Put Your Head Down and Work

One of my first jobs out of college was at a busy, local bike shop. It was 2009, so my humanities degrees were useless in the already bankrupt Chicago labor market. But the bike shop was a happy medium. It paid well, the customers were (mostly) cool, and the discounts were steep. Outside of the university, sandwich shop, and non-profit jobs I held during college, my years with the bike shop were my first real introduction to “work” in Chicago. That particular psychology of labor—a byproduct of capitalist economics—constituting the careerist spirit of ‘The City That Works.’ I didn’t realize it at the time, but we had a running joke in the shop that I think served as dictum for this psychology: “Put your head down and work.” Which is what we would say—jokingly-but-not-jokingly—when things got hectic. Us shop hands would complain under our breath at the weekend busyness, or the stupidity of that new money yuppie couple in the corner. Then someone would say, “put your head down and work.” We’d laugh, but then we’d actually put our heads down, and we’d work. And stop complaining, and stop joking around.

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