Friday, 11 October 2013

Three Cleaners For Friday

Todd Kelley, Founder & President of Graffiti Removal Experts cleans a sign on the corner of 3rd and Walnut streets in Philadelphia.
He goes out each day to try to make the city more beautiful: Todd Kelley, 39, of Society Hill, is owner and president of Graffiti Removal Experts, a business that removes graffiti from all kinds of surfaces. Kelley, a Wynnewood native who formerly was a real-estate agent and owned a painting business, is passionate about eradicating what he considers urban blight.

How did you come up with the idea for the business? I volunteered with the Society Hill Civic Association (SHCA) two years ago to remove graffiti. Then I started covering a larger area. I got some money from SHCA in mid-2012.

How did you grow the biz? One day I was cleaning up on 8th Street and said, "I can do this in other neighborhoods." I incorporated and got a business license. I went to other civic associations - Washington Square West, Headhouse Square/South Street - and pitched them on it.

How's the biz model work? I walk a grid twice a week, street by street. At the beginning it takes longer, but once it's cleaned up, then it's just maintenance. Basically, I remove graffiti in the business district - street signs, poles, lampposts, mailboxes and storefronts.

How big a problem is this? It's so pervasive, people think it's just part of urban living. I also do acid-etch repair. Vandals use it to burn glass. It's all over the city, and it's a shame.

Who are your customers? Three civic associations, Pennsylvania Hospital, Review Publishing and an area of 70 square blocks in the southeast quadrant of Center City.

What do services cost? $400 to $2,200 a month, depending on difficulty, how clean they want it and the size of the area. I dedicate six hours per week to South Street/Headhouse, about five to Society Hill and four to Washington Square West.

And acid-etch repair? $200 to $400 per window, two to three hours, very labor-intensive. I do this about eight to 10 hours a week.

Anything else you do? Removing spray paint from brick surfaces or masonry. Pennsylvania Hospital and Philadelphia Community College have had problems with this. I have a pressure washer, and this part of the business comprises another six to eight hours per week.

How many employees? Just me, but when I have a lot of clients at once, I bring on independent contractors.

How big a business is this? About $3,000 to $6,000 a month.

What's next? I want to expand the business to other neighborhoods, like Queen Village and South Passyunk. The city is the only competition, and they do graffiti removal to homes and businesses. My clients want it done right away, and so I fill in the gap. I'd just love to see Philadelphia cleaned up.

Window washer Alan tells all...
Can you describe yourself in a few words? Outgoing, laid back, occasionally a bit loud.
How long have you been a window cleaner? Probably 12 months now.
What led you down this path? 18 months ago I moved from Crieff to Ayr. I got a job in a big garage here as I had worked in my dad’s garage, a small family business, as a mechanic. I probably lasted five weeks, I wasn’t used to that environment. I basically got sacked. I went out helping window cleaners. I set up my own round and that was that.
Do you enjoy your job? I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t like it. I like the freedom, flexibility and being your own boss. You can earn more working for yourself but you need to work for it.
What do you like least about it? Collecting. It’s just time consuming. You can go out two or three hours and come back with 20 quid. Other nights you can come back with £120.
Have you seen anything through the curtains you shouldn’t have? Not yet! Nothing at all. Mates of mine have. One lad put his ladder up to the bedroom window and a lady walked into the room starkers. He didn’t think she had realised so he went back down the ladder and made some noise before going back up.
Why did you move to Ayr? We’ve got family and friends down here and when we had our first boy it was a game changer. None of our friends in Crieff were in that position. My wife fancied a change and I came round to it. We’re enjoying it so far.
What’s your favourite film? Have you ever seen The Notebook? It’s brilliant. Me and Amy were greetin’ at the end! It’s a great love story - you need to watch it. I just need to blink and that’s it, I’m crying. Towards the end, the room was dark and the misses was already crying by that point, but she turned round and saw me, we were crying together! It’s a brilliant movie though.

Chris Warner - his business, a rope-access cleaning and maintenance company, is set up so he can be away for months.
Chris Warner and the fatal attraction of K2, the Savage Mountain - Chris Warner has a house in Canberra with a big back yard - big enough that at the end of the garden he's built a simple but elegant shed-apartment. He lives in the shed and rents out the house. He's a guy who has no need for possessions, unless they're practical. The apartment has just two rooms: one contains a bed, a desk, a couple of chairs and a pile of books stacked high against a wall; the other has a kitchen and a climbing gym. In his teens, this son of a public servant decided he wanted to lead a life collecting experiences - scaling cliffs, cycling across continents, traversing deserts and climbing mountains. He's organised his life around adventure. There's no wife and kids - his girlfriend is a ski instructor and a climber - and his business, a rope-access cleaning and maintenance company, is set up so he can be away for months. 

It's not often you meet someone who is doing exactly as they want with their time on earth. Chris Warner is one of them. From an early age he spent long periods alone, or in small groups, in challenging situations - rock climbing, trekking, mountaineering. As a teenager, his father would drop him and his mates out in the bush on a Friday afternoon where they'd hike for the weekend and be collected on the Sunday night. Warner learned to weigh up options, to work things through.

He learned to think for himself. At the age of 21 he cycled alone from Perth to Sydney - spending 10 hours a day in the saddle over the 4000km journey - with only a credit card, a mat, a sleeping bag, a raincoat and the cycling clothes on his back. He has no idea if he set some sort of record for a solo, unassisted ride across the continent - he's not interested in records and self-promotion. There's no website extolling his feats and he's never courted Red Bull, or Dick Smith, for sponsorship. His motivation was for the experience of solitude and severe endurance, to test himself at the extremities. "It is only when you are by yourself that you find out how far you can push yourself, where your weak points are," he tells me. 

And then, on the morning of July 26 this year, he made the most important decision of his life. He was snuggled in a sleeping bag in a tent with two other men, 6700m above sea level, with the summit of K2, the world's second highest mountain, within his grasp. Everest may be higher, but K2 - an 8611m giant that straddles the border of Pakistan and China in the Karakoram range - is the "mountaineer's mountain", the pinnacle of achievement among serious climbers. Warner was exceedingly fit, he was feeling strong, he was acclimatised to the extreme altitude - everything on the expedition, up until this point, had been running smoothly. And then he decided it was not worth the risk. His climbing mates, father and son Marty and Denali Schmidt, decided it was. He's alive and they are dead.

"I'm not fixated on summits," Warner, 35, says when we meet in his Canberra shed. He's 194cm tall and broad-shouldered, and, after his expedition, exceedingly lean. "I am not one of those guys who wants to tick off the seven summits," he says, referring to the highest mountains on each continent. "I am into the technical aspect of climbing, finding new and more difficult routes." Life on the mountain becomes about simple decisions. Are we going up or down? What's the weather doing? Who's brewing the tea? What are the chances of an avalanche? "I love the fact that climbing doesn't have any rules; it has ethics and etiquette, but you can do whatever you want."

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