So I walk into a holiday party…
…and mention that I work for a rickshaw company, and people start telling me their pedicab stories. One guest recounted an urgent mission to pick up travel documents for his boss. It was 4:30pm in Midtown, and the embassy was about a mile away. He started sprinting, but got winded. He couldn’t get a gas-guzzling taxi (shift change time!). So he hailed a pedicab. And completed his errand, no problem.
Another guest said she loves riding in pedicabs because it’s the best way to be fully enveloped by the city but fully relaxed at the same time. At first I thought, “That’s not true! What about walking?” And then I recalled playing chicken with drivers who’d rather not yield, dodging tourists who use the Brooklyn Bridge Promenade as a photo studio, getting caught behind a couple of meanderers on a narrow sidewalk…and so on. Yes, I’ve been walking NYC streets since I could toddle – which means there’s not much that can slow me below 4 miles an hour – but I can’t claim it’s always a centering experience.
I took my first pedicab ride long after reaching the age of reason; I’ve taken maybe a half dozen more since then, most often with Gregg in the saddle. I can’t attest to complete calm during those trips, since Gregg likes to whip around turns, squeeze through tight spots, and do whirly-whirls while waiting for lights to change. However: I’ve always known I was in expert hands, and enjoyed the breeze, the lights, the sun, the sights.
Joan Didion said that when choosing what to write about, one ought to look for the moments in one’s past that shimmer around the edges. That criterion applies to many of my stints in a rickshaw. One of my fondest pedicab memories involves returning from a month at an upstate artists’ colony a couple summers ago, with two heavy backpacks that I could have hauled the few blocks from the Port Authority to our apartment, but not without considerable difficulty. When I walked out of the bus station, there was Gregg, at the corner of 40th & 9th, waiting for to pedal me home.
I think what you get when you ride in a pedicab is the chance to take notice: traveling by chariot makes everything new around you. It splashes you with magic. It poses the question: If a simple trip from A to B can yield such revelation, where else might wonderment be waiting?*
*Well, unfortunately, it might be waiting at the end of your pedicab ride, when you hear the driver claiming you owe some astronomical sum of money (say, 90 bucks for 6 blocks). My stars! To prevent this sort of surprise, always request a price up front. Don’t get in till you get one! There are cheats in them there streets!