Article by Tim Woodward in the Idaho Statesman. [Feb. 09]
If you’re feeling sorry for yourself because you’re a victim of hard times, you might want to consider Brian Hoyt’s story.
Hoyt washes windows for a living. But he wasn’t always a window washer. He used to be a computer network administrator. He wore expensive clothes, drove a BMW, lived the so-called good life.
That changed in 2001, when he was riding his motorcycle and a hit-and-run driver left him unconscious by the side of the road. He had to have three back surgeries, his boss fired him for missing too much work, and he spent three and a half years in physical rehabilitation.
Poor for the first time in his life, he was denied benefits “because I was a single white male. I’d lost my job and couldn’t work at all. I went in to apply in a wheelchair with my arm in a sling and a morphine drip, and they said they couldn’t help me.”
A hard-luck story, right?
Instead of thinking of himself as a victim, Hoyt made the most of what he had.
“I had a roll of paper towels and some Windex. So I went up and down Fairview and Milwaukee and said, ‘Hi, I’m Brian, I’m poor, and I need to wash your windows so I can eat tonight.”
It was a hard sell at first. But once he got past what he calls “the gatekeepers” to business managers or owners, “people were really nice.” His first clients were the Paper Cottage and Rent-A-Center. And he made a deal with Papa John’s to pay him in pizzas, so he didn’t have to worry about going hungry any more.
A friend gave him money for a squeegee, a squirt bottle and more paper towels, and a small business was born – Poor Man Window Cleaning. Only a small fraction of the businesses he approached hired him at first.
Over time, the business grew enough that Hoyt was able to buy an old truck and better equipment. He says he’s “come a long way from Windex and paper towels.”
He now has a pressure washer and reverse-osmosis purification system that reduces labor time. And he’s expanded from washing only businesses’ windows to doing residential windows and cleaning sidewalks, awnings, signs and building exteriors. Things were going pretty well until last year.
“In June, my phone almost didn’t stop ringing with customers calling to discontinue because of hard times. I lost half of my business in 2008.”
This year hasn’t been any better. From working 23 days a month, he’s down to nine.
In November, someone backed into his truck and knocked his 18-foot ladder through one of his truck’s windows. The culprit left a one-word note, “sorry,” but no contact or insurance information.
“It’s not a good time of year to be driving around without a window,” he said.
Three days after Christmas, an ember in an ash bucket beside their fireplace ignited and caught Hoyts’ house on fire. It had been five days since they’d had a fire in the fireplace and the ashes were cold, but one ember at the bottom of the bucket was all it took. The damage was covered by their insurance, but they had to move out for a month while it was repaired.
Hoyt still goes to therapy for his injuries. He has migraine headaches, and he says the accident destroyed his photographic memory.
“I used to remember everything. Now I have to write everything down.”
He’s not complaining, though. Not even a little bit.
“I’m a happier person than I was before the accident,” he said. “I’m nowhere near as motivated by money. I used to be really into clothes and the look and the way I presented. What I’ve learned is that every day is what you should live for. Without that first breath of oxygen in the morning, it doesn’t matter what else you have.”
I asked him if he ever felt like the writers of the classic blues lyric, “If it wasn’t for bad luck, I wouldn’t have no luck at all.”
“There’s a lot of Irish in me,” he said, laughing. “Luck o’ the Irish, potato famine. But I’ll tell you another thing I learned. ”
Then he said something we’d all do well to remember. Words to live by in hard times.
“You can cry in your beer or do something about bad luck. It’s only as bad as you let it get.”