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Origin Stories

Origin Stories

Posted by Rick Wren on Mar 12th 2021

Origin Stories


I chose this life and I love it. The window cleaning and pressure washing, I mean. The part about running a company takes more convincing.

This window cleaning life attracts a wide variety of people for a variety of reasons and over the years I’ve found a deep appreciation for the window cleaner origin stories.

One guy I know grew up in the industry. His dad had a business and he would work weekends and summers, learning how to sling a squeegee, then he learned how to come off the sides of buildings in a chair. It’s like he was born to it. He didn’t know how much window cleaning was in his soul until he walked away from it. Several years in the service and then in a corporate job with a tie and an office with his name on a desk plaque led him to the startling realization that he had always been happiest in the sun with a bucket hanging below him and the sounds of the world surrounding him.Everytime we talk he sounds like a guy in life’s embrace.

I know another window cleaner, a daredevil of sorts. She grew up in a performing family and she gravitated to the most exciting skills: tightrope, acrobatics, trapeze. She just loves to fly. But in the mundane world she struggled to fit in. That is, until she found herself holding a squeegee, climbing ladders and showing everyone what joy a little clarity can bring.

These are origin stories because, as far as I’m concerned, window cleaners are superheroes.

Have you heard the one about the Division One former standout football star? Let me tell you that this guy was feared on the field. Fast, strong, and hit like a truck. But when he was off the field he was shy and held back by a speech impediment that others mistook for a learning disorder. He kicked around between various jobs and became more depressed as the years went on, not fitting in anywhere and the glory days of his on the field exploits becoming faded memories. I watched this kid. Yes, I called him kid because when you’ve been around as long as I have a lot of grown men seem so young to me. I watched him blossom as he picked up the window cleaning skills quickly, simply, and he threw himself into the work, becoming one of the fastest, best, most confident techs I’ve ever seen.

It’s Zen.

When you’re having a great day window cleaning you experience a calm feeling and your muscles take over without any need for conscious control. You spend so much time learning, training, and practicing that your body knows exactly what to do. Your mind then becomes free to relax.

At the end of a long day I feel happy and that’s something I never felt when I was an engineer. It’s a feeling of peace I never had when I was in the service. In fact the only other times I can remember this feeling is when I was in a woodshop or on a basketball court.

Early on I found audiobooks. Now there are podcasts of course, but I still love a good book. I’ll play one through my headset and just work and lose myself in the story and the craft and when I’m done the job will be perfect and my mind will be nourished.

I know another man who came to work for me with a dream of traveling. I taught him the trade and after several years I wished him well as he went on a journey. These days he follows the festival circuit, immersed in the music and community for 2 or 3 days at a time with his truck and a tent. The rest of the time? He works for whatever local window company will pay him top dollar for a few weeks work. His skills are unmatched and the demand is high. He’s living his best life.

That’s the thing about this industry, it comes with a lot of freedom. A good window cleaner is worth it and can do just fine anywhere in the world. It’s a trade and these skills can’t be forgotten.

There’s always more glass and it’s always going to get dirty.

One of my favorite window cleaners is loved by her clients. She knows the names of all of their dogs and cats. She knows all of their children and keeps tabs on how they are doing as they grow up. She has created the one thing she wanted most in life and that’s a really big family: a window cleaning family. She keeps her client list relatively small and neighbors and friends are constantly asking to be included. I doubt anyone stops using her unless they move away. She’s one of the happiest people I know.

Let’s talk about the feeling. I know you know this one. You worked hard and you worked fast and the job is done and you walk through the main room. It’s got all those windows from the floor to the top of the vaulted ceiling and everything sparkles. The crystal artwork, the chiseled glass in the cabinets, the paintings on the wall all just shine. Nothing makes a room better than glass so clean you can’t even see it. That’s the feeling and we’ve all experienced it. Instant gratification. And that feeling is addictive. I just love a job well done and we’ve trained our eyes to see that perfection far better than even our customers.

I know a Spanish gentleman who came to this life because his uncle passed away and he stepped into the uncle’s business rather than see this man’s life work disappear. But instead of working solo, he wanted to use his work as a way to really connect with and meet people. Now he hires backpackers trekking around Europe to help him clean windows. He trains them on the waterfed pole for a morning and then he takes the harder, inside windows. For a week or two these young foreigners make some money to fund their adventures. For a week or two he gets to know them and their stories. They usually have a lot of fun, do good work, and when they move on everyone is better for the experience. This guy loves people and he loves the energy from young adventurers. He’s created a space for that in his life and his business. I can’t imagine a better way to learn about Spain and the culture than from this amazing ambassador from our humble industry.

When window cleaners get together inevitably the question comes up: “How did you get into window cleaning?” It’s the opening for those origin stories. The transformation from what someone used to be, to them becoming a better person, a more complete person, a window cleaner.

I’m here if you have questions.

- Rick Wren