Warrior Words: Thoughts from the late, great Peachwave

If you read the official heralding of the new academic year via The Wilton Bulletin’s welcoming of the new Warrior Words columnists, you would’ve read that in my spare time I work as a beta product tester at Peachwave and as a student alliance leader at a college search engine startup called CollegeFactual. While my job responsibilities at Peachwave did occasionally include testing some questionable products, my official title was cashier. I do my beta testing with CollegeFactual, no edibles involved. Fun mistake — my friends all got quite a laugh out of picturing me in the back kitchen of Peachwave, blindfolded, hard hat and hair net adorned, tasting some Mystery Flavor next to a clipboard-bearing Peachwave scientist. Unfortunately, Peachwave Wilton has been closed for a few weeks now and my cashiering/beta-froyo-flavor-sampling abilities have grown rusty (please contact me if you know an open position for the latter).

Sometimes if there’s a few cents left over on a gift card after it’s swiped, the customer gives the gift card to the cashier to then throw out or give to the next customer. One day in early August, a father and daughter duo paid with a gift card, and ended up having 97 cents left over, which they kindly gave to me. Ninety-seven cents is big bucks when it comes to frozen yogurt. The recipient of this gift would be lucky. Sadly, I was the bestower of this gift, and I accidentally skipped the next sequential customer, who should have been the rightful owner of the 97 cents. It became my task to find someone morally deserving of this treat. I passed up on two families with small children. I passed up on some middle schoolers. I passed up on one woman who tipped me a few dollars, which made me feel guilty that I hadn’t given it to her. The 97 cents plagued me; I took it as seriously as if I was picking an adoptive family for my chinchilla. For a full hour I observed, reviewed, doubted. It was paralyzing. I didn’t end up giving the 97 cents to anyone. My shift ended. Metaphor or me being overly analytical? Make of it what you will.

I learned things at my after-school job. And no, I don’t mean that I improved my dish-washing or floor-mopping. I now know how to make industrial-sized servings of frozen yogurt but I see little utilitarian purpose for this knowledge. Working (and people-watching) for three hours a day every few days has taught me about the business world, customer service, and communication.

My co-workers were older local college students who work on the side, whose concerns are much different than mine. They're worried about rents, issues with salary and loans, their other part-time job, their difficult boyfriend, their volunteer firefighter exam. Meanwhile, my junior-year priorities were the AP U.S. History test redesign, finding a Counties date, and debating whether or not there's a God. It was a reality check, and gave me the ability to converse with just about anyone.

Hearing about the drama and trials of the business world taught me that everyone in a company must be familiar with the day-to-day experiences and decision-making of each level within. Management must know how the people on the ground operate, and come to them for ideas. Management shouldn’t be a faceless presence.

I was always paranoid that I would be fired. It took that last leg of knowing the store would go under soon, doubting another buyer would come along, and reassuring myself that it would be inefficient to fire me in the store’s final days that allowed me to feel uninhibited and take risks. I realize now how silly it was to not have faith that the manager recognized how hard I was working.

Thank you, Peachwave, for the opportunity to observe and partake in corporate America. Thank you, Wiltonians, for the year that you allowed me to serve you.

Olivia Phelan is a senior at Wilton High School. She shares this column with four people.