In the late 1980’s, around the time that the grimy streets of New York City lay in stark contrast to the colorful tops of crack vials that filled them, Squeegee Man was born. The city was broke and broken. Ronald Reagan and his conservative agenda forced the city to put its budget to the guillotine. Some enterprising crackhead took the conservative’s “Pull yourself up by your bootstraps” rhetoric to heart and realized that with a squeegee and a bucket, he could make a buck. At any given traffic stop in the city, Squeegee Man would run up on your car, splash some piss on your windshield, squeegee it off with one hand and ask for money with the other. Sometimes there’d be a few Squeegee Men at a light who’d try to out-maneuver each other or they’d gang squeegee your shit and they’d all be expecting to get paid for it. By the 90’s, it seemed that Squeegee Man would find you at every traffic light in the boroughs and he’d be mad aggressive too. It reached the point where Squeegee Man would put a dent in your car if you didn’t throw him some coin after muddying up your shit, unsolicited. It got so bad that Rudy Guiliani ran for NYC Mayor on an Anti-Squeegee Man platform.
Like the economic shitstorm of the 80’s, our current recession is really fucking with people. Record high unemployment has a lot of people doing whatever they can to eat. These days, it seems that on just about any given corner -in Brooklyn anyway- you’ll find people selling bottled water to motorists. The Water Vendors have been around for years, but this summer their numbers are unprecedented. I’ve even seen what looks like a whole family, including a kid who can’t be more than 11 years old, selling waters on Eastern Parkway… No joke. Most of these folks are black, the rest are Mexican with the occasional Arab. Most sling Poland Spring, while the Hustle Mexicante consists of water, oranges, quenepas and roses that didn’t get sold at the club the night before. I don’t even know if selling water is worth it. Costco sells a case of 24 bottles for $6.97 which comes out to about 29 cents a bottle. They sell the bottles for a dollar, so they net about $17 profit per case and that’s not counting the cost of ice and the potential of being runned over by a car. I don’t think it’s legal to sell shit in the streets without a permit, but I’ve never seen the cops fuck with anyone, yet. See, back in 1998, a Squeegee Man had the misfortune of fucking with the wrong dude’s car. He was an off-duty cop who had apparently been squeegeed one time too many and after sharing a few kind words, shot Squeegee Man right in the spleen. Despite there being eyewitnesses backing up Squeegee Man’s story, the cop ended up getting off. Like you didn’t know how that story was going to end.
Right now, Water Vendors might be everywhere, but they’re not considered much of a nuisance, yet. You gotta call them over to buy their shit. In the beginning, Squeegee Man wasn’t considered to be much of a nuisance either, you had to give him a nod for him to dirty up your windshield. But let the economy fuck around and get worse, we might see Water Vendors fighting for corners and throwing bottles into people’s cars, demanding cash. History has a funny way of repeating itself. All it takes is one incident and the Gentrifiers to get all up in arms about some shit that goes down. Like the Squeegee Man, Water Vendors will be the scourge of traffic corners. And at that point, it’s really only a matter of time until we read about a black man shot in the streets, just for trying to make a dollar outta 29 cents.