Tuesday, July 5, 2011

My Independence Day Milestone

July 5
Yesterday was Independence Day. Not just my country's, but mine as well.
Tourism tanked after September 11. No one dared to fly, and no flights meant no tourists were coming to New York City. I was out of work for most of 2002. I began driving a pedicab just to pay the bills, with little hope of betterment. After a couple of months of driving it, the realization came that pedicabs could be used for tours. Soon I was taking couples around Central Park and Greenwich Village. In 2007 I finally bought a pedicab, wrote my own web site - www.oconnorgreentoursnyc.com - and went into business for myself. I worked daytimes, nighttimes and even holidays.

Holidays in NYC are the best times to make money in pedicabs. Holidays force large numbers of people into districts with little mass transit. I worked every 4th of July, Halloween and New Year's Eve, carrying people around. As a guide, I know Greenwich Village really well, but partygoers often don't.. It's easy to get rides there on Halloween and New Year's Eve. I even installed heated seats for cold weather; that has surprised a lot of passengers over the years.

But it's tough to work every holiday. You never get the chance to celebrate like everyone else; you're too busy trying to make money. In eight years, I never saw the 4th of July fireworks. Heard 'em! Didn't see 'em!

My life became more complicated about five years ago. Five years and two days ago, July 3, 2006, I proposed to the most beautiful girl in the world. We married in 2007 and, just for good measure, had a big family wedding on the same date in 2008. Life became more complicated: I was used to starting my day around 2 PM. Drive the pedicab to Central Park and give a few tours. About 5, hit the streets to carry people to Grand Central and Penn Station. At 7, hang out in Midtown and take people from their hotels to the Broadway shows. At 8--curtain time--take a break. Broadway shows start getting out around 9:30, so start driving again, until 11 or so.

But now I had a wife waiting at home for me. I didn't want to spend my evenings out, come home and spend an hour with her, go to bed, have her get up at 7 while I slept until 10. That wouldn't work. I changed my hours by making the commitment to drive her to work in the morning--in a car--and pedicabbing her from her office to the train station in the afternoon after I started work. I quit earlier, in order to get enough sleep to drive her in the AM. Eventually my inner clock reset to normal daytime life.
And I began to concentrate on getting 'normal' tourism work: walking tours, bus tours, going to the Statue of Liberty every morning with school groups, seniors or whoever. I think I've been there about 100 times in the past year, and every visit is a treat. In contrast, I've given five pedicab tours this year, all in Central Park. Customers wanting my tour of Greenwich Village have gotten referrals to a friend I taught my route to. I've given the same tour on foot, though. Lightbulb: pedicabs restrict the number of passengers to 2. Do it as a walking tour and you can make ten times the money with ten times the customers. And it's less work.

Though my web site still touts pedicab tours, I'm rewriting it to emphasize walking tours. For a peek at what it'll soon look like, go to the travel services section of www.newyork.craigslist.com, and search for TourguideStan.
And how was yesterday my Independence Day? Another experienced pedicab driver named Luis Gonzalez rented my 'cab yesterday, for $150 a week. He's going to drive it; I'm not. I'm free! I can pursue regular fulltime daytime tourism work.
Last night my apartment complex had its annual Fourth Of July barbeque. We went to it, ate, drank, played Frisbee, and had a wonderful time. And then we went home, hugged, turned on the TV and watched the Macy's fireworks show. I had never known they were so beautiful!

@TourguideStan on twitter. I tweet tourism and boost New York.

Monday, July 4, 2011

Groceries in Midtown Manhattan

Here are locations of some full-service supermarkets in Midtown West, for when you don't want restaurant food, and deli food proves too expensive.
At the NE corner of 49th & 8th is a Food Emporium, with a full-service first-floor deli, and an escalator to and from the basement, where the groceries are available.

Farther north on 8th Avenue is a Gristede's, between 53rd and 54th.

North again at Columbus Circle, where 8th crosses Broadway and 59th, is a Whole Foods, in the basement of the Time Warner Building.

And there's a Morton Williams running between 57th and 58th streets, midblock between 7th and 8th Avenues. You can enter either at 58th or 57th. Eating area and restrooms downstairs; groceries and a deli are on the first floor.

The A, C and E subway lines service all these locations. The C and E stop one block from Food Emporium.

Questions? Email me at stanoconnor@gmail.com

Follow me on Twitter. I am @TourguideStan

Member, Guide Association of New York City http://www.ganyc.com/

Thursday, March 31, 2011

Off-season and Off-route, or, "Tours Shouldn't Be Given by CD-ROMs."

I've been a guide for a long time. It's my career.  As you know where everything in your home is, I know where everything in Manhattan is.  Sometimes this knowledge is put to the test.  When New York City throws something in front of you, you have to know how to get around the obstacle.  That's a basic rule of NYC tourguiding.  Sunday, March 20, was the first time Elegante Tours had called me up this year. 
The season officially starts tomorrow, April 1.  This tour was late in the off-season and we were not quite prepared for the problems of the day on March 20, but we adjusted accordingly.  A live, licensed  guide makes all the difference.

