Thursday, December 18, 2008


“Oh, the weather outside is frightful,
But the fire is so delightful,
And since we’ve no place to go,
Let it snow, let it snow, let it snow.”
—Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne, “Let it snow! Let it snow! Let it snow!”

Theia stands behind the counter in the small store on N. Clark St. Outside, snow and a frigid cold have descended upon the city, driving Chicagoans to head for heat where they can find it. (Or perhaps contend with a layer of slush on the street.)

It’s 8:30 p.m., and Theia finds herself alone in the shop. The single room with the baby-blue walls has seen hordes of customers in the past, but at this hour, a gumball machine and stacks of free newspapers and magazines aren’t enough to draw in a single person (beyond a curious reporter).

It could be the hour. It could be that this section of Lincoln Park is residential. It could also be the product that Theia’s selling.

Ice cream.

“I’m a mother,” says Theia, who wears a brown shirt with the store’s logo, a swirl of ice cream on a wafer cone. “It’s like down time.”

Treats Frozen Desserts, a Chicago-area chain, sells only a handful of products. Its main offering is four flavors of 99% fat-free ice cream, which can be mixed with two or more of some 30-plus toppings to create what the company calls a “Mess.” Beyond this, a freezer stocks cakes, pies, and containers of pre-packaged ice cream, while a nearby refrigerator holds bottles of water.

Absent are penguins.

A 30-year-old mother of two, Theia has been working at Treats for six years. When it’s warm out, she says, the store can see three employees behind the counter at a time; in this season, there’s just one per day, from 2 to 10 p.m.

“The area’s good. It’s close to home,” says Theia, a lifelong Chicagoan who grew up around Austin Ave. and Lake St. and now lives on the Northwest Side. “In my other job, I used to have to leave my home two hours just to make it to work on time.” Now, it’s 45 minutes by public transit, less when driving.

She’s thought of moving to another city, though she’d want to stay in Illinois. Why would she leave Chicago?

“Right now, the prices. Right now, it’s just too expensive for me in Chicago. Four kids, and I’m working at an ice cream shop.”

Treats Frozen Desserts, at Clark St. and Grant Pl. in Lincoln Park. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

As for the job itself, she doesn’t complain. To the contrary. “There’s always something to do here,” she insists. “It’s never a boring day.”

Even when the temperature is near, if not in, the single digits.

A young man wearing a green Patagonia jacket and a blue sweatshirt comes in and asks for a couple of free tastes before choosing his ice cream. His says his name is Michael, and he’s a student at Columbia College.

Michael, 22 years old, offers that he shops at Trader Joe’s and just had a salad and sandwich for dinner, but that he tries to come to Treats at least once a month. In this weather, he notes, “I know there’s not going to be a line out the door especially.”

It helps that Michael lives above the store.

“Has it been busy tonight?” he asks Theia.

“I’ve had a good…” She pauses to think. “…Five customers a hour.” Of those five per hour, she remarks, “Those are, like, the faithfulest customers of Treats. They come in, rain, hail, sleet, or snow.”

“Have a nice night,” she says to Michael before he leaves.

“You, too,” he replies. “What is your name?”




“Michael,” he says back.

“Okay,” she replies.

“So, you’re upstairs, right?” she adds.


“Soooo, you know Tom?” she asks, her voice ending playfully upward.


“Tom. He works for the sushi place. He’s a deliverer.”

“Oh, okay,” he replies. “Yeah. Is he normally smoking cigarettes all the time?”

“Yup,” she giggles. “That’s Tom.”

“Thanks again,” says Michael, before walking out. “Stay warm.”

If Theia could be doing anything she wanted anywhere in the world right now, what would it be?

She thinks about it.

She’s offered some suggestions: Spending more time with her family, traveling somewhere, lying on a beach…?

Lying on a beach, she decides. “In the sun. Out of the snow.”

“But what’s crazy,” she goes on, “I may even miss the snow if I leave. I have a brother that lives in Florida, so he probably knows well. So, when he comes to Chicago, he’s like a kid in a candy store. He goes outside, no coat, no nothing. And I’m like, ‘Boyyyy!’”

Around a quarter to 9, two men walk into the store. “Hi, cousin!” Theia greets the first one.

“Wassup?” he replies.

The second of the two men is Cedric, her significant other. You might guess they’re together if you looked closely at Theia’s gold-colored hoop earrings, one of which has her name nestled inside the ring, while the other has his.

The two men have come to keep Theia company until the end of her shift.

As they chat, the sound of an electric snow blower can be heard just outside the shop. “He’s a good guy! Good guy!” says Theia. “You know I can not shovel no snow.”

Theia has been working since she was 17 years old, and it’s always been in food service. In this job, she particularly enjoys interacting with the local high school students who come in (the Francis W. Parker School is just across the street, while Lincoln Park High School isn’t far away). “We play the dare game,” she explains. “Like, make crazy Messes, like Nerds, cotton candy, and gummy bears.” She takes on a mocking voice: “‘I bet you five dollars you will not eat this.’”

The weather outside is frightful, but the frozen pies are still for sale. (Click on photo to enlarge.)

Theia calls food service “her life.” “I like the different people. To me, different people. There’s never a dull moment in food service.

“I just like to move around,” she continues. “My days go by much faster.”

Shortly after 9, a young woman comes in and orders a cone of cookie dough ice cream. Not long after that, Theia is cleaning the counter and mopping the floor. She’s decided to call it a night early, something she does maybe once a month.

She won’t get paid for the time she’s not here— but there aren’t exactly many customers paying now. Not with the mercury hovering around ten degrees Fahrenheit outside.

“I tell you,” says Theia, with her cousin and her significant other waiting for her to leave the ice cream behind, to head off to warmth somewhere else. “There’s never a dull moment.”

And when she says it, you believe her.

It just goes to show: Contentment, like warmth, is where you find it— even among the cold.

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