The Mosquito Truck
By Bill McCloskey
I recently read a notice in the local newspaper posted from a mysterious-sounding
organization called the Mosquito Control Commission about a scheduled spraying of insect
toxins meant to eradicate the little blood suckers from the Delaware County area. To further
warn the residents, I received an automated call from a township official to further stress the importance of this event. Holy crap! A warning in the paper and through the phone! An official commission! Has an End of Days Zombie Apocalypse ring to it, huh? Well, I wondered, where was that dire message when years ago, I was one of those goofs in a small mob of equally dumb kids chasing that bug-killing fog-shrouded olive-green truck like somebody was throwing cash out the back door? Yes, this advertised, upcoming pest extermination event was not the first time the mosquito truck came to call in our lives. In kid times, the spraying was an annual summer event in our leafy suburban neighborhood, and it came with a lot less fanfare. No phone messages or news articles in those days. Hmmm? In fact, when that military-looking jeep thing hit our tree-lined streets, while nervously anticipated, it was quite a surprise when it actually showed up. A freaky, weirdly exciting surprise.
First came the eerie noise – a machine gun rattling that grabbed the attention of every kid
in our brick colonial development, who quickly assembled on the curb in parade-watching
formation as if the beloved ice cream truck was approaching. Soon the vehicle, that really did look like it had been hijacked from a military installation, which made the experience even more thrilling, came over the hill belching a thick white foggy cloud from a septic tank- shaped container mounted on its back. If memory serves me, it smelled appropriately of Raid ant spray. Seriously. As quickly as it passed by the mesmerized crowd, kids of all ages (capable of and permitted to do street running, of course) fell in directly behind the truck and were enveloped by a bellowing cloud of white skeeter-killing mist. Most of the chasers trailed off after a few yards, staggering to the comfort of a grassy front yard, exhausted and probably overcome by fumes, but the older kids equipped with longer legs, stronger lungs, and presumably immune to mosquito killer gas, kept up the chase as if a trophy would be awarded when the truck turned the corner at the hilltop of my street, Sheffield Drive.
When the truck cleared the neighborhood, those fearless daredevils strolled back down
the street as conquering heroes to their awaiting admiring fans. Some coughing, a little pre-puke gagging, and red, watery eyes were small prices to pay for such adulation. In the distance, the rattling engine sound faded, and the thick fog of bug death was carried away by the breeze. As quickly as it had appeared, the mosquito truck was gone until next summer.
What was in that stuff? Who knows? Look it up. Newspaper notices and automated
phone calls of today have given the spraying an ominous reputation backed by many years of
scientific studies. But it wasn’t that deadly to our super blood suckers, as I frequently still came home with raised red welts after a game of ring-up, camping in the back yard, or an expedition into the woods. Despite the flying bug fogger’s efforts, my mom kept plenty of alcohol and cotton balls on hand at all times.
Speaking of the adults, I know you’re wondering, “Where were they?” Well, as I’ve said
before, they really were great parents and did their best to keep us safe. Moms, dads, and
assorted older siblings kept an eye on all of us, and miraculously shepherded all of us safely into adulthood. They just didn’t know of future side effects of just about everything looming in those days, and the mosquito truck was not a high threat priority in their list of kid dangers in the sixties. They just trusted those in authority. Trying to stop a delirious single-minded throng of baby boomer kids from running after anything that bizarre on a hot summer night would have been like trying to chase chickens anyway. I guess they could have locked us in the house and shuttered the windows, but that would contradict their almost daily command to go outside and find something to do. Maybe some higher governmental power was keeping a big secret, but as far as I know, none of us suffered any long-lasting harm from the mystery killer fog. Evidently, the mosquitoes weren’t too affected either, as today, there’s a whole new set of mosquito-related illnesses to worry about each season. Ah, ignorance was bliss in those hazy, crazy days of summer!