Editor’s Epilogue: Lessons learned from an ice cream shop

Vanilla and chocolate ice cream next to each other in a waffle cone wiht a blue background and some flowers
Ice cream will always be a core component to my life. Before the Ben & Jerry’s Cherry Garcia and Half Baked, my go-to was vanilla ice cream with Whoppers and gummy worms, a staple that will always have a place in my heart. (Photo courtesy of Unsplash)

I love ice cream. As I’m writing this opinion column, I’m eating some Ben & Jerry’s — I chose Stephen Colbert’s Americone Dream from Target this week. It’s not anything to write home about — vanilla ice cream with caramel swirls and chocolate-covered waffle cone chunks is a strong combination, but lacks an exciting ingredient; it lacks the “It” factor. 

I have my favorites: Cherry Garcia (It factor: using cherry ice cream instead of vanilla) and Half Baked (It factor: cookie dough) are up there currently, but I like to mix it up. I wouldn’t want to grow tired of the top dogs. I have to have my Stephen Colberts to appreciate my Cherry Garcias. 

I experienced this truism at an early age. There was an ice cream store near my house called The Ice Cream Show, where, instead of premade flavors like Rocky Road or Chunky Monkey, you selected between chocolate and vanilla ice cream (or a swirl of the two) and had the choice between roughly (and up to) 40 ingredients. This was then mixed together with the ice cream in an industrial blender producing a soft serve ice cream with smashed bits of whatever combination of ingredients scattered throughout the entirety of the product. Phew. 

That was a mouthful, but context is important. 

I would always get vanilla ice cream with Whoppers and gummy worms on top. Every time. If you do the math, with the 33-33-33 split between chocolate or vanilla or swirl, throw a quick 40 factorial in the mix to consider the variety of ingredients, there are thousands of different combinations at The Ice Cream Show. I stuck with just one, and my vanilla with Whoppers and gummy worms on a waffle cone stayed in my repertoire for years. As they say, “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it.”

However, as I finished my senior year of high school and prepared to head out to Southern California, something changed. No longer was I in front of the counter ordering a combination that had become ingrained in my Ice Cream Show routine. I was now behind the counter, earning a crisp $8 an hour, taking and making others’ orders. 

I heard a lot of interesting combinations in my time behind the register. Some of them sounded good, like peanut butter and strawberry in vanilla ice cream or green mint, Oreos and marshmallow in chocolate. Others, not so much (mango and pistachio in vanilla or blueberry and peppermint in chocolate). 

On slow days, I had free reign over the vast selection of ingredients and could experiment with different combinations — I began to fix what wasn’t broken. 

Cheesecake quickly became a favorite ingredient of mine. One day, I would combine it with blueberries and graham crackers, the next Butterfingers and peanut butter. My favorite combination soon became Oreo, strawberry and cheesecake — in vanilla ice cream, of course. 

I feel strongly for vanilla ice cream, the blank slate of ice cream flavors in which even ingredients as subtle as pineapple or coconut could make their presence felt. Chocolate was too overpowering and didn’t play a good host to some ingredients. 

Last summer, as I prepared to enter my senior year of college, I returned to The Ice Cream Show and, once more, stepped behind the counter. 

I was in more of a managerial position than I was a few years before — although it was never an official title. I was leading a ragtag group of high schoolers and certainly felt that if I didn’t step into that position things could quickly go wrong. 

Because of this, I was on the machine making ice creams more than I had been during my first year at the Show. It was rare that I would spend time at the register. On some shifts, when we were slammed, I would make ice cream for three or four hours straight — which is more work than it might sound like. 

At the end of my shift, when I would typically prepare a combination to take home and try, I was too tired. I had spent so much time making others’ creations that I had no desire to craft my own. I was overexposed to the delicious treat and couldn’t appreciate it the way I had before. 

But now, as I sit eating some average at best Ben & Jerry’s, I appreciate The Ice Cream Show more than I did over this summer, when I was too busy putting on a smile for customers and making sure my co-workers were co-working. Having access to the amalgamation of fruits, candies, nuts and miscellaneous items was a blessing. Getting free ice cream daily was a blessing. Making $8 an hour was not as much of a blessing, but it was the icing on top, I suppose. 

They say you don’t really appreciate what you have until it’s gone, and I think that is true, in a sense. You can, of course, appreciate things while they’re sitting in front of you, but that level of appreciation is amplified when that something is taken away. 

We’re about six weeks into the semester, and I’m feeling pretty burnt out. The days have been chock-full of classes, Daily Trojan production and general life management — which is becoming more and more of a full time job. There have been times where I’ve been overwhelmed and have wanted to quit and run away to Alaska and live with bears, catching salmon with my mouth and getting my hand stuck in a jar of honey. 

But I know that in a year or two, I’ll be eating some Americone Dream in some city working some job, and recall these days and long to go back to the register, to the classroom, to the newsroom. So, for now, Alaska can wait. I’m pretty sure the ice cream scene isn’t anything special up there anyways. 

“Editors’ Epilogue” is a rotating column featuring a new Daily Trojan editor in each installment and their personal experiences of living in what seems to be an irrepressible dumpster fire of a world.