Allyn Harvey: This is where my money belongs
September 30, 2003
I have a friend who is currently washing cars for a living.
His family – a beautiful wife and handsome, infant son – depend on his income to pay the rent, cover the cost of immunizations, buy food and keep the car fueled up.
Both his wife and her sister help out by working as part-time babysitters. The sister has a young son. They recently moved across the continent so the sister could help my friend and his wife cope with their first born.
So really, it’s a family of five living on the income of a carwash attendant and two part-time babysitters.
It’s not an easy lot. He’s paid considerably less than $10 an hour, plus tips. But many days tips are nil. Imagine trying to support a family of five on $280 a week. Or $320. Or even $360.
The carwash where my friend works is like just about any other carwash in the valley. People drive their cars up to the entrance; he walks up with a bucket and a sponge and soaps up the windows and hard-to-reach sections.
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When my friend finishes his work, the driver pulls ahead into the garage with all the soapers,
squirters and rinsers and comes out the other side all bright and shiny.
Meanwhile, my friend is hard at work on the next car.
The other day I visited him at the carwash. His arms and legs were all wet because the machinery was acting up, and he was trying to fix it.
Funny thing is, my friend greeted me with
a smile. He said he was just glad to have a steady job, even if it doesn’t pay much.
He’d been out of town for several months last winter and spring to receive much needed medical care from his hometown doctor. The trip meant leaving behind his family and the better paying job he had at the time, but it paid off, medically speaking.
But by the time he returned, both his job and the economy had gone south. So he began showing up daily at one of the valley’s temp agencies, but quit after several weeks when there were only one or two days of work to be had. Then he found the job at the carwash.
When I asked him how tips were that day, he replied with stark frankness: “No good. I’ve washed 10 cars and trucks and I only have one dollar.”
My jaw dropped. “Ten cars? One dollar?” I said. “That’s 10 cents a car. Shit, that’s rough.”
Rough indeed. As my friend dug his way back into the broken machinery, it occurred to me that even if he could wash my car, I probably would have tipped him five bucks at the most. And the only reason I would have dropped that much in the tip bucket is because he’s my friend.
There have been plenty of occasions when I’ve tipped attendants just two or three bucks after they spend two or three minutes soaping up those hard-to-reach spots where all that poisonous mag chloride collects.
Compared to the many amateur waiters and waitresses that litter the floors of Aspen’s elite dining establishments, these carwash attendants are providing a real service.
That’s not to say that there aren’t a lot of professional, skilled waiters and waitresses out there that earn every penny they make. I’m glad to drop 20 percent for them.
It just seems unjust that my friend literally puts his health at risk for paltry wages and next to nothing in tips, while some pretty young waiter or waitress can mess up my order, require assistance from their co-workers all night, forget to give me my bill and still pocket a tip of $10, $20 or $30.
Next time I receive crummy service in a restaurant, I think I’ll stiff the server and give the money to that hard-working carwash attendant who could really use it.