Looming over the horizon, an aging ice cream truck with a grinning clown's head on top bounces over the rise and into view.
The bearded, bespectacled driver has the look of a Tibetan explorer who took a wrong turn halfway to Shangri-La. His short, wiry seatmate sports a Zapata mustache and a gaze that leaves no passing female fully clad.
They are Cheech and Chong ... and to those fans for whom they've come to stand for counterculture shock, they have done the unforgivable. They have signed on for a steady gig ... as ice cream vendors.
Worse yet, they have milked the sherbet trade for a fortune.
And since no one has ever done so well by dispensing popsicles -- nor done it with such glaring good humor -- certain people are getting suspicious. Especially the L.A.P.D.
"Cheech & Chong's Nice Dreams" -- it rhymes with "ice creams" -- is the third outrageous outing for the screen's Number One comedy duo. Directed by Thomas Chong from a screenplay he wrote with his partner, Cheech Marin, the Columbia Pictures release takes the uninhibited pair to their next cinematic plateau.
In their first movie, "Up in Smoke," Cheech and Chong were out of work, deep in debt, and hustling for a buck by doing anything the law disallowed.
The film -- frantic, funny and free -- was the runaway comedy hit of 1978, and established the pair as their generation's answer to Laurel & Hardy, Abbott & Costello and Martin & Lewis.
The picture's enormous box office success, in fact, made them the screen's most successful comedy team of all time.
In their next movie, prophetically titled "Cheech & Chong's Next Movie," the pair flirted with solvency, thanks to Cheech's go-fer job on a movie studio backlot.
Again the box office boomed, until the combined total of both Cheech and Chong movies passed the $160 million mark.
Clearly the scrambling, hustling, conniving, duping duo hit the mark with young moviegoers. "It was like there was this great nerve running through everybody," recalls Cheech, "and it was where we were."
But how did they get that way ... Cheech of the peppery stream of chatter, Chong of the laidback lunacy?
When they first burst into prominence back in 1970, each had followed his own offbeat path to a nightclub in Vancouver, British Columbia, where they found they played well off each other.
Cheech, born Richard Marin in the barrios of East Los Angeles, earned his nickname from "cheecharone," a Chicano delicacy made of deep-fried pork skins, also known as cracklings. And "crackling" he was, by his own admission.
"I was a wise-ass in school," he says now. "I got away with it because I was little and cute."
The relationship was cemented when Chong offered Cheech $60 a week to perform with "'City Works," five dollars more than he was making laying carpet. Two years later, when "City Works" disbanded, they teamed as Cheech and Chong and set out on a long road of one-night stands, ending up in California because they were tired of cold weather.
Performing at L.A.'s influential Troubadour Club, they were spotted by a record executive and signed. By the time their first record album, "Cheech & Chong," went gold, they were well into their second, "Big Bambu' -- voted 1972s No. 1 comedy album.
After their third, "Los Cochinos" ("The Pigs"), brought them a Grammy Award, their fourth, "Cheech & Chong's Wedding Album," so solidified their success that for four years the duo toured the concert circuit, polishing such celebrated routines as "Dave's Not Here" to a high gloss.
With their stunningly successful move into films, Cheech and Chong have settled into comfortable lives at last, with homes in L.A.'s poshest sections -- Malibu for Cheech, Bel-Air for Chong.
Again reflecting their generation, they have become family men, in love with their homes, their wives and their children.
Their explanation for such undeniable success?
"One reason, perhaps, that the kids like us," says Cheech, "is that if a couple of screw-ups like Cheech and Chong can make it through the world, without selling out, then there's hope for every youngster in the ghetto.
"We're living proof that heaven watches out for fools and small children."
Chong puts it another way. "What makes us so dangerous is that we're harmless."