Once, a drunk guy gave Hugo twenty bucks to do a drive-by mooning of a bar in Allston. "He really going for it, slapping his ass and everything," Hugo said.
In fact, the most money he ever made was off a drunk guy. One night, Hugo was cruising around the North End. It was pretty late. A guy and his girlfriend flagged him down. The guy asked if Hugo could take him to Andrew Square. Hugo declined.
"Then he got out a roll of twenties, and I was like, Okay, man."
Halfway through the journey, the guy told Hugo to stop at a 7-11 so he could go to the ATM to get Hugo more money. Hugo stopped. The girlfriend stayed in the cab.
"He was taking forever, and his girlfriend was like, you better go in there and grab him. He gets distracted. So I went in, and he was buying things for everybody at the 7-11."
Hugo's being coy about his pedicab profits, but he does assure me that, on a good night, he makes what he used to in a week as a bike messenger. "Saturdays are madness," he says, overtaking a Segway. On other nights, "it's a roll of the dice," he says.
Like regular cabbies, Hugo has to deal with the cost of fuel. During a typical shift, he burns an average of 6000 calories. On a night that's especially arduous or hot, he can burn as many as 10,000.
So Hugo ends up spending tons of money every shift on street food. He tries to be healthy, and often brings a bag of vegetables with him, but that's not enough food to keep up his strength. One word of advice to novices: plan your meals.
But Hugo's most heartfelt advice for pedicab drivers is simple and intuitive: "Don't hot dog it." One night a couple of months ago, he on a bridge with a brigade of cabs cycling two by two. It was dark. This kid, a college kid with a $2000 racing bike, was weaving between cars. "No helmet! No lights!" Hugo only noticed the kid when he zipped in between him and his neighbor. The traffic light turned yellow; the kid sped up even more. Before Hugo could call out and tell him to be careful, the kid hit a bump, went flying over the hood of a car, and landed, head to concrete.
Traffic stopped. A crowd gathered. Hugo asked himself, "Did I just see that?" He ran over to the kid — out cold on the ground bleeding from a massive head wound — who was getting poked by gawkers trying to wake him up. "Don't touch him!" Hugo said, pushing the people away. "I'm an EMT. You can't move him." He stayed with the kid until the ambulance arrived.
"I'll never forget that," he said.
Eugenia Williamson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.