By Abe Villarreal

Gerardo is a window washer. He works the line of cars each night at the "garita" as commuters make their way back into the United States from Agua Prieta, Sonora, Mexico. I cross about three times a week and expect to see him there, rain or shine.

When the line is long and cars are moving at a snail's pace, Gerardo shines. He directs traffic with his loud voice, long arms, and piercing whistle. He's got one of those whistles that I wish I had. One of those where he folds his bottom lip with his hand and blows.

Gerardo always takes time to talk to me. He tells me about his kids and why he chooses to come out each night. He shows me how much he's made. He takes out the foil-wrapped burrito in his pocket telling me that it's dinner someone gave him earlier. I ask him what kind it is and he says it's bistek ranchero con salsa roja. Sounds delicious.

As I inch my way closer to the gate, I see him going up and down. He has a lot of energy. He always does. When people tell him no, or just wave their fingers letting him know that they don't need his services, he thanks them anyway. Gerardo gets a lot of noes. Window washing is a profession of rejection.

If I were a window washer, I think I would find it hard to keep a positive attitude, day in and day out, like Gerardo does. The sun can wear you out. The minutes go by slowly. If he's tired, he doesn't show it. If he's feeling down or a little low, I don't see it. He's a live life in the moment kind of guy. I like that about him.

Maybe that's the only way he can make it through the day. The rest of us are thinking of tomorrow, of the upcoming summer, of next year. We have the privilege of not worrying about what's in front of us. In quiet moments, in between cars, when he stops to take a break, I'm sure Gerardo thinks of tomorrow too.

When he tells me about his daughters, I know he's thinking of tomorrow, of how he needs to be out there, cleaning our windshields, and helping us get through the line. When he finishes for the night, around 10:00 p.m., I know he's thinking about what the next day will bring. More cars, more people needing him to help us make it to our destination.

On really hot days, when the sun is directly over us and there isn't a cloud in sight, Gerardo is out there at the garita along with the other vendors. The paleta man selling helados of different flavors. The lime flavor is my favorite. The lady with the mangos that can be dressed up with different sauces. The kids with the candies on one hand and santos on the other.

Gerardo stands tall among them because he has chosen to live out his profession thinking of others. Window washing makes him the few bucks that he needs to keep on going, but I think he gives us drivers and passengers a lot more than we give him.

He's become one of the reasons I look forward to waiting in line. When there are no cars in front of me, crossing the garita becomes a dry, transactional experience. When I'm far from the gate and I know it's going to be a while, Gerardo will stop by and make sure that I enjoy my wait.

Next time I see him, I'm going to ask him what he plans to do this summer. I'm sure he'll remind me that what's most important is how we plan to get through the day.

Abe Villarreal writes about life and culture in America. He can be reached at

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