> Dishwasher Pete. Pete Jordan

Dishwasher Pete:
Washing his way across America

From Out West #26, April, 1994

Updated: March 5, 2008

By Chuck Woodbury

His name is Pete Jensen and he washes dishes. He also goes by Pete Jordan.

Few folks know his last name. He's just Dishwasher Pete. His goal in life is to wash dishes in every state in America.

He's halfway there. But there's no hurry. "I don't want to be 35 and have accomplished my life's dream," he said. "There'd be nothing left".

He's 27 and has been washing professionally about ten years, in restaurants, hospitals, cafeterias, greasy spoon cafes, canneries -- wherever a cup needs to be cleaned, a saucepan scoured, a spatula scrubbed or a dish dried.

Dishwasher Pete not only washes dishes, he writes about it -- in a periodic, self-published newsletter called "Dishwasher." Working at a Montana ski resort, he wrote, "Early in the morning, while at work, a snobby lady asked what time the shops and stores outside the cafeteria opened. I told her I didn't know. She said, 'You work here and you don't know?' I eyed her and curtly replied, 'Hey, I'm too busy working to go shopping.' She gave me one of those 'Well, I never!' stunned looks."

Get Pete's book! Published in 2008
Once, he asked other dishwashers to name their favorite dish to wash. "Tempered plates," said Sarah. "Knives," said Rich. "Definitely the salsa bucket," said Buzz. In Arcata, Calif., Pete wrote, "The word floating around this place was that the owners were trying (unsuccessfully) to sell the joint. If they couldn't find a buyer within a couple more months, they'd close down -- making us all eligible for unemployment benefits. But I couldn't hold on for that long. I quit."

Actually, Dishwasher Pete quits a lot. He can't remember how many jobs he's had. He has no home. A friend forwards his mail every few weeks. He doesn't sell subscriptions to his newsletter, because it's too much of a responsibility. Instead, he sells single copies for $1 each. Next issue, he'll print 2,000. "A dollar covers my costs," he said. "I could make it so I'd earn a living off it, but I'm so lazy that if that happened, I'd be too lazy to wash dishes, then I wouldn't have anything to write about."

Until age 18, he lived with his family near San Francisco. He never went anywhere. Then he left town and never looked back, attending a half dozen colleges, with a half dozen majors, but he never graduated. You don't need a degree to wash dishes.

Ever since, he's drifted from state to state, working here and there -- usually long enough for at least one paycheck. "I just like doing my own thing," he said. "I don't have to answer to anybody, and when I don't like it anymore, I can leave."

He's met hundreds of other dishwashers -- high school dropouts, college grads and everybody in between. A good friend recently passed the California bar exam, then said the heck with law. He went back to college and washing dishes. Dishwasher Pete will soon visit to help him write a paper on the history of dishwashing equipment. Dishwasher Pete knows for a fact that the steam cleaning of dishes dates to 1906.

Dishwasher Pete earns from $4.50 to $7.50 an hour in jobs that get no respect. But he doesn't want it. He only wants to be left alone. "I do most of my writing in my head while I work," he said. "They rent my labor, not my mind."

He has no desire to move up the corporate ladder. Awhile back his boss offered him a promotion as a cook. Dishwater Pete answered. "I'm a dishwasher, not a cook!"

Update from issue 31 (summer, 1995): It won't go down as one of the biggest pranks in television history, but Dishwasher Pete apparently pulled a fast one recently on CBS TV's Late Show host David Letterman. Pete was scheduled to appear on the popular show in late June. And, sure enough, at the appointed time, there he was chatting with Letterman, reeling off one exciting story about dishwashing after another. But there was one problem: it wasn't Pete -- not the one we interviewed last year -- but an imposter! The Late Show told Out West it had no idea that the Pete who appeared on the show was a phony. Two weeks later, the real Pete called Out West. A painfully shy fellow, he said he couldn't bring himself to appear on the show. A long-time dishwasher friend of his agreed to substitute. Pete told Out West he would write about the episode in an upcoming issue of his 'zine, "The Dishwasher. "

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