Remember the squeegee guys? Down on their luck fellows, mostly immigrants, who assaulted cars coming off New York City’s bridges and tunnels with soap, sponges and squeegees, spiffing up your car in the hopes of a tip. Innocent enough until some got belligerent to drivers and added another level of anxiety to city living. Mayor Giuliani and New York Police Chief Bratton made their careers off these guys, taking a rigid stand against the petty annoyances of life they represented and in the process turned the city around. New York is safer and more hospitable, if less colorful, without the squeegee guys and the other hucksters who preyed upon citizens in the distant seventies and eighties.
Ever since then, the bottom up theory of public safety prevails. Get rid of the squeegee guys and the murder rate will fall. So you can imagine how happy I am to arrive in Port au Prince today and find a morsel of squeegee tightening in this haphazard place.
When you come out of customs at the PAP airport you are in a large shed with one conveyor of bags. If you don’t grab yours on the first pass a Haitian yanks it off on the back side and tosses it on a pile. There are little carts for loading bags, but they are in a jumble in one corner with a small army of mean looking men hovering around them. Being a beta male, I prefer to shoulder my bags and huff my way through the gauntlet of guys grabbing at me rather than try to figure out how to get a cart. Everyone in the place looks untrustworthy; I keep a firm grip on my goods.
But today, the world is a more joyous place. Instead of a jumble of carts, there are neat rows. And even though there is still a battalion of bouncers, a friendly woman stands at a small podium and takes two dollars in exchange for a ticket, which one of Mike Tyson’s cousin’s accepts in exchange for a cart. With four wheels, I can manage 100 pounds of hockey bag supplies plus my backpack better, and I can pretend I am a bumper car to any of the supposed porters try to handle my stuff (I believe some are real, though I have no idea which ones).
Getting out of the airport with such ease lifts my spirits, puts me in a better frame to greet dirty and oppressive Port au Prince. If the airport can organize their carts, anything is possible, right? Twenty minutes later, stuck in PAP traffic behind a garish tap-tap with my driver Ricardo, a squeegee guy pops out of nowhere, sprays our windshield and then curses us for not rolling down a window and handing over some bills. Civility evolves slowly, one step at a time.