Authors Note: I work with some terrific women and gender queer folks driving pedicabs in SF but with the mostly it’s a male dominated field and except for a few exceptions it’s mostly the guys who hang out in the shop after work.
I’d been sleeping outside the pier in the passenger seat of my pedicab for 45 minutes when the earth started to move. Jolted awake, I forgot where I was until I saw my friend and co-worker Joe pedaling me into the shop.
Embarrassed by my laziness I apologized and started to hop off. “I can bring it in,” I told him. “Dude,” he interrupted “no need. You stay seated. I'm riding this inside so you don't get too cold sleeping out here.”
Before that the last thing I remembered was an hour earlier when my friend and our mechanic Jaime jumped next to me on the passenger seat. Forget Raymond, everybody loves Jaime for his big heart, big laugh and willingness to do whatever it takes to get the cabs running right.
Last year on a busy night an hour before the start of a San Francisco Giants game, I came creaking into the shop. “Dude, what are you doing here,” he asked knowing I would never come into the shop an hour before a ball game. “It’s dragging, and I’m beat,” I said hauling my ass off the cab. In a matter of seconds he threw the cab up on its back wheels to see which tire was dragging. Jeff Gordon’s seven-man pit crew couldn’t have repaired it any quicker.
Blindfolded while trying to smash the piñata
The cab shook for a long minute after he jumped on. “Papi Rucko whats up, he asked?” Normally the two of us talk non-stop, laughing but tonight I didn’t say a word. Looking up to the lights on the bridge and their reflection on the water made me violently nauseous. Closing my eyes I breathed deeply, wishing I hadn’t eaten so much weed popcorn right after work.
After a few minutes of chatter, Jaime noticed I wasn’t myself and asked “Buddy, do you need to sleep? You want to be alone?” Reluctant to hurt his feelings, I thought of lying but couldn’t. That popcorn hit me so hard I felt like that creature bursting out of the stomach in the movie Alien was trying to come out of my forehead.
"Ten months earlier I was a rookie, nervous and scared I wouldn’t be able to make it in this grueling job that offered far better pay, and schedule too, than the other options in my downwardly mobile world."
Before leaving Jaime asked “Papi, you need anything?” I lied, and shook my head no despite the fact that the weed popcorn was creating desert-like conditions in my mouth. My tongue felt like a piece of turkey jerky abandoned in the desert way back in 2011.
“Come on Dude, don’t bullshit? It’s me,” he chided, adding “We abuelos have to look out for each other.” I asked for some water and he came back in a hurry. Glug, glug, glug went the dry-mouthed man who ate too much weed.
“Abuelo can I get you anything else?” I was getting really cold but didn’t want to admit it. Before I could answer Jaime left and returned with a blanket, threw it around me, tucking it in on the sides before leaving me to nap.
PEDICAB v. 2.0. Or How I Stopped Worrying and Learned to Love My Job
That morning fifteen of us got to the shop unusually early for a meeting to announce our pal Jorge’s promotion to manager, discuss changes in policies and rental rates and inaugurate the 2015 pedicab season. We were treated to coffee, bagels and muffins (something unusual in our line of work) got a discount on the day’s rent and to cap the day off were having a barbeque that night.
I was excited about Jorge’s promotion. I call him Mr. Myagi. While he knows nothing about karate and looks nothing like Pat Morita he’s a great pedicabber and one my mentors. He cracks me up telling me stories about work, sharing advice on how to sell a ride, fix a broken chain, work smarter and avoid getting beat up by the rigors of a very physical job.
Ten months earlier I was a rookie, nervous and scared I wouldn’t be able to make it in this grueling job that offered far better pay, and schedule too, than the other options in my downwardly mobile world. This morning I felt lucky to be part of this crew, the guy in the schedule as OMH, short for Old Man Hustle.
