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They still scream for ice cream

And the Kool Kart lady still gets a kick from her customers

When Debbie Specht drives her little red-and-white truck down this west Medford street, Kim Price hears about it.

It's not the plinking organ-grinder music spewing from the speakers that grabs her attention. It's the excited 2-year-old with blond curls jumping up and down.

Ice cream! Ice cream! Ice cream! chirps little Allison, Price's daughter.

She always tells me when the ice cream lady is coming, Price says. She's only 2 and she still always tells me. She just comes running in, so excited.

After years of serving frozen treats to children all over Jackson County, Specht says little has changed.

The minute the kids hear the music, they just take off running, says Specht, owner of J & D Enterprises, which operates Kool Kart ice cream trucks in the area. They've just gotta go get a dollar from mom.

On a recent sunny afternoon, Price waits as Allison decides just what she wants.

That one! she trills, pointing to a bright blue, yellow, orange and red swirled popsicle. Itzakadoozie, it's called.

Foot-long popsicle in hand, Allison beams up at Specht. Thank you!

As Specht sees it, these are the moments that make her job worth it.

This is what it's all about — the kids, says the 48-year-old Medford woman.

That and nostalgia, she adds.

Like swim lessons and camp, trips to meet the traveling ice cream cart are a summer tradition. Anytime grown-ups grumble, Specht just reminds them of their own childhood, when choosing the perfect ice cream was a big deal.

Can they remember a time when they chased an ice cream truck down the street? she asks. This is one of the most fun things a kid can do.

It's fun for Specht, too, who jokes with children and reminisces with parents.

It's also a lot of work, she says.

When she's not driving her carts around town, she's ordering ice cream. Storing ice cream. Buying candy and soda. Loading the truck. Getting gas. Paying bills.

It just goes on and on and on, says Specht, who suspects that her troubles are like a lot of other small business owner's.

From the minute I wake up until the minute I go to bed, I'm always doing something with this business, she adds. But I have to ask myself, would I want to go back to sitting behind a desk or someone else telling me what to do? ... I think I'd rather do this.

It's been 10 years since Specht decided to do a friend a favor and drive an ice cream truck for the summer. In 1995, she bought the business. After spending one summer dispensing ice cream from the pack of her red Mazda pickup, Specht has five carts and an average of three employees in the busy summer months. Specht's carts travel most of Jackson County, from Ashland to White City.

Specht is one of a handful of ice cream cart owners in the Rogue Valley, but there's no official count. Cart owners aren't listed in the phone book and several business license offices contacted said their records won't sort companies by their type.

Still, there's plenty of competition, Specht says. There are no set routes for cart owners, so they can travel anywhere they want. That means two or three different outfits can cruise the same neighborhood at a time, she says.

What's really discouraging is when you arrive at a street and you find out another (ice cream cart) has just left, Specht adds. Then you've just wasted your time.

Specht won't disclose her earnings or sales, but says business is steady. With 45 varieties of ice cream, frozen yogurt and popsicles — including sugar-free and nonfat flavors — she says there's something for everyone.

Prices generally start at 50 cents for popsicles and work up to $2.50 for the Super King Cone, a meal in itself, Specht says. The Choco-Taco, a waffle cone shaped like a taco shell filled with vanilla ice cream, is also a big seller.

I call it a little slice of heaven, it's that good, she adds.

Although some parents balk at the prices, Specht says more people protest the ice cream cart itself.

Pop Goes the Weasel, Specht says, isn't for everyone.

But there's nothing we can do about that, she adds. After all, The music is part of the ice cream business.

And in an age where Nintendo and computer games are some of the most popular escapes for children, Specht says she's happy the music calls children out to the sidewalks for a more simple pleasure.

I just hope we can keep it alive for the kids, she adds.

That's the important thing.

When Debbie Specht pulls her Kool Kart ice cream truck into a neighborhood, kids line up to choose between dozens of frozen treats. - Bob Pennell