He’s a metal scrapper who moonlights as a political pundit — a hard-working East Nashvillian whose views have become known far beyond the local junkyard.
Carl Hill, perhaps better known as “Carl from Nashville,” has been a regular caller to NPR’s “On Point” political talk show for about a decade.
Hardly a week goes by without Hill appearing on air with something to say, usually deeply researched and strongly opinionated. (Locally, he’s also a mainstay on sports talk shows.)
WPLN recently spent time with Hill as part of a nationwide NPR project, “A Nation Engaged,” which seeks answers to two questions this week: What does it mean to be an American? And, what can the next president do to further that vision?
Hill’s answers combine lessons gleaned from his daily work and his obsessive interest in politics, which began even before he was a teenager, growing up in Chicago.
The 45-year-old starts each morning shuttling two of his five children to school before arriving at the vacant gravel lot that he refers to as his “office.” It’s piled with scrap, broken lawn mowers and old appliances.
On a recent morning, he pried apart an air conditioner that someone had dropped off. He knew the metal coil inside was the most valuable.
“Now this is worth 20 times what that’s worth,” he said, comparing the coil to the rest of the machine.
It’s dirty work under a hot sun.
But Hill takes pride in running his own scrapping operation, which along with his wife’s work, has paid for a mortgage and supported the family.
He preaches patience, hustle and customer service. He credits his time as a restaurant waiter for the wisdom.
“Waiting tables is basically preparing you to be your own entrepreneur, being your own owner. Because you make as much money as you’re willing to work for,” he said.
Hill gravitated to hauling with an in-between side job mowing lawns. When not at the restaurant, he toted a mower in the back of a little red Hyundai. Then he bought a lime green 1974 Chevy truck, then extra mowers and a weed eater.
“And that was the day that I knew: When I was losing money going to (the restaurant), I knew right then and there.”
He draws from this vision of hard work.
“If you have an entrepreneurial spirit, if you have a go-get-it attitude, you can make it in America,” he said. “Now, are there obstacles? Yes. Are there still advantages for certain people in this country, and disadvantages for other ones? Hell yes. (But) don’t tell me that my country is falling apart when I see what we do here every day.”
His particular business innovation is his location. He rents a highly visible corner lot at the entrance to a city recycling center. Instead of trolling through alleys, he lets people bring their junk to him.
Customers like Carl Davidson, a regular, say they stop often, partly because the conversation is so good.
“He’s got a story,” Davidson said. “He talks big politics. That’s what we talked about, was politics.”
It turns out, the customers aren’t the only ones who know the beliefs of this scrapper.
When he’s not breaking down appliances, Hill rests under a patio umbrella, almost always with earbuds running from his smartphone, listening to talk shows.
“I pretty much say what other people want to say but can’t say. I try to fancy myself a voice for the voiceless,” Hill said.
When he reaches “On Point,” there’s usually a flurry of social media responses — and a familiarity in the greeting of host Tom Ashbook. He has heard Hill quote politicians from specific interviews and drop in references to policies and obscure figures from decades past.
“If I’m going to say something, I want facts to back it up,” Hill said.
He recalls a lesson from a childhood math teacher.
“She had a habit of saying, ‘OK, you have the answer, I want to know how you figure out the formula for the answer,’ ” he said.
He ranks among the show’s “signature” callers, says Executive Producer Karen Shiffman.
“He is bold and brave and cuts through the crap and tells it like it is, at least through his eyes,” she said. “He really speaks from the heart, but you can really hear that his mind is really going all cylinders, you can sort of hear the gears sort of whirling around.”
Shiffman said Hill also compares the subject of each show to his personal experience.
“He is always willing to sort of take on a Nobel prize winner, the top expert in whatever field, and say, ‘Hey that’s not how it goes down where I live,’ ” she said.
YAY!!! Let's hear it for Carl From Nashville on @OnPointRadio ! Got to be my favorite caller. He speaks truth with intelligence.
— Debra Cowan (@DebraCowanMusic) August 19, 2016
Lately, Hill has reacted to what he sees as the worldview of Republican nominee Donald Trump.
“If you think that our country is some type of disaster area — some desolate wasteland, like Donald Trump thinks — then what will you do?” Hill said. “I think our country is great. I think our country is great right now. I think our country can always get better.”
When a freight train blasts its horn a few feet away, Hill perks up.
“Gotta love it,” he says, as if the proof he needed is right on time. “That right there, what you’re hearing, a lot of people may think it’s a botherance. That is American engineering. That is America working.”
Hill sees America working pretty well — but its political system as dysfunctional.
That’s an insight from a man who spends most of his days trying to salvage things that are broken.