31 Flavors of Regret
I will begin this story by telling you the end: At 8:55 p.m. Wednesday, I was in Keizer, a distended, sticky mess asking a stranger to take a picture of me.
This is the beginning: In one of those “seemed like a good column idea at the time” things, an editor suggested I try to hit up all seven Baskin-Robbins in town on 31-cent scoop night, a nationwide benefit for firefighters. Each person was limited to three scoops per location but if I played my cards right, the editor said, I could eat 21, then taste 10 more for a total of 31 flavors.
The South Salem Baskin-Robbins had just shut down, which left me with six stores. Five hours. One really bad goal.
Here is how that went for me:
5:15 p.m. I pull up to the Market Street BR, where I have homecourt advantage. I admit my plan to the line wrangling guy, who tells me that I’d be “surprised just how many people try that.”
After a four-minute wait, I’m at the counter feeling really bad as the clerk runs my debit card for 93 cents.
First up: Daiquiri Ice. This has been my favorite flavor since I was 4-years-old. It tastes like adventure, and desire, and rum extract. It is sleet-textured sour perfection. Some is smooth, some is shard-like, all is delicious. I didn’t want to do anything to ruin myself on it, and I figured I would enjoy the first scoop more than any other that night. I was right.
Lemon Sorbet was citrusy and sharp, a fine companion for my beloved Daq Ice. However, I also had in this cup the very, very, very worst flavor of the night.
Rock ’n Pop Swirl is cough-syrupy fake grape flavor, married with fake apple and knockoff Pop-Rocks, which are too frozen to explode immediately but then warm up and detonate in your throat. Of course, this is bright bright bright purple and green but — here’s the crazy part — the green is grape, and the purple is green apple. Way to keep us on our toes, Baskin-Robbins.
Halfway through my cup, I realized that I did not want any more ice cream.
5:40 p.m. Stop two — Lancaster and Auburn streets NE. This one has a short line, but long wait. The line guy is bouncer-like in his duties: stern face, few words, one in, one out.
“One group at a time!” he barks when someone tries to slip in.
Once inside, I go for Pistachio Almond, Old Fashioned Butter Pecan and Nutty Coconut. All three are good but very similar: creamy and studded with unrecognizable nuts. My ice cream eating, I realize, is already joyless and mechanical. I feel nauseous and a little desperate. I wonder if I should call this off.
6:12 p.m. Lancaster Mall. I do not want to kick the mall when it is down, but I will say that there was no line and this was my most solitary ice cream eating experience.
Rainbow Sherbet was not as enjoyable to my 26-year-old self as it was to my 7-year-old self. Cotton Candy was surprisingly tolerable, mainly because it just tasted really, really sugary. The less said about Pink Bubblegum the better. To paraphrase philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, that which we cannot speak of, we must pass over in silence.
6:51 p.m. I am feeling seriously ill, and so stop at the Center Street Safeway. I stand in the digestive medicine area for a long, long time. There do not seem to be any medications for columnists who have taken on stupid ice cream binging stunts, so I settle for Tums.
7:10 p.m. The Salem Center BR does wonders for morale as I knock down 10 samples in three minutes. I felt OK asking for them, because there was no one in line behind me and the clerks seemed very friendly and curious about the quest.
I try three from what I guess is the romance freezer of Baskin-Robbins, which consists of Heartbreak Healer, Love Potion #31 and Chocolate Dipped Strawberry. The first two are fine; Chocolate Dipped Strawberry had an unfortunate sandy texture.
My samples also included Mint Chocolate Chip and its inverse Lucky Mint (chocolate with green minty chunks), Snickers, Chocolate Chip, Cherries Jubilee, Oreo and Peppermint. These are all nothing to write home about with the exception of the winning Mint Chocolate Chip.
I’d now sampled 19 flavors, with only 12 to go. It seemed do-able.
7:43 p.m. The West Salem line was the longest, which I took to mean that West Salem is the chintziest neighborhood in Salem. I queued up between a hard-looking group of teens and a pack of young parents who had all made friends by the front of the line.
The teenagers seemed to be on the Baskin Robbins grifting circuit as well. They were all smoking cigarettes, which made me really jealous in a certain way. Behind me, the young moms cradled their well-accessorized toddlers; this made me jealous in another way.
Now seemed like as good a time as any to eliminate a bunch of the chocolates, though I lost my nerve and only requested five samples instead of the 10 I planned. Cannot guarantee the accuracy of the flavor identifications, as all the tasting spoons were in an undifferentiated mass.
Fudge Brownie felt very full and creamy, with an overeager chocolately sweetness. Chocolate Mousse Royale had a surprising and pleasurable note of bitterness in the chips themselves. Chocolate Fudge tasted and looked very similar to Chocolate, though the fudge one was a bit sweeter. Vanilla was that simple favorite and done very well.
8:17 p.m. As I headed out the Keizer expressway, I had no idea that I was moving ever closer to my most fearsome opponent. By now, the sky was dark and the wind and rain were fully here. This line was even longer than the West Salem one because, if I understood the doorwoman, all ice cream had to be consumed on-premises. It was a hard winter, and waiting in the bread line wears you down quick.
When I finally got inside, the combination of sugar rush, stomach ache, cold dampness and being able to see the finish line made me stumble around the shop like an injured faun who doesn’t know what kind of ice cream she wants.
“I want a taste of White Choco ... — no, can we go over here — I want gingerbread sample — I want a scoop of Jamoca Almond Fudge, no, wait, I think ... regular Jamoca please.” I could tell the clerk hated me and I didn’t blame her.
I needed seven more flavors and decided to go all out with four samples and three scoops.
The samples went quickly. Quarterback Crunch was like someone had crumbled up rice crispy treats into ice cream, which was just fine. Gingerbread tasted like its namesake, which I hate anyway. Thin Mint, the low-fat alternative to Mint Chocolate Chip — all I wrote down was “acceptable.” Winter White Chocolate — truthfully, I have no memory of this.
Decided to go with the heavy (read: rich) hitters for the grand finale scoops. Pralines and Cream had the same grittiness that plagued other flavors, and a saltiness that was nice for 0.5 seconds and then cloying. Rocky Road’s marshmallows didn’t feel right in that they are almost, but not quite, the same texture as the ice cream, putting them into the Uncanny Valley of frozen dessert texture. I’d never had Jamoca, but could see why everyone liked it so much — a sweet, true coffee flavor.
As I got to halfway through the bowl, the realization that I was almost done eating ice cream gave me this huge adrenaline rush. I shoveled down what was left and stared at the empty cup. It was so beautiful.
Money spent: $6.72 (31 cents each times 12 scoops plus at least $3 worth of tips).
Conclusion: It is, indeed, possible to eat 31 flavors, which is approximately 3,900 calories’ worth of ice cream, in the space of four hours, but you will not feel good. Pleasure in eating ice cream drops off a cliff after your third scoop and remains there until you are stuffing the last bits of Rocky Road in your mouth. Thankfully, my ice cream hangover is now gone. As is my desire to eat ice cream ever again.
K. Williams Brown is the entertainment reporter for the Statesman Journal. She realizes that the stomachache that comes from purposefully eating too much ice cream is the definition of first-world problem.
Originally published May 2011