Seeking Jobs, Beach Clean Up Workers Come From All Walks of Life

Joshua Kumrits and Trent Jones were born, as they say, “hard-core Christians.” Jones was raised as a Nazarene in Florida and used to witness to people on the beach. Kumrits was born in Paraguay to missionary parents and once believed that if you weren’t washed in the blood of Christ, you were going to hell.

The two 28-year-olds talk about who they once were like it was a long time and a different life, even though it was only two years ago.

I met Kumrits and Jones at Orange Beach, Alabama, where they have been working as clean up workers. Two weeks earlier, they had been down in Clearwater, Florida figuring out what to do with their summer when they heard about the jobs scraping oil from beaches. A contact told them if they wanted to be hired, they should be here by 8:00 the next morning. (They work temporary jobs and each summer, they live in a different place. Last summer, Kumrits worked on a sailboat in Maine, even though he had never sailed in his life.)

Now, they’re shoveling tar balls off the beach for $12 an hour, time-and-a-half overtime. They say it’s becoming an amazing experience, not at all what they expected. They describe the people in the crew as a kind of forced family. For 12 hours a day, they’re together in 100-degree heat. Everyone is still getting to know each other, they say, but it feels like it’s becoming a new tribe.

“It’s like The Great Depression,” Kumrits said. People seeking jobs have come from all over the Gulf region. Middle-class plant workers who lost their jobs in the recession and convicted felons recently released from prison. Mothers and sons and uncles and nephews. The work is hard. There is no shade and when the heat gets too unbearable, they can’t run into the water to cool off. They are black, white and Hispanic. I guess Kumrits and Jones fill the demographic of designated hippies.

They are no longer evangelical Christians because they had begun to feel uncomfortable with the judgmental nature of their faith. They felt it was keeping them from connecting with others. They started asking questions. “I can’t believe I was telling people on the beach that they were going to hell!” Jones said, laughing. “Remember that guy in Telluride we were trying to save?” Kumrits asked his friend. “Man, he sounded just like we sound today.”

But if you ask them what they are, they really don’t know. And they’re fine with that. They don’t know where they will be spiritually in a year, but they don’t seem very much preoccupied by it.

Today, their spirituality comes from the Tao Te Ching. They are dedicated to shedding their possessions. Kumrits lives year round in a camper. The two men are constantly challenging each other to make do with less. I’m fascinated by this way of living. The BP Deepwater Horizon disaster has me thinking about how we are all trapped in an unsustainable cycle of consumerism. (Fellow RD blogger Daniel Schultz has a terrific post on that subject here.)

I have to wonder whether Kumrits and Jones represent the future. Not necessarily by choice, but by reality. Yes, they work hard. but they refuse to allow themselves to be trapped by their work. They believe that the world has changed and they believe their possessions will only hinder them in the new world.