Elmer Farrall is called many things. In Prince George's County he is licensed as a huckster. Over in Calvert County they say he is a hawker. The District of Columbia classified him as a vendor. His colleagues know him as "Jake the Snake."
But whereever he may wander, wending his way through the streets in a polished white truck, Farrall is often greeted with one of the familiar songs of summer: "Hey, ice cream man."
And this huckster-hawker-vendor is no ordinary ice cream man. He is the banana split of his profession - the No. 1 Good Humor driver in America, with more than $60,000 in sales last year. There are others who can compete with him in terms of nicknames - "Wild Bill" Hill, "Goldfinger" Golding, "The Great Hugo" Hubano and "Racing Form" Wellen - but no one sells ice cream like "Jake the Snake."
In summer, there is something so urgent about the Good Humor man.
His bell can be heard from a block or more away, at least by the trained ears of children. Immediately, there is a scramble. Kids drop whatever they are doing - even if eating something else - and move swiftly to their piggybanks or their parents' pockets. Then they run and skip across the lawns, often barefoot, always clutching dimes and quarters, and sidle up to the side of the truck where they consider the exotic possibilities.
Jetstar, Raspberry Blast, Chocolate Eclair, Strawberry Shortcake - farrall sells all the Good Humor brands. But, of course, it is never enough. "You could name 50 brands," he says. "And they always ask, "Is that all?"
"Jake the Snake" understands the process, and that is why he does so well. The key, he says, is to establish a route and stick to it.
Farrall has been sticking to routes for 19 years, first as a bread man, then as salesman for Miller High Life beer and finally as the emperor of ice cream in Prince George's and Calvert counties. He knows where the children are and when the families go on vacations. He knows that a taste for ice cream is not just a summertime thing.
"I'm the only one who works in the winter," he says. "These young guys, they work their tails off for eight to 10 weeks, then they're tired and draggin"."
In the high-powered world of Good Humor sales, with motivational sales charts posted on the wall of the Hyattsville every week, "Jake the Snake" does not drag. One recent week he sold $2,075 worth of ice cream, candy, soda and Lipton ice tea (Good Humor is owned by the Lipton on the company), placing him second on the chart of 155 Washington-area peddlers.
He keeps about 28 percent of the gross sales, plus a sizeable bonus for his superior work each year.
Farrall sells much of his ice cream at night, sometimes working the latenight parties at University of Maryland. He and the company split a 20 percent commission fee for the privilege of selling ice cream to students after the bands shut down. "Ice cream after the munchies," he says, "helps the munchies go down."
He also has a big breakfast constituency that buys ice cream on Sunday mornings, and the trick there, he says, is "you've got to catch them 'fore they go to church."
Weekends means county baseball games. The strategy is to arrive "after people run out of what beer they got with them." Farrall mad $100 last Sunday at one game from the fifth inning through the ninth.
Wherever Farrall is selling his customers have one thing in common. "They always run," he says. "That's their nature." CAPTION: Picture, "Jake the Snake" Farrall says sticking to a route in Prince George's County helps him set sales records. By James A. Parcell - The Washington Post