I came out of the Subway that morning at 8:45 AM for a 9:00 pickup at the Manhattan Visitor Center on Seventh Avenue at 53rd Street.  What greeted my eyes were hundreds, then thousands of runners.  Seventh was barricaded from sidewalk to sidewalk.  Runners were doing the annual New York Half-marathon. They were streaming (live!) out of Central Park, heading through Times Square and were taking a right on 42nd Street.  A cop from the 52 Precinct, assigned to security duty, told me he'd heard that they had the West Side Highway blocked off running north from 42nd.  He'd heard that; nothing official. 

I called my dispatcher, who let me know my tourists' names and their location, a block west, over by Letterman's Ed Sullivan Theater; and that the van was on the way, coming down Broadway.  A baby could have toddled through Broadway traffic that morning, it was going so slowly.  The customers were standing under the marquee, no problem.  And we settled down to wait for the van.  I started walking north a minute later to (a) stay warm and (b) intercept the van before it got down to 53rd.  We met at 55th, everyone got in, our driver Karrington started off, and we started warming up.

My guests were to take the Elegante Platinum Tour, the route of which goes out through Hell's Kitchen to the West Side Highway (WSH) then straight south along the outskirts of Midtown, Chelsea, The Village, TriBeCa and drops off at Battery Park.  There we would pick up our Ferry tickets and go to the Statue Of Liberty.  This should be about a 20-minute ride. 

A fellow guide mentioned recently at a Guides Association of NYC (www.ganyc.org) meeting that she'd taken a bus tour of Paris, given by a pre-recorded voice on a CD-ROM. When the driver turned off the tour route for a mandatory detour, the voice continued blithely talking about things that none of the tourists could see!

Karrington and I discussed what we should do regarding the race route on the WSH. I told him what the cop had told me, so he detoured by running south on Ninth Avenue.  We figured we could get back onto the WSH on 34th Street. 

Prevented from being able to talk about the mighty Hudson River, The USS Intrepid, the Passenger Ship Terminal and Captain Sullenberger's ditching of the jetliner at about 38th Street,  I told my customers about Ninth Avenue.  "This is where New Yorkers eat.  We don't go to the crowded, overpriced chain-restaurant venues of Times Square," I said.  "We stroll Ninth, which has roughly 100 locally-owned, moderately-priced restaurants in the ten-block stretch from 54th to 44th."  They were shown The Film Center, between 45th & 44th, where the early TV series The Honeymooners had run for one year, and, across the street, Rudy's Bar, where costar Art Carney had been a regular all the rest of his days. 

We took a right at 34th but were rebuffed a block later.  The cop's information had not been complete: the runners were going south on the WSH.  We were turned down Eleventh, and went back to Ninth.  Okay.  We cruised through Chelsea.  I pointed out the Hudson Guild houses to the left, and the new dedicated bike lane that's painted green.  Told them the story of Clement Clarke-Moore.

Southbound traffic was slow due to all the would-be users of the WSH who'd been rerouted alongside us.  We were concerned because we were already more than 30 minutes late on the tour schedule. 

We took a right at Ninth & 14th, through the Meatpacking District.  I just learned, BTW, that the name of the district has now been acronymized.  It's now "MePa."  We tried accessing the WSH again, but were turned aside onto Washington Street, southbound through the West Village.

So the guests learned about the West Village! The Cherry Lane theater with Kim Novak's apartment on the second floor.  The identical houses built for the seacaptain's daughters (a myth).  Edgar Allen Poe renting digs, and getting treated for a bad cold.  The Stonewall Riot.  200-year-old townhouses.  The works.

The slower traffic goes
The more you have to know
Because it's the tourguide's show.

We gave up on the WSH and continued south on Washington until we neared the World Trade Center, took a left on Warren, and climbed the hill to Broadway.  "There to your left is New York City Hall.  Just for a moment, through its parking lot, you can see the twin Gothic arches of the Brooklyn Bridge." 

Traffic was heavy as we made our way down the final ten blocks of Broadway.  We were a good hour late now, but I kept up a steady stream of patter to keep the guests entertained while we waited to get there. 

"The monument at the near corner of Trinity Church is in memory of all the New Yorkers who died in the American Revolution.  Most of the gravestones are from the colonial era."  This was a nice preface, because the tour would later go through Trinity on our walking tour to Wall Street, and double back through this graveyard.  Later I'd tell them of monopolist Robert Fulton, Secretary Alexander Hamilton's duel with VP Aaron Burr, and the grave of Francis Lewis.  Pointing out the monument early laid the groundwork. 

