One of the coldest cases on record has been solved. Call it "justice served, a la cart."
Back in May, I wrote about Mike Guidicianne, the 34-year-old Boston transplant/entrepreneur who owns and operates Orange County Slush here in Huntington Beach. Remember? Blue Vanilla, Watermelon, Lemon, Orange County Cream — delicious Italian ices that are now available at Albertsons and used to be available at his pushcart, which he brought to various events around Huntington Beach so that people could sample his ices.
I say "used to" because, as I sat down to interview him in May, Guidicianne told me that just the night before, someone had stolen his entire trailer. As he described then, "Inside was my push cart, my umbrella, my signage, my generator — even my ice cream scoops!"
But the cart was the centerpiece and most valuable item. The cart was his brand in the public eye, what people saw on the street.
I received a lot of feedback about that column. People were happy to learn about the hard-working Guidicianne and his exceptional product line. But they were also angry that someone would steal something that represented the heart and soul of his business.
As was I. Here's a dedicated guy working like a dog (and even honoring his dog, Vegas, the Boston terrier who appears on his packaging) getting victimized by some low-life in the middle of the night.
So I was intrigued when I started receiving a series of cryptic emails recently from Guidicianne, hinting that he might have a scoop for me. And then, last week, the other scoop dropped.
Here is the story.
Earlier this summer, Guidicianne decided to poke around the popular classified ad website Craigslist in the hopes that he could find a cheap replacement cart for the one that had been stolen (they typically run about $6,000).
After reviewing seven or eight listings, he found something interesting: an ice cream cart with the pitch line, "Start your own business with a motorcycle!" Intrigued, he clicked on the ad expecting to find some newfangled kind of cart. His jaw dropped when he saw the photo pop up in the ad. It was his stolen cart! It did not appear to be damaged. All of the ads with his logo had been stripped off, but other than that, it looked OK.
So he called the police in Palm Springs, where the ad said the cart was located.
This is where Sgt. Troy Castillo took over. Castillo ran some information and discovered that the phone number in the ad had been disconnected, and he had no idea where the seller of the hot ice cream cart was.
But he also said he noticed the mountains and trees in the background of the posted image. And he had a hunch where the picture was taken.
Within a couple of days, Guidicianne got another call from Castillo. They had a hard address on the guy. Castillo added that the cart would be recovered soon. When Guidicianne asked what the break was, Castillo (whispering like "Batman, Guidicianne laughed), would only say, "I can't tell you. But be by your phone tonight."
That night, the call from Castillo came in. Guidicianne noticed commotion on the other end of the line. "Read me your serial number!" Castillo demanded over the line. Guidicianne complied. It was a match. The cart had been recovered.
Castillo explained that the guy who had it was petrified and claimed that he didn't steal it. Rather, he traded $1,500 worth of goods for it at a swap meet.
The good news was, the cart was safe. The bad news was, because it was considered "recovered" and no longer "stolen" since the guy's story seemed to check out, Guidicianne had to pay a tow truck (about five bucks a mile) to bring it back to Huntington Beach.
Still, he is relieved, and amazed at the efficiency and effectiveness of the Palm Springs Police Department. "This guy Castillo," Guidicianne told me, "is the best of the best. Knows his job. Loves his job. I will never forget this guy."
Guidicianne is planning a trip out to the desert to reward Castillo and company (and their families) with some complimentary Orange County Slush. But in the meantime, he'll wrap the cart once more with his ads and get back to his product sampling around the community.
I visited the cart myself last weekend and I'm not sure who looked more relieved, Guidicianne or Vegas. Either way, the freezer case is open and the criminal case is closed.
Oh, and per Guidicianne, after you buy your ice at Albertsons, remember to let it sit on the counter for about 15 minutes so it can achieve its perfect consistency. After my last column, he was asked why it was so hard straight out of the freezer case. Such are the questions in the Italian ice business.
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County" from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.