Adult Boot Camp

Tori Bollinger
Jackson High School
Grade 12

My stomach fluttering as I left the safety of my mom’s car, I stumbled to the front window of American Ice Cream (AIC), splashing through the puddles and tripping over potholes in the concrete. Before even reaching the window, I was motioned to walk around to the back door by an employee not much older, it seemed, than my 14-year-old self. There, I took my first steps into the place that would teach me countless life lessons for the next four years. 

The girl with dark brown hair who had greeted me now bombarded me with a mountain of tasks I needed to do before going up front. “Here are your work shirts. Go to the bathroom and change into one. Then, wash your hands, put on this hat, read the employee handbook and come find me when you are done,” the nameless girl said.

I went to the bathroom just as she said and slipped on my new black shirt with an American flag. After I changed my shirt, I went to wash my hands in the not-so-stainless, stainless-steel sink. 

I know she left the employee handbook here somewhere, I thought as I searched for the two-page thin “book.” When I found it and began reading, I saw rule after rule listed, each one with its own difficulty level. “Do not wear any colors other than red, white, blue, black, gray or khaki” glared at me on the first page.

Looking down at my bright pink leggings, I instantly thought, I am going to be fired on my first day! 

After finishing reading the handbook and placing my phone on a shelf as directed, I walked back towards the door I entered through, finding the dark-haired girl again. Pointing to a younger girl nearby, she said, “Hi, my name is Kayla, and I will be training you until seven, and then Tatum will take over.”

Kayla gazed at my outfit like Regina George from “Mean Girls.” I knew pink leggings were not allowed per the handbook, but her look made it clear they were not allowed! I stood there like a lost puppy in a new city. 

“Do not wear those leggings here again or else our boss will fire you,” Kayla cautioned. In response, I mutely nodded in agreement.

After the clothing comment, she took me around on a tour of AIC while she explained different parts of the job, deciding at the end it was time for me to make my first sweet ice cream treat. A delicate and frail old man proudly wearing a U.S. Marines cap ambled towards the walk-up, the window at which people place their food orders. 

“I would like a regular Butterfinger concrete and a small dixie,” the veteran requested.

What is a regular, and what in the world is a dixie?

Kayla called me over to the ice cream machine and answered both of my questions as if she had read my mind. A dixie was a cup of ice cream, so I grabbed a small, white styrofoam cup and filled it with five ounces of vanilla ice cream. Next, I needed to prepare the regular — also known as a medium — Butterfinger. With Kayla’s help, I added six tablespoons of Butterfinger to the cup, along with 21 ounces of ice cream. When it came time to mix the concrete, I learned to gently and repeatedly tap a foot pedal on the machine so the topping does not fly out of the cup, and I smiled when the Marine thanked me for his treat. 

Following my successful first concrete, Kayla ushered me to the back and pointed at a white paper with an 8x20 black grid on it. The grid listed all of the employees’ names and when they worked. Kayla was at the top of the grid, which signified she was the person who had worked at AIC the longest. My eyes ran their way down the list of employees and found my name at the bottom — the newest one. 

“This is the schedule, and it tells you when you work,” Kayla said. “I am also going to add you to the American Ice Cream GroupMe,” which I learned is used by AIC to send out weekly schedules and mass text messages from the boss. 

At seven that night, Kayla’s shift was over and another worker came in to take her place. I continued to mix concretes and learn how to make new treats. AIC closes at 10 p.m. every night, so the dishes must be started at 9 p.m. for them to be washed, dried and put away before closing. Since Kayla left and Tatum was now responsible for me, she noted, “Tori, since you are the newest employee here, you will be doing the dishes tonight. They aren’t fun to do, so I’m sorry.”

“That’s okay! I actually enjoy doing dishes at home,” I replied. 

“Hanging above the back desk, there is a list of things you need to wash,” Tatum said as she pointed to a collection of laminated computer papers held together by a black binder clip. “In addition to the dishwashing list, there are other lists that tell you everything: how to make toppings, what the front closers should be doing and how to open.”

She then led me to the sink, so I could start washing the mound of dishes that had compiled from the earlier hours. I still have so much to learn, I thought. This is going to be much more than a job. American Ice Cream is going to be my adult boot camp. 

Now, four years into my ice cream career, my 18-year-old legs proudly strut into the back door of AIC. I watch naïve girls leave their parents’ car as I once did, and instead of Kayla telling them to go to the back door, I guide them. When I look at the scheduling grid, my name is the second from the top, showing I am one of the girls who has been here the longest.

When new workers are hired, I help them understand that at AIC, they will learn to make ice cream, yes, and to resolve conflicts, but they will also gain many lifelong friends here like I have.