Enterprise, Shoveling Shit, Identity, and the Military

I worked at Enterprise Rent-A-Car from 2001 to 2003. We were encouraged to be friendly and make personal connections with the customers via small talk. I remember a customer who needed a vehicle due to car repair. Can’t remember his name but he was a black dude, about 35, dressed in Carhartt overalls. We talked sports, city life, and high school. He told me he graduated from Osborne High School, worked for BFI Waste Services, and a couple of friends were trying to talk him into going to the upcoming class reunion. Then he made this statement –

“All them motherfuckers want to do is talk about their stocks, careers, 401ks and shit. Well, I shovel shit all day: let’s talk about that dammit.”

He paused, said a few more words, I offered what encouragement I could muster up, and put him in his rental.

His frustration stayed with me. He was mad that the best life had given him: was a job “shoveling shit.” He was mad that “shoveling shit” was the only thing in his life he had to hang his hat on and the last thing he wanted was to bring his “shoveling shit” identity to a space where others had and were proud of having so much more.  The tone of his voice told all - not sure if he felt he let himself down or if “life” let him down more.

I hate he felt like that because I bet he probably had some very tangible skills. I bet he could draw, I bet he probably had a musical background that he never explored. I bet if I had talked to him long enough he would have told me about this entrepreneurial dream he had, a dream he gave up on because he couldn’t finance it or maybe just stopped believing in it. Even with that- if all he saw himself as was a “shit shoveler” and that’s all he will ever be. I promised myself I would never look in the mirror and feel like that.

About six months later I had another customer: black guy, late 20s, athletic looking who talked a lot about his time in the military. He told me –

“I’m not like you man, I’m gonna’ have to go back in the service because I don’t have the mind to be no business man, I just can’t understand all that shirt and tie stuff like you guys.”

I responded, “I can’t understand all the shirt and tie stuff either; I just work here to pay a few bills. I like to write poems and take pictures – that’s what my life is about.”

He gave me a perplexed look, might have even thought I was joking, didn’t respond and went about his way.

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