View from the Trike Lane: Interview with Pedicab Driver Lee Buckman


Where are you from originally?
Baltimore, Maryland.

How long have you lived in NYC?
I arrived here for good in 1994. I came here originally in 1975 for one year of acting school and to have the shit scared out of me.

When did you start riding a pedicab?
June 2009.

What got you started?
I was taking an acting class – a very honest acting class where we talked about our lives – and there was this one kid who talked about being a pedicab driver. It sounded like a pretty interesting way to use the talents and abilities I have as a communicator and an entertainer.

What do you do besides pedicab?
I’m an entertainer. I’m an actor and a singer. Right now I’m rehearsing for Destinations, which is part of the New York International Fringe Festival. I’ll be playing a bass player in a band. It’s a successful band that broke up because of drugs but reunited. I have to appear as a bass player who’s been playing for twenty years.

Do you ride in Central Park, on the streets, or both?
Both, but I would rather spend all my time in Central Park. I spend 5-10% of my time on the streets, the rest in the park. The park is my preference.

Lee Buckman, in his element

Lee in his element

What do you like most about pedicab riding?
Besides the general beauty of being in Central Park every day, I think it’s those times when the tour of the park ascends to something more than a tour of the park. We bond. That’s something I didn’t expect when I started out, and it happens with most of my passengers. This wonderful bonding with humans from all over the world. Global bonding.

What do you like least?
Two things. The first thing is the unnecessary hassling that we get from park rangers and police officers and the other thing is the other pedicab drivers who give us a bad name by ripping people off on prices and disobeying the law. When a cop sees me he’s seeing, oh, I’m one of those guys. I’m not. I’m one of the good guys.

What strategies do you use to get yourself out of the doldrums?
Realizing that every day is different. It’s gonna manifest, it’s gonna happen however. You’re not gonna know. So if it’s a bad day, relax. Don’t worry. Tomorrow’s another day. If it’s a good day, don’t think you’re on a roll. You could crash tomorrow. Tomorrow is a totally different day. You don’t know what tomorrow will bring. Which of course can be applied to everything.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this pedicab driver from his appointed rounds.

Neither snow nor rain nor heat nor gloom of night stays this pedicab driver from his appointed rounds.

What’s the best fare you’ve ever had?
The best fare I ever had was taking a girl and her boyfriend through Strawberry Fields. She was moved to tears. She’s from Baltimore too, and we became friends. We’ve seen each other a few times since then, when she comes up for business. The best rides are the ones that start relationships that last past the tour.

The worst?
I think maybe the one where I gave this lady a real good price on a ride to F.A.O. Schwarz from Times Square and the credit card charge didn’t go through on my iPhone. I let her go in good faith; she said she’d email me the money. I contacted her a couple times and it was clear she wasn’t going to. That was just sad ‘cause I gave her a good deal. Ouch!

Another time, on a group ride down to Tribeca or some place, this one guy who was that obnoxious kind of drunk kept saying, “Come on, come on!” as if I was racing with the other riders, and started slapping me. I got really irritated by that.

What quality does a person absolutely have to have – besides physical fitness – to succeed as a pedicab driver in Manhattan?
Tolerance. Resilience. You have to develop a hard shell or a hard skin so you don’t respond to everyone who’s beeping at you. Patience. An attractive personality.

What advice would you give to a beginning driver on how to sell rides or, in general, how to succeed in this business?
Look for something else to do. There’s too many of us already.

What’s your stance on requiring pedicab drivers to quote a fare up front?
Duh! Of course. This is the only way to prevent the frequent rip-offs that do happen. The price needs to be mentioned up front or else there’s that question. It’s the only way to prevent the dishonest pedicabbers from taking advantage of the patron.

Anything else you want to share about life in the trike lane?
The thing that comes up all the time is it’s so hard to sell the ride and yet everyone who gets in the pedicab has a great time. And I’ve been transformed. I’ve found this a transformational experience physically, spiritually, and emotionally. It really has grounded me a lot more.

Lee Buckman, pedicab driver:
Lee Buckman, entertainer:
Catch Lee at the NY Fringe: