thus as expected the sight of such a sign just makes me and my friends anxiously wait to eat ice cream, instead of being cautious about some giant ice cream cone chasing lonely travelers in desolate parts of this largely uninhabited area. A few hundred yards down the road, we see this log-cabin gas station that does not look like a stereotypical gas station. It has something called ‘a double gravity’ gas pump, and while I stand and stare at the marvel of 2X gravity, my friends go inside to order ice cream. As a probabilistic co-occurrence of two different space time events (usually called coincidence), a biker stops to fill gas at this pump. My immediate thoughts are that ‘Wow! This pump works’, and that my friends should not miss out on this extraordinary event of past paying a visit to future, so I rush into the log cabin creamery. As soon as I open the partially broken door, I hear these words “CLOSE THE DOOR!…THERE ARE LOT OF FLIES”.
My eyes anxiously search for the source of these words, and without any difficulty they land on this twenty something guy, whose countenance is suited to play “Draco Malfoy”(or Lucius Malfoy). There is nobody else in the creamery except Draco, and my friends. No one on the counter. No one with an ice cream cone in hand. Nobody shamelessly staring at the glass that separates people from ice cream. Actually there is no such glass in first place. Even without entering the creamery completely, I can tell that their is an uneasy feel to the place. Now, I suffer from a condition that I myself define as “Confusion Induced Embarrassment and Vice Versa Syndrome(CIEVVS)”. So, I am standing in middle of the door, unable to decide whether I should stop flies from entering, chase the ones that have already entered, tell my friends about marvel called double gravity, feel empathetic for Draco’s condition (a losing battle against flies), or just step in, and apologize. The latter seems like a slightly more sensible option, and I decide to take that course.
“Am sorry!” I say while stepping into the cabin, and things return to normal. At least, as it seems, for him, as he goes back to working on his meal (a pack of chips, a sandwich, and a Pepsi).
I, on the other hand, am staring at the ceiling which is a taxidermy museum of sorts. Hanging in the middle of room is the skin of a dead mountain lion, gazing straight into the the face a dead bear. Rest of ceiling is filled with skins of lot of small animals, all facing towards the battle scene of a dead mountain lion vs dead bear. The whole scene reminds you of a boxing match where the boxers refuse to fight, and audience refuses to leave (but everybody hangs upside down from ceiling like spiderman).
When people talk about air, often a few times do they talk about air smelling of fear and/or incoming doom. If I have to draw a parallel, air inside this cabin smells of unwelcome-ness. After patiently waiting for somebody to appear at the counter, the guy who was earlier so concerned about having to fight flies, turns out to be the owner, and after having patiently finished his meal in front of us, steps behind the counter, and gives us ice cream. Under normal circumstances, you are greeted by a nice warm smile in ice cream shops, but here, it is a completely different scenario. This situation is somewhat like Amtrak ticket counters, where if it was for the man behind counter, they would always run empty trains.
An about-to-fall-cabin, more dead animals than living beings in the shop, and ‘you-smile-I-shoot-you’ demeanor of the owner create tension levels, best portrayed in Western Classics. The air is so heavy by now that no one is saying a word. We are all talking using silent gestures, or at least hoping that we all somehow telepathically are getting access to each others escape strategies. Draco is also not saying any words because I think that is not part of his nature. I don’t even remember if I said ‘Vanilla’ or he just gave it to me. There is door behind the counter that faces a closet,and on closet’s door there is a poster, depicting rays of light coming from a source (presumably God or a star or both) under the words in bold font saying ‘I am the Door’.
In the meantime, I am thinking, if credit cards are not accepted and I am not carrying enough cash, which place would my skin be hanging on the ceiling. Will a dead me get good seats to watch the battle between a dead mountain lion and a dead bear? It turns out that creamery accepts credit cards. When we pay, Draco seems more angry at having less ice cream in store, then having got money for it.
Me and my friends get out of the store, get into the car, after driving for a mile, we hear the first words in a long time when my friend says, “Didn’t it say CAUTION.ICE CREAM back there?”