Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman: Squeegee bandits: Okay or annoying?

Starfish washing a car window, from the documentary 'Squeegee Bandit'. Photo / Supplied
Starfish washing a car window, from the documentary 'Squeegee Bandit'. Photo / Supplied

Squeegee bandits, those pesky people who clean car windscreens at busy intersections are alive and well on the streets of Auckland. I've encountered them recently at Greenlane and Mt Wellington - where one antisocial driver indicated he'd liked his windscreen done but didn't pay upon completion. The so called bandits didn't seem bothered; they just continued on their merry way.

I'm never pleased to see a squeegee guy at the lights. It's awkward and I seldom have cash on me. If they accepted Eftpos their turnover would be sure to increase yet that would be at odds with the practice's quaint retro vibe. "'Squeegee bandits' were a nuisance in the 1990s, but then they gradually disappeared," it was reported in Police go after windscreen washers back in 2004.

In 2000 Cities pour cold water on squeegee bandits reported that bylaws outlawing them would be introduced in Tauranga and Rotorua.

In 2007 The Aucklander reported that an Otara Community Board member was "sick and tired of 'squeegee bandits' hounding her at intersections".

A film called Squeegee Bandit - a documentary about Starfish, "a Maori man who survives by washing car windows at intersections on the mean streets of South Auckland" - portrays homelessness and poverty. It puts a personal, emotional slant on what is widely perceived as a social irritation.

A Sydney-based windscreen washer called Maurice gave one woman a wake-up call when she discovered that 30 cents from every donation he received went to support a little girl in Kenya. It's a poignant story that underscored the humanity of one member of a much-maligned sector of society.

Yet the authors of Understanding Criminal Justice: Sociological Perspectives associated this opportunistic window washing with disorder and criminal behaviour: "Broken windows in a building that do not get fixed are a statement that nobody cares and are, in effect, an invitation to vandals to simply break the rest. By analogy graffiti, drug needles, squeegee bandits and street corner drug dealers send out the signal that a particular neighbourhood is a place where crime can take place with impunity."

Indeed, elderly drivers often find these young men intimidating. It's said some worried motorists even deliberately plot a route that avoids the intersections they inhabit. Local authorities are concerned about safety. It's dangerous for the windscreen washers to dart through and negotiate multiple lanes of traffic. They're a distraction to drivers, too, who are concentrating on the traffic lights and manoeuvring through the intersection.

Motorists also complain about the grubbiness of the water sometimes used and they question whether this manual wash is any more effective than the modern car's built-in windscreen washing facility. Regardless, it seems that Auckland is experiencing a resurgence of squeegee bandits - despite the fact their line of work is in breach of a council bylaw that was passed in1998. Perhaps their increased presence is another downstream effect of the global financial crisis.

What's your view on squeegee bandits? Do you find them annoying or helpful? Where have you encountered them recently? Have you ever seen any female squeegee bandits?

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Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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