In my hometown, teenagers spend their junior-high summers lounging by the river. The summer after 7th grade, while I wasn’t legally old enough to work, I landed the only under-the-table job my small town offered—I’d be pedaling an adult-sized tricycle around town, selling ice cream out of a large cooler attached to the front.
Every Wednesday afternoon, I’d cover several miles of the town’s main streets, strategically ending at the park center where a small orchestra played. This was a smart business move, as most of the townspeople gathered there to listen to live music and get in as much gossip as they could before winter. My boss had an inkling that ice cream would be a colossal hit with the summer crowd, and his inkling proved correct.
I was an athletic preteen. I hiked, biked, and swam at the town waterfall most mornings, so the several-mile ascent up Mountain Street didn’t scare me. There was something, however, that I found terrifying about the new job: the all-white safari uniform and oversized straw-brimmed hat I had to wear. I wasn’t thrilled about working all those summer evenings, but now I’d have to parade around town like a big, white, ice-cream-selling park ranger. I wasn’t sure I could stand the humiliation, and the more I thought about it, the worse I felt. Quite possibly, this job could equal social suicide.
I went home, flopped onto my bed, and stared up at my bedroom ceiling, in tears. Then I remembered the promise I’d made to myself: I would work as hard as I could every summer between then and my senior year and save every penny, so I could go to college. I knew my parents wouldn’t be able to pay my tuition, and it was either this or winning the lottery. Even as a kid, I knew my odds were better with the ice cream trike, so I weighed my options: four to six years of small town mockery or a lifetime working at McDonalds… That was it, I was going to ride the darn thing and rock that safari hat as best as I could!
The only freedom I had with my uniform was my choice of shoes. I took the decision seriously—they’d need to be perfect if I was going to have a chance of getting asked to the prom one day… I’d recently studied Roman History in my Global Studies class and learned all about gladiators—their harrowing bravery as they fought, often to their deaths, for the mere possibility of eventual freedom. I saw my Creamsicle-on-wheels as the arena, and my college future as the prize. Now all I needed to do was to find my pair of studded gladiator sandals, which would give me enough courage to fight to victory.
After locating them under a pile of winter boots, I latched on the sandals and prepared for battle. Climbing onto the tricycle, I found out right away that the heavy cooler made it frighteningly unwieldy. My thighs burned over the steep hills, and my calves hurt from braking though the valleys, but like a warrior, I kept going. I rang the bike bell loud and clear and braced myself before the final hill leading to the park center. The looming descent was no problem on my pink Huffy, but I wasn’t sure I’d be able to balance the Ice Cream Trike of Death. I looked at my sandals. I was going to do this! I pushed off and courageously glided down the hill.
I managed to get to the bottom of the hill alive, but that wasn’t much consolation when I noticed my friends gathering in the park. I contemplated turning a street early and discreetly wheeling the freezer back to my boss’s house. Just then, an older boy rode up alongside me on his mountain bike and said, “Hey, what a fun job! Can I ride with you? Oh, cool sandals…”
He wanted to ride with me, Ranger Nutty Buddy? He didn’t seem to notice my goofy outfit—he was too immersed in a story about the restorations he and his father had made to his mountain bike. The next couple of hours flew by. My wingman stayed cooler-side throughout the concert, and my friends came by to say hi and buy a cone or two. I was glad I hadn’t chickened out because I now was hanging out and making money. For the rest of the summer, I’d spy the curly-haired boy on his mountain bike, and he’d chivalrously escort me and my freezer to the park. I even scored a two-dollar raise from my boss, who was impressed with how many cones I’d managed to sell.
Gladiator sandals became my footwear of choice from that summer on. The following year, when I was of legal working age, my boss offered me a legitimate job at the Creemee Shack, selling cones from the store window. By the time I was seventeen, I graduated to become a rollerblading waitress at the A&W drive-through the next town over. I managed to climb the ice cream ladder all the way to college. And somehow, I still got asked to prom… by a certain curly-haired mountain bike rider… And that was cooler than ice cream.
Just for the record, while the above are beautiful, this is more what the actual shoes looked like: