Year in Review: Region Media is revisiting some of the best Opinion articles of 2022. Here’s what got you talking, got you angry and got you thinking in 2022. Today, Zoya Patel asks: Is there a more awkward social interaction than facing a window washer on Northbourne when you have no change?
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.
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.
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?