Matthew purrs off, pausing to sell to $500,000 yachts and $2,000 runabouts as children on board wave and squeal at him; Boat Boy's now the most popular fella on the harbor. "Awww, mate, what a job you have!" the adults crow as they dab the remains of lavish lunches off their lips. Matthew grins and agrees. Who wants to hear the Ice Cream Man moan about the dark underbelly of Mud Puddle mongering? Why disturb this snapshot of Sydney life, this ease with which his townsfolk drop work on Friday arvo and lovingly lay out the spread on Saturdays and Sundays? Just look around you, mate. It's an art form in Sydney, "the city of picnics," as Rudyard Kipling called it. As if from a hat, on boats or park grounds everywhere, out come the portable barbies, the foldout chairs, the tables and tablecloths, the fancy wicker baskets bloated with cheeses and pâtés and salads. Out come the cricket sets for young and old to have a whack while the prawns and snags—shrimp and sausages in your tongue—sizzle on the grill. Out come the stemmed wineglasses, the coolers tinkling with beer bottles, the ice buckets with champagne and killer Aussie white wines, and Sydney gets ever so pleasantly pissed.
Uh-oh.... You don't see it, but Matthew does. The faintest rooster tail of white spray on the horizon, that's all he needs to identify an enemy boat. It's one of the blokes with the pecs and the Speedos, heading exactly where Matthew's heading: across the harbor to Quarantine Beach. Hang on to your hat, mate! Whooosh. That big cheerful green thing we just blew past? That was a Sydney icon, the 1,100-seat Manly ferry. I'd highly recommend it on another occasion. Whooosh. Those big old block buildings we just blurred by? That was Quarantine Station, Australia's Ellis Island, where hundreds of thousands of immigrants arriving by ship between 1828 and 1972 were fumigated and warehoused for their first few months to protect Sydney from disease. Whooosh. That footlong fin? That was a shark—more of 'em than ever have chomped at high schoolers' sculls and swimmers' calves this year, a sure sign that the harbor cleanup program is paying off. "Damn," murmurs Matthew. If only he had his other boat, the Harbour Duck, he'd blow that Pec Boy away.
Slow down? Have you lost the plot, mate? Winner serves all the yachties and beachies at Quarantine, Store and Collins. Loser either slinks away, settles for sloppy seconds or...stalks, sucker punches and possibly firebombs winner's boat, depending on what's appropriate. No, this city's quick-cash lust is not confined to the hearts of its developers, real estate agents, bankers, lawyers and stockbrokers. Sydney: largest metropolis in a nation that contains less than 1% of the world's population...and 21% of the world's poker machines, blinking and begging for your attention at nearly every corner pub. Sydney: city whose top-selling nonfiction book last May was Rich Dad's Guide to Investing, while nipping at its heels, in the No. 3 spot, was Rich Dad Poor Dad: What the Rich Tell Their Children about Money—That the Poor and Middle Class Do Not! Sydney: city where only 18% of those surveyed, when recently asked to weigh the statement that "poor people have the same opportunities as others," checked the "strongly disagree" box, compared with 40% of those marshmallow Melbournians.
So maybe Matthew should've known what he was entering two years ago, a battlefield where ice-creamers have tracked one another's whereabouts with binoculars and walkie-talkies, have rammed, torched and sunk each other's boats, and have brawled on Obelisk Beach as horrified nudists scuttled for safety. But Matthew's a dreamer. No matter how many gut-churning, sleepless nights he passed when he realized what he'd gotten into, no matter how close he came to quitting when one foe surrounded him with three icecream boats and shadowed him at frightening speeds, he found he couldn't face himself unless he stayed and fought this out.
He juggled his schedule to keep his rivals guessing, he lurked behind Captain Cook tourist cruisers to throw enemies off his trail. He changed his mailing address to a P.O. box in case an opponent went wacko. He endured the humiliation of being shoved and called a "f- - -ing c- - -!" two years ago by Mr. Whippy, the old man who sells soft ice cream from a ring-a-ling truck on the northern shore near Mosman, and the shame when the Mosman Council sided with Mr. Whippy and dragged Matthew into court for hawking Cornettos to schoolchildren without a permit, only to drop the charges. He shrugged off the two sheilas in bikinis whom one competitor hired to push Paddle Pops. No, Matthew would never dream of having Michelle remove her bikini top to sell ice creams at Obelisk Beach.
Well, O.K., but only once. "And we only sold one ice cream!" Michelle had wailed. "An insult!"
Buggah! We lose the race to Quarantine, and now another foe's shown up to scavenge for scraps. O.K., let the bloody mugs have these beaches up near North Head and Manly. We'll backdoor 'em, work our way down the harbor toward center city, zigzagging from north shore to south.
Boat Boy finally stops seething. He uses a regatta as a screen, zips into Athol Bay unnoticed and sells heaps. He stops at one sandy pearl after another along the harbor's necklace of bays—Obelisk, Chowder, Taylors, Vaucluse, Hermit, Rose, Double, Rushcutter's, Elizabeth—and sells to boaties drowsing in the afternoon sun.
But he can't relax—another rival's coming hard from the northeast! Matthew fakes toward a beach he's already sold to, stampeding his unaware foe in that direction...then bolts toward a beach he hasn't mined yet. Wacko the diddle-o, Boat Boy's having himself a day.