7 April 2022

Confession: I dread the window washers on Northbourne

| Zoya Patel
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Window washer

Is having your windows washed at traffic lights your most awkward social interaction? Photo: File.

I’m not someone to shy away from the signs of inequality in our city. I’ve written before about my willingness to give money to beggars and the homeless.

I’m well aware of the structural drivers of poverty that mean that thousands of people in Canberra struggle to find food and shelter, and address other complex issues they may be experiencing like mental health crises and addiction.

But with all this said, I have to admit – I dread pulling up to a red light on Northbourne Ave when I see a window washer waiting. Not because I fear for my safety or because I have a distaste for the un/underemployed offering to wash my windscreen, but because it is the most awkward interaction I ever have in my daily life, and I have no control over how it unfolds.

As a young woman, usually driving alone, I feel like an obvious target for a few of the regular window washers who will approach and start working away at your windscreen without your consent. I shake my head voraciously, but to no avail – these men (so far, they’ve always been men) ignore my protest, wash my windscreen, and then look disgusted when I don’t wind down my window to pay.

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I’m not refusing to pay out of some misguided sense of being a dissatisfied customer – I just genuinely never have cash on me. Who does this these days? I will scour my car and my handbag, but I never have even a coin to hand over, which is the reason why I said no to the offer of a window wash in the first place. But now, my windscreen wet and freshly wiped, I feel like a total jerk because I’m driving away without paying, even though I never wanted my windscreen washed and made that clear at the outset.

Basically, it’s a situation that typifies a lot of the woke millennial guilt I carry around with me daily and has become a source of genuine anxiety, especially post-COVID, having had a reprieve from driving through the city for years.

I feel bad for being so clearly privileged compared to the window washer – I’m sitting in my expensive 4WD, driving between my well-paid job and home that I own (or worse, to have a ‘bougie brunch’ with equally privileged friends), while this guy is trying to get $2 out of me one of the only ways he can, and I’m going to ignore him, reject him, or drive away without paying? It makes my head feel like exploding every time.

And yeah, I know that many of you will argue that he would take that $2 and add it to the funds he’s supposedly pulling together for his next drug hit, but as I’ve written before, the fact of my better circumstances gives me no right to judge how someone else spends their money, especially if I’ve chosen to give them some.

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I want to assure them that I am actually a good person, and I appreciate their labour, but I have nothing to provide because I haven’t had cash in my wallet since last year when I got a $50 note for my birthday from an older relative.

It’s gotten to the point where I’m probably going to get a roll of $2 coins to keep in my car so I can avoid this problem in the future. Friends have suggested flicking my wipers on to be extra clear about my lack of interest in a clean, but I find that aggressive and rude, and I also hate conflict.

Am I alone in this anxiety, or do others share a similar issue? Or am I just going about this all wrong?

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Gabriel Cecilia Marie Blount10:52 am 10 Apr 22

I dread it too but for a different reason. I do keep coins in my dash for these guys and I’m super privileged to own an expensive euro car full of automation. The window washer started washing the windscreen and the automatic wipers came on and attacked him! It took a minute to figure out how to turn them off and by then he had sworn at me and moved on. Omg so awkward!

Finally Relented7:09 pm 13 Apr 22

Yes!! Same…although I never have any coins handy either…

It’s been quite a while since I stopped at the intersections where the window washers operate, but I remember that the protocol used to be that a washer would approach your car, raise their squeegee and wait for an indication of your approval to proceed (nod, gesture etc) or not. Have they stopped doing this? If I was a window washer, I wouldn’t want to waste time washing the windows of people who didn’t want the service. Another thing – I’m sure window washing is technically in breach of some road safety legislation and ACT Police could easily stamp it out by targeting the intersections in question a few times. However you can imagine the outcry in the local press and ABC News if they did so – ‘police prevent homeless people from earning a few honest extra dollars’, etc, as evidenced by an earlier post.

I try and avoid going to Braddon because of them

SigmaOctantis7:31 am 08 Apr 22

There are 61 personal pronouns in this article. It seem it’s actually all about the author and not the message.

Capital Retro10:51 am 08 Apr 22

Yes, she’s playing the victim again.

This angst ridden self indulgent crap about ‘woke millennial guilt’ proves that window washers are performing a most useful social function in disturbing the fragile mental state of leftie snowflakes and should be at every intersection.

It’s annoying when they ignore you yelling and shaking your head as they come closer and still do what they want. I’ve tried to complain to ACT Government and ask them if something can be done, even spoke to the head of the responsible directorate a couple of years back, however as always, they just fobbed me off and gave a useless bureaucratic excuse about not being able to do anything.

For all you know the window washers have struggled through life or hit hard times and they are trying to have a go at something. Carry some coins, have some sympathy. It’s not hard!

What kind of “4WD” do you have? Must be one of those hatchback soft-roaders – the window washers don’t come near my car, they always look for an easier target (like the cutsey little soft-roader in the next lane).
Hey, I even have to stand on top of the front wheel (or get a step ladder) just to clean the whole windscreen with my squeegee at home, and I’m no shorty, and don’t even have the full-size Landcruiser.

ChrisinTurner3:05 pm 07 Apr 22

Their latest tactic is not to ask if you want your windscreen washed. This happened so quickly to me I didn’t have time to switch off my automatic windscreen wipers, which started as soon as the water hit the windscreen. It was fortunate that the wipers survived. These guys risk being hit as they dance between the moving cars. I thought it was illegal, but like many things there is no enforcement.

