Denver Post

On a Clear Day

Window washer has seen the future--and it's his

By Bill Briggs
Denver Post Staff Writer

For Dr. Glass, it's no pane, no gain.

Through his home-grown business, Dr. Glass -- who also answers to the name Philip Bregstone -- has swapped years of the finest schooling to swab windows from Boulder to Washington, D.C.

With every pull of his trusty squeegee, Bregstone helps America see better -- one window at a time.

And while his 800 clients get a better view of the world, they also get a taste of Dr. Glass' real vision: to help folks escape the rat race.

"There's definitely a thirst in this country to do satisfying work and still have time in their lives," says Bregstone, 38.

"Every corporate person has an escape fantasy. They would love to get out and start their own business, be their own boss, have some free time. Of course, most people who start their own business never have free time. That's the end of free time.

"But because this business is seasonal, I see people being able to take more control over their lives."

Bregstone has blazed that trail. Four months every year, he transforms himself into Dr. Glass (the name of his Boulder County-based business). Pane by pane, floor by floor, he washes the windows at five to 10 homes a week, grossing about $100,000 annually.

He squeezes every drop out of the day -- swirling his special cleaning solution into the glass, silently scraping it off with a squeegee blade and dabbing any streaks with some mighty thirsty rags.

And then, come cold weather, he's all done. He takes the bulk of the year off to simply live. In his spare time, Bregstone has built a house, worked for former U.S. Rep. Pat Schroeder, labored in a music studio, earned several college degrees, taught piano, launched a community chorus, rocked with his garage band and raised two small children.

"I'm really jealous of the way he has set up his life. It's pretty great," says Karen Bensen, a north Denver resident and Dr. Glass client. She has known Bregstone since 1982 when they met as students in London.

"The fact that he gets to work so little and gets to stay home with his kids, I love that," Bensen says.

Like a Johnny Appleseed for the late '90s, Bregstone has helped 10 people follow his leisurely lead, setting them up with their own window-washing careers. They used to be interior designers, architects and salesmen.

Yet Bregstone never really hires or pays anyone. They show up with him and work for free for a short time. And in exchange for teaching them the secrets of scrubbing windows and running a business, he eventually farms them out to his Dr. Glass clients. They keep the money they later earn as subcontractors.

"Once they start washing windows, they wonder why they did anything else," Bregstone says. "I love this work. I think everyone would love their work if they only had to do it four months a year."

Of course, he's looking for the right kind of protégés: industrious and dependable types with a smoldering hunger to change their lives. When he advertises for help, he includes this caveat -- "musicians, artists and poets wanted."

"When they call, I tell them if they have something going on in their life that really matters to them, they'll be able to work really hard washing windows and support their other interests.

"It's very satisfying. You go to a house. They have dirty windows. You clean their windows. They're happy. You're happy. They pay you?hat's very nice."

While cleaning up in both Washington, D.C., and Colorado this decade, Bregstone has racked up some rich and famous clients.

They include politico Jack Kemp, boxer Sugar Ray Leonard and pro hoopster Patrick Ewing.

Typically, he charges $100 to $300 to do the windows, both inside and out. He works quickly and carefully, often listening to National Public Radio or books on tape while up on the ladder.

On his hip, Bregstone wears a cell phone along with his "bucket on a belt" -- a green plastic holster armed with a squeegee, very fine steel wool, and a wand to spread the cleaning solution ("Glass Gleam III").

His dabbing cloths are surgical towels imported from China, India or Russia.

"But the secret to being a great window washer is having a really good squeegee," Bregstone says.

He gets his directly from one of the three window washing supply houses in the United States. He bought his very first squeegee when he was just 15, doing windows to earn money to help supply his rock band habit.

That was a long time ago.

"I never imagined 20 years ago that I'd still be washing windows as a part-time job. But what everybody wants sort of just fell in my lap. I can do this and then be home feeding the chickens and teaching music."