Lucky that on a catering gig Cammie told me about pedicabbing – a job I never knew existed in SF – and even luckier she convinced me I could do it. Grateful that John hired me despite an awkward first test drive and that so many others – Joe, Larry, Cary, Chops, Kris, Will, JR, Chris, Shad, Jeremy, Scott, Mando Nasty, Nick, Gio, Paolo, George, Peter and more – make this work special, even on days when rides and money are scarce.
Usually it’s exhausting. Often I happily spend a day off never leaving my apartment.
But pedicabbing has put me in the best shape of my life, taught me what it means to be both physically and emotionally strong and given me the gift of being part of a merry band of brothers, sisters and others, living outside of the box.
That day was sweet! The weather was beautiful, sunny with drought-inspired heat, more San Diego than San Francisco. It started out slow, even for January, but when I was riding back to the shop, ready to quit I got a ride back to Coquetta, a restaurant at Pier Five with a really fat tip. Cha-ching! Moments after after thanking Mr. Generous, two folks asked if I could take them down to Fisherman’s Wharf. Double Cha-ching! An hour later I rode back into the shop with a fat wad in my pocket (cash, people, just cash) excited about the barbecue and a night out after that.
Regular readers know my sex life is about as active as a dormant volcano (which Wikipedia defines as one that hasn’t erupted in the past 10,000 years but is expected to erupt again) but I’m an optimist ‘mano a mano’ possibilities always on my mind. I had planned to head home after the BBQ for a disco nap and then head out to The Eagle.
"These days I know that I’m lucky. Lucky to work with this remarkable group that transcends age and race and sexual orientation."
But plans went awry. As noted, shortly after returning to the shop I was greeted with popcorn of the cannabis kind. I hadn’t eaten or drank much water that surprisingly busy day. In retrospect I was probably very dehydrated (a not uncommon challenge in this line of work) on that sunny day.
The party was a blast. We rolled six cabs outside the pier where our view of the bay was more than spectacular. While the cooking looked haphazard Francis and Jaime turned out flame-broiled, finger licking, ”man is this shit good or what?” chicken and steak, along with hot dogs, too. By the time 9 o'clock rolled around I decided against heading home and realized I'd have more for more fun here then at the bar where I probably wouldn't get laid anyway.
John dressed up for a corporate pedicab campaign for a digital gamers convention this year
“Hop on folks, it’s a sofa on wheels,” is one way I like to hawk rides. And after hours of hauling the fat, the skinny and the in between, north and south into the wind and up some hills too there is nothing quite as sweet as seating in the back of a pedicab especially with others all in a circle. Sitting in our mobile living room, drinking beer, shooting the shit, laughing, trading war stories – "when we get there he starts complaining about the price even though I told him twice before we left" – that no one else can fully understand is an odd but sublime pleasure.
Jorge got some video games for the shop. I played Nintendo for the first time in my life and laughed uncontrollably while trying to figure out how I consistently ended up driving the wrong way on the track and ended up in the water. Despite his youth, bighearted JR hadn't played before either and was equally confused and enthralled.
After Joe rolled me back into the shop I staggered to the sofa. Everybody laughed. They’d never seen me this wasted before. I fell asleep quickly, waking up to hear Scott talking about how Nick was doing back in North Carlonia and how when he used to sleep in the shop he always worried that the many rats that live in the pier might nest in his long blonde hair, shit on it or worse.
I fell back asleep. Before the last guys left the shop, Joe woke me up, let me know that everyone was leaving and made sure I wasn’t planning on driving home, wisely telling me to sleep it off in the shop. I asked him to get my hat, laughing about the rats. He got it from my locker and also brought me the blanket he used on his cab. “This will keep you warm,” he said. “It’s really warm when you snuggle with it.”
I used to feel unlucky, wishing I had my ‘day job’ back, the one that paid more and required less. But these days I know that I’m lucky. Lucky to work with this remarkable group that transcends age and race and sexual orientation. Lucky we look out for each other.
And living outside of the box in a larded and increasingly bland city chock full of Maserati sedans and self-obsessed rich folks isn’t easy to do, especially when the pursuit and love of money squashes so many people and places along the way.
"Pedicab, who wants a ride?"