Has anyone actually Asked the Washers’ opinions ?
So many ‘victims’-opinions, and judgements.
I do NOT want them to do anything to my car.
I ask them NOT to, as politely as I can.
I feel intimidated by the supposed reaction, based upon some who persist, whatever I might say.
ACT law should ban – I thought that was the practice some time ago.
I recall the ex-Lyneham High student who worked his pitch at Dickson traffic lights for ages. Hard life.

I was sitting at traffic lights in my 20 year old car and a guy came to wash my windscreen. I said no thank you (I had no change to give either) and he proceeded to wash. I would the window down and re iterated the no thanks.

Surely he did himself out of $2 for doing my screen rather than someone elses?

Tim Saunders1:27 pm 07 Apr 22

Wow! If this is the biggest stressor in your life you’ve got it good. What a woke piece of trash this article was. The crap that passes for journalism these days is horrific!

Feel better now?

Capital Retro1:20 pm 07 Apr 22

“As a young woman, usually driving alone, I feel like an obvious target…..”

Don’t get tickets on yourself Zoya, they don’t give a brass razoo about who you are, your well paid job or your 4WD.

They are only interested in washing your windscreen and it it very un-Christian of you not to understand their situation and not give them any money.

I thought when Light Rail was introduced, all Northbourne Ave intersections were meant to be Window Washer free ?

Scott Anthony11:39 am 07 Apr 22

These window washers should be banned on purely safety grounds, its dangerous to have someone walking on the road extorting money from drivers, often these people are making more than $100 per hour from gullible drivers who feel ‘sorry’ for these people, who ironically make more than the drivers do.. I’ve even seen a car run a red light to get away from a relentless window washer who refused to stop touching the car when asked over and over. Not every idea for the un-declared cash income earner is a good idea.

russianafroman11:32 am 07 Apr 22

Curious if anyone else has noticed the woman who has been “washing” people’s windscreens on the intersection between Girrawheen and Northbourne. Seen her every day for the past few weeks. I think the off hand comment of it being only men is completely incorrect and stinks of misandry, but I’ll let it slide.

The way these people work is they are basically more forceful beggars. Instead of just sitting on the ground, they actively close into your personal space barrier, making you feel very nervous and guilty. That’s how they work.

As for wiping their dirty , rock and dirt filled sponge over your windscreen, using bucket water most likely out of a river, which has never been washed out or replaced in months, causing damage to your windscreen. Modern cars contain all sorts of sensors and radars into the windscreen, meaning a scratch in it will likely stay there because a replacement screen will cost over a thousand dollars.

Put simply these people need to be removed from the roads. They are scammers who violate people’s space and property by intimidating and guilt tripping people. I have no sympathy for them.

I feel for these window washers particularly in summer and winter. However it is dangerous for them to move around in traffic. Surely the local police drive down Northbourne Avenue and other main thoroughfares. It is their responsibility to move the window washers on to protect both the washers and the traffic public. Do we have to wait until one of them get injured before something is done?

You’ve declined, they shouldn’t be touching your car – hit the panic button on your vehicle keys until he goes away.

I had one try wash my back window after a hard no signal from me and turning on the wiper, guy kept cleaning around the moving wiper knocking into it with a big snarky smile on his face. Snapped and chased him off my car in middle of traffic.

They should all be thrown in jail. We act like there is no social welfare in this country. Jobseeker is there for you to live off if you are too lazy to make an honest living!

brucewantstobecool8:35 am 07 Apr 22

Firstly, I thought the window washers were now banned along the light rail corridor and neighbouring intersections?

Secondly, could Zoya please write a positive article at some point? The constant self loathing Zoya feels for simply having a good life is a bit of a drag. Yes, it’s right to acknowledge your/our privileged positions in life (be it due to inherited wealth, your parents working bloody hard to give you opportunities and/or you creating those opportunities yourself), but why should anyone. Zoya included, feel guilty about being fortunate?

swaggieswaggie12:03 pm 07 Apr 22

Agreed that Zoya is a bit of a one trick pony from a journalistic point of view, even Bushnell can produce varied themes and content if you stay on this site long enough. And as regards the washers, just turn on the wipers for 5 seconds, not just a flick

I would prefer seeing these fellas at the lights and daily deal with my own awkward emotions (& it does wrench my heart) than have the lasting memory of “the fellas” currently breaking into houses/cars in my neighbourhood. These people at the lights are basically trying to make a more honest living than some, out in the open & enterprisingly so. I do find it confronting refusing someone down on their luck (or even perhaps just due to consequences of less than desirable life decisions) approach me in public/try to wash my windscreen, often not very well/against my will, I now put my hand up and say a very firm no, most times it works. Since coming to Canberra & watching it grow I have had to confront some realities of city life, harden up in my job when necessary & also think how I can contribute to lessen inequality & social problems. In my health industry job I see the other side of a prosperous city, my personal panacea is to quietly donate food to street pantries, no embarassment/confrontation & some one quietly gets fed & perhaps stays off the street/out of the health/justice/mental health systems or just doesn’t break in or aporoach me on the street & make me feel bad before I continue on with my comfy life.

It is illegal. Some would say the tram was good for one thing only: outlawing window washers on Northbourne!

Report it on Crimestoppers a few hundred times and they might get moved on. Do not give them money

They should have been banned years ago and it’s truly ridiculous that some of these people have been hailed as hereos.

Even before COVID they created safety risks as well as harassing and intimidating people. And that’s not even starting on how the cash in hand funds gained are mostly used.

Post COVID, who wants to have a forced interaction like that with a stranger like that?

The government and police should crack down on this activity as they should have done when it began.

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