**This story is a Baltimore tale. In the city of Baltimore, there are crews of “squeegee boys” who patrol busy intersections in the city armed with a squeegee and a bucket. They wash windows and expect a nominal fee. It’s a thing.**
Scene: Coming off the 83 South exit onto North Ave. The light is red! Squeegee-er is coming at me. Squeegee raised. I roll down my window.
Me: It’s raining.
Squeegee dude: Just trying to stay out of trouble. I ain’t robbing anyone. Just trying to make some money. (He never addresses my comment.)
Me: Go for it.
I have been thinking about writing about the squeegee-ers for a couple months, but then my dog died, and Dan Rodricks started writing a few columns about them, so I have waited.
In the beginning, when I first moved to B-more, in 1992, the squeegee guys were very assertive. They annoyed me, cause, with my annual teaching salary at $22,500, the last thing I was going to do was give up money I didn’t have. I avoided eye contact, and if they got in my face, I would shake my head no. In those days, they would clean it regardless of whether you said yes or no, and then give you a dirty look (or worse) if you didn’t pay. I would try to play the lights skillfully so that I was way back in the line or barreling through a yellow-ish light. It was stressful for a 23-year-old who had never lived in a large city.
My mom and stepdad were visiting, and we somehow ended up in Philly. My stepdad was driving, and my mom was in the passenger seat. I was in the back. (Important information; Wes is Okinawan, was raised in Hawaii and lives in Guam, a tiny island.) We are a few cars back in the line at an intersection somewhere in Philly. Wes sees them coming. He starts tripping. He starts nervously laughing in a high-pitched way, and starts repeating, over and over, “What do I do?” I start smiling, my mom starts laughing. He starts yelling, “What do I do? What do I do?” They start washing his windows. Between fits of laughter, my mom screeches, “Give him money.” He does. It’s a story that has snuck into family lore.
Where did they go? Did they disappear for several years? I think so. Some sort of city initiative…. Hmmmmmm
Sarah: Todd, what do you do about the squeegee guys in the city?
Me: I just give them $2.
Sarah: I usually do as well, but when I say no, I expect them to not do it. But sometimes they do, and I won’t pay, and they can get nasty.
Me: Yeah, I don’t ever say no. I just give them $2, regardless. I don’t need it, I don’t want it, but I appreciate the hustle and the “hustle.” I figure it is a tiny bit of wealth re-distribution. (I clearly married well and am not pulling in 22.5 anymore.)
Hidden within these mindless missives are some serious questions that need to be answered. Why are we so uncomfortable? How do we address the concentrated poverty? How do we employ/train the underserved? Etc… But that is for another day. Keep hustling squeegee-ers, you can always get 2 bucks out of me.