"WE'VE GOT WHEELS FOR THE HEELS!" To be a good pedicab driver, you have to be part athlete,
Before this assignment, I had never even considered riding in pedicab, even though I work in the pedicab mecca of Kenmore Square. I always thought there was something extremely icky about making someone sweat while I sit there like a pasha.
I revealed this trepidation to the driver of my first-ever pedicab ride. He asked that we not use his real name; let's call him Hugo. There's something about Hugo that makes me want to open up to him. He's a charmer, this Hugo.
The guilt starts in almost as soon as we pull away from the curb. Hugo tells me pedicabs weigh about 160 pounds. They're attached to 21-speed cruiser bikes with the same hydraulic disc brakes found on motorcycles. Pedaling one is a lot of work. I ask Hugo if we should stop and get coffee or something, and he declines.
"What do they say about marathon runners and training?" he asks, pumping his shapely calves. "They should be able to carry on a normal conversation when they're going slowly."
An EMT by day and a self-described history buff, Hugo peppers his fares with historical factoids as he pedals them down the Freedom Trail. To be a good pedicab driver, you have to be part athlete, part huckster.
Hugo has a shtick. When he sees someone walking down the street smoking a cigarette, he calls out, "I'm the only smoking cab in town!" Another favorite: "We've got wheels for the heels!" Worse still: "Where are you going? I'm going that way, too!"
Hugo and his cohort — there are 35 pedicabs in Boston — don't make an hourly wage. He rents his cab from his company — one of two pedicab outfits in town — for a flat daily fee that's higher on the weekends. He makes all his income on tips.
Because of that, he has, over the course of three years in the business, worked on some lines to get cheapskates to pony up. His favored method: shame.
"So a guy hands me a couple bucks for a long ride. I hand it back to him and say, 'Look here, buddy, you obviously need this more than me. Why don't you use it to take your girlfriend to McDonald's?" More often than not, this works.
Some of the pedicab mantras Hugo has developed over the years seem ripped from a sales manual circa 1952. "It's all about the attitude"; "Work smarter, not harder"; "You've got to have thick skin."
Sometimes Hugo's decisions seem counterintuitive. Picking up drunk people, for instance.
Although drunk guys often tip the best, he gets a lot of pukers. One time a guy dumped his catatonically drunk friend in the back of Hugo's cab, handed him a few bills and a piece of paper with the drunk guy's address, and ran off. But even worse than the pukers are the pigs.
"I hate these misogynistic assholes," he says, referring to extremely drunk men who board his cab and spend the ride catcalling women on the sidewalk. "I've lost my shit on them. I just hate them," he says. "But I try to keep my mouth shut and just get through it, because those guys are some of the best tippers."