Squeegee kids, either love 'em or hate 'em, but you can't deny their lifestyle is interesting. Having seen them around a few times I had become more and more interested in what day-to-day life might be like as a squeegee kid. With this interest growing and my passion for journalistic photography starting to become stronger I decided to throw myself into it..
Going in I was a little skeptical of how they would take my bluntly asking them if I could take their photos while asking them questions. When asked why, I had very little to tell them other than 'I think it'd be interesting'. They seemed skeptical at first but luckily I came armed with a little gesture, a bottle of whisky. Once this was noticed everything was a go.
First, how about an introduction?
This is Ayron...
Ayron is 19, plays banjo, has a very kind dog, and loves magic cards.
This is Amy...
Amy studied a year and a half of Women's Studies and quit because she believed it was sexist and disliked that all of the topics were one sided towards the professors beliefs. She doesn't like squeegeeing older peoples cars because she's afraid of heart attacks.
This is James...
James is 22 and recently started renting a place. He's a quiet dude but good at what he does.
This is John...
John has travelled in more than 20 countries with just his bag and a squeegee. He considers himself a functioning alcoholic.
This is Rosa...
Rosa came from Peru to be with her family. She also loves her dog.
*Some names have been changed on request.
Once I had arrived I quickly learned that they'd rather be called travellers. Why do they refer to themselves as 'travellers'? They spend most of their time going up and down the railway system, jumping off freights, and stopping in the next city to make their next bit of coin to move on. Most of them use squeegeeing to get by but a few have other means, such as Aryon who busks playing banjo. When asked, they explained that they spend most of their money on food, cigarettes, dog food, and alcohol.
Alcohol plays a pretty big role in this group's lives. The few hours I spent with them were full of drinking, but you would never know. Most drank out of unmarked bottles and have a smart system on keeping it hidden. The only one that I knew had been heavily drinking was James, as the first thing he did after introducing himself was puke.
Within the group everything is shared - let it be Rosa arriving to share some vodka, or Ayron and James splitting a McGangbag (look it up), or the fact that all cigarettes seemed to be communal; it was very clear that they all looked out for each other - nobody is on their own. Everyone seemed to have known each other from running into each other in different cities or different areas along the railroads.
The whole act of squeegeeing is interesting to watch. Once the cars stop at a red light the group runs into the street, washes a car window, and puts their hand out for some change. Before spending time with them I had thought that everyone must hate them, but I was surprised. The responses were typically positive and no words were thrown if they didn't give change. In some cases the driver would say they didn't have change and in response they would reply with 'I'll do it for free'. One thing was made clear - "we never do cabs unless they ask. They're out working and working hard. It's just code." Interesting.
Obviously the reason they do this is to make some money to just get by. They are all so open about their lack of money that it seems like they actually don't care. When asked if they enjoy life and if they're happy they were all quick to respond with a confident 'yes'. They were all in good spririts and did not seem to be angry, aggressive, or - as some might think - high.. in fact, most of them claimed they didn't do drugs. This really got me thinking about their choice of lifestyle. They were happy to be travelling city to city and living on what little means they have, they all had people to care for them, and all admitted if they tried they might be able to get out of it. Now, most people may find it extremely hard to understand but does the freedom to do what you want, when you want, not seem to have the slightest appeal? Oh, and by the way... between three of them they made 90$ in just under 2 hours. That's 15.00 an hour each - more than Ontario's minimum wage of 10.50.
After announcing I was about to leave they were all quick to invite me to the benefit show they were going to that night (punk show to raise money for a friends dog) and then to play street hockey with them the next day. Within two hours I had become friends with the people I had originally known nothing about. I had left (with a buzz) realizing that these guys are not that different - we all enjoy life and are going day to day trying to make the best of it within our own means.
Now I'll leave you with some additional photos...
Thank you. - Dylan