Stayin’ Cool with the Huckabuck

By Alaijah Hill and Keya Jefferson

A typical New Orleans neighborhood on a hot summer day. The sun is beaming in your face as you walk around the corner, and you see friends and neighbors of all ages passing by. You briefly greet them with a, “Hey, how you doin’?” As you pass, you may notice that clutched in their hands are small, clear plastic cups filled with colorful frozen kool-aid. These icy treats are called “huckabucks,” purchased from the neighborhood frozen cup lady.

Frozen cups are a famous tradition that have been a part of New Orleans culture since old was new. All over the city, each neighborhood will likely have at least one or two frozen cup ladies, women who sell these huckabucks from their homes. Serving snacks and smiles to all, frozen cup ladies bring the community together.

One frozen cup lady – who we’ll call Ms. A – says, “It was a joy for the children, which made me happy. When the children love it and always ask you about it, it makes you happy.”

Despite the sense of community that it creates, the frozen cup trade doesn’t bring in much money, with one huckabuck usually costing only fifty to seventy-five cents. Though the small business is a source of income, it could never be someone’s only source! “Ooh, no!” Ms. A says. “I would be starving if so. It was just a lil’ extra change.” Most frozen cup ladies do this as a side hustle to get a little extra money and to please their neighborhood.

Many vendors like Ms. A have been selling huckabucks for an amazingly long time. “I started selling frozen cups 25 years ago, and it was always successful,” she says. Throughout her career as a frozen cup lady, she has had to compete with others in her neighborhood to put out the best frozen cups in order to keep the most loyal customers. A good huckabuck should be drowned in syrupy sweetness, never too dry. The lady with the highest quality frozen cup holds a special place in the neighborhood. Ms. B, another frozen cup lady, says, “One little girl was so disappointed ‘cause I had sold out, because I was the frozen cup lady!”

The busiest time of year is summer. When temperatures begin to climb into the 90’s – not to mention the humidity – there is nothing like a huckabuck to help a weary customer cool off! A frozen cup lady’s doorstep will draw a crowd – “After 3 o’clock in the evening til 7 o’clock at night, and everyday all summer long,” says Ms. B. With their front porches as the humble hearts of their communities, frozen cup ladies are an irreplaceable part of the New Orleans neighborhood culture.

Alaijah Hill and Keya Jefferson are 9th grade students at New Orleans Charter Math and Science High School.

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