Who Cares What Your Swirl Looks Like? | Teen Ink

Who Cares What Your Swirl Looks Like?

August 6, 2019
By catherinecahn BRONZE, New Orleans, Louisiana
catherinecahn BRONZE, New Orleans, Louisiana
2 articles 0 photos 0 comments

I had spilled a customer’s cookies and cream milkshake across the counter, was incapable of perfecting the yogurt to milk ratio, and spent the night serving defeated swirls. This, in addition to chocolate yogurt splattering across my neon pink TCBY shirt, made me question whether $7.25 an hour was really worth it. I plastered a smile on my face, turned around, plugged medium shiver into the computer, and let the customer know what her total was. In return, I watched her spare coins trickle into the metal can labeled TIPS. “Have a good evening,” I smiled until the door chimed, signaling an empty store. 


Working at an ice cream shop has taught me more than how many dollops of whipped cream belong on a banana split, that additional toppings are 59 cents, or what to do when the hot fudge just will not come out. I’ve learned that when my face is burning with embarrassment because I can’t figure out how to enter a coupon into the computer, it is not that big of a deal. I’ve learned that when I accidentally return the incorrect amount of change to the customer impatiently awaiting her ice cream, to simply apologize and hand over a few more coins. I’ve learned that when a customer orders a parfait with brownie bites on the bottom, then white chocolate mousse yogurt, cookie dough in the middle, followed with graham cracker yogurt, rainbow sprinkles, and topped with golden vanilla, not to yell “WHY THE HELL CAN’T YOU JUST ORDER A SCOOP OF ICE CREAM,” but instead to smile, pick up the plastic cup, and begin scooping the brownie bites. While these mistakes, embarrassments, and worries feel like they are building up over the course of a three hour shift, it is important to remind myself that a hungry six year old does not really care what his rainbow scoop with gummy worms looks like.  

It was a slow Sunday afternoon and TCBY had been empty, with the exception of an occasional person in need of a sweet-tooth fix. “I’m running to the grocery store across the street, I’ll be back in a couple minutes,” my coworker promised me. As the glass door, advertising New Fall Flavors, shut behind her, I went to the back to get ahead on the closing list. Suddenly the door chimed, signaling a customer, and I returned to the front. As I scooped a small chocolate chunk cookie dough, the line seemed to build and build, and I felt my face heating up. I hurried to ring up the small ice cream and inquire what the next customer could possibly want. I slowly moved through the line, scooping, mixing, topping, and shaking everyone’s orders. As I bent into the freezing cooler full of colorful tubs of silky ice cream, I struggled to scoop the vanilla bean. “You’re doing a great job.” I glanced up to find a middle-aged woman, who understood that I was trying, no matter how long it took me to get what everyone needed. I finally got the scoop of vanilla bean and questioned if the customer, “wanted toppings with that,” as my coworker returned, bearing the necessary fresh strawberries and blueberries for the topping bar. I abandoned the abundance of freezing tubs to ring up the small hand scoop with toppings, while my coworker served and rang up my new, and understanding, middle-aged customer. “I left a little something for you in there,” the customer smiled, while motioning to the tip jar. I briefly thanked her, but her small act of kindness resonated long past her ice cream. 


I might not be the best milkshake-maker or yogurt-swirler, but customers acknowledge more than just a sugary product. It is easy to get washed up in mistakes, whether they are ice cream related or not, and sometimes they overshadow what one is doing well. It doesn’t take much to acknowledge that someone is trying, whether or not they are succeeding, and those words will go long way for whoever is receiving them.  While I struggle with simple, trivial tasks, I do work hard and in the long run that will go a lot farther than a chocolate-vanilla swirl.


Having a high school job isn’t supposed to determine whether or not a career at an ice cream shop is a good fit for my adult life. Having a high school job teaches me skills such as teamwork, money management, the importance of punctuality, and how to communicate with strangers. TCBY has showed me life skills that will prove to be more useful than making sure that sprinkles don’t bounce off the ice cream and into the other toppings. I’ve been exposed to a variety of customers, ranging from the man who genuinely apologized for not “speaking like a smart person,” to the snobby lady who impatiently threw her money on the counter and walked out of the store before I had the chance to tell her the total. I’ve realized I can make a kid’s day when his mom tells him he can only have one topping, but I “accidentally” scoop some gummy bears in with the sour worms. Having a job has exposed me to the simplicity of kindness between strangers to one another, whether that is me giving a regular customer 10% off, or a customer reassuring me in a stressful time. So, maybe the spills, and the thin milkshakes, and the yogurt across my clothes aren’t worth minimum wage, but everything else I’ve learned definitely is. 


A father and his daughters waited as I turned to retrieve a small cup and fill it with German chocolate cake soft serve. I pulled down the lever while maneuvering the cup with my right hand. Finally! A perfect swirl! I did it! I congratulated myself. 

“And, that’s to go, so do you mind putting a top on it?”

“No problem” I smiled to the customer, as the lid compressed my perfect swirl and smashed it down to a flat mess. 



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