"Now we're closing in on the Financial District. Like London's 'City,' this is the oldest part of town, and it's where the money is traded. To the left is Wall Street.  Later today we'll walk down to Wall & Broad."

Finally, Karrington got us safely to Battery Park and our drop-off.  It was now about 11 AM.  We should have been there about 9:45.  My guests were way late, and the tour would run long today, but they'd gotten to see a great deal more of Manhattan, complete with information and stories, than they would have otherwise.  It was a fair deal for the customers, and that's what it's all about.

Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide
member, Guide Assn. of NYC
See http://newyork.craigslist.org/trv/ for my private walking tours by searching for the name "TourguideStan."
@tourguidestan on twitter

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Top Of The Rock, then Empire State Building

Saturday, October 2, I took a private family tour up both the Top Of The Rock (TOTR) at Rockefeller Center, and the ESB, in the same day.  First, TOTR, at the GE Building.  TOTR maintains that there is rarely a wait of more than ten minutes to get to its observatory.  At the ESB, by contrast, the wait can be between ten minutes and two hours, depending on the season, day of the week, and time of day.  Nights, for instance, are usually slower than days.  The charge at TOTR is $21 as opposed to the ESB's $20. 
We had prepaid tickets.  I showed them to the personnel, and we headed upstairs to security for metal detectors.  That done, we took an elevator with a transparent ceiling, on which were projected images of the GE Building through its history, up to the top.  Elapsed time was 11 minutes.  Not bad!
TOTR takes you to its 67th floor, as opposed to the ESB's 86th floor, so you're not as high up, even when you account for Rockefeller Center being atop a plateau and the ESB being halfway down Murray Hill.  The parapets are lined with clear walls that protect people from the wind, while offering great views of Manhattan, its rivers and bridges, and surrounding lands and islands.  We stayed up there for about 20 minutes, until my guests indicated they wanted to get on to our next view from the heights, the ESB.

Here's an almost-straight-down view of the Roman Catholic cathedral of Saint Patrick, which is across Fifth Avenue from Rockefeller Center. 

Since my guests had prepaid tix to the New York Skyride, we were already committed to enjoying it.  On a hunch, I called the Observatory to find out how much time the wait was that day and hour, without The Skyride.  The voice said the wait at that time was about 90 minutes. 

The Skyride plays every 30 minutes, in a small theater of roughly 50 seats.  The seats are on a platform held up by hydraulic jacks that lift, tilt and lower everyone at once, in response to cues from the screen.  For instance, part of the Skyride shows a helicopter ride.  At every sweeping turn, the seats lean this way or that.  Wonderful. 
We arrived there at 11:32 AM, just a little late for the 11:30 show.  We escalated up to the second floor, showed our tickets to a lady at a popcorn-and-snack counter, and had to wait for a bit, as there was some snag with the tickets.  Finally we were escorted ahead, to the Skyride area. 

One of my charges was an 80-year-old man with a back problem.  I earlier had had offered him my cane, but he refused it.  We, along with many other customers, were taken to a standing-only area outside the theater itself.  I was concerned about my customer's back pain.  He found a shelf just to the left of the door and sat on it, and I sat with him, there being no seats in this anteroom. 
We were there treated to about fifteen minutes of wraparound videos showing, among other things, the top ten things to see in New York City.  At 12:00,  we entered The Skyride, strapped in, and enjoyed the show.  Kevin Bacon's image hosted.  The Skyride really is a fun show. 

At the close of the ride, we and the other customers went on up to the Observatory.  I looked at my watch when we got there: over an hour, nearly 75 minutes, had passed.  The Skyride had not saved us much from the projected waiting time, after all; less than fifteen minutes.

The Empire State's Observatory is on the 86th floor of the building, some 150 feet higher than TOTR's.  It features a four-foot limestone wall topped with inward-curving steel fencing.  You can poke your camera--or your head--through spaces in the fencing to look straight down, if you want.  The views are breathtaking: roughly 45 miles in every direction on the day we came.  We could see from the woods near Stamford, Connecticut, practically down to Snooki and The Situation on the Jersey shore. 

An impromptu treat was in store for us all: an NYPD helicopter hovered for a moment, almost touchable, some 30 feet from the Observatory.  It occupants waved at us, and we all waved back. 

Look for me on YouTube.com and on TripAdvisor.com as TourguideStan.  I give free advice, which is worth every penny. 
Hire me for a bus tour of NYC, including the Statue of Liberty and Ellis Island. Or for a one-hour pedicab or group walking tour of Central Park. 

Free tours for wounded warriors through http://www.hospaud.org/

Stan O'Connor

licensed sightseeing guide


member, Guide Association of NYC

member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association




Tuesday, September 14, 2010

The proposed "Ground Zero" mosque is farther away than a Fox News viewer thought

I have a framed advertisement from the back pages of an engineering book dating from the 1890s.  The ad is for a store selling "Rackarock," a high explosive for destroying rock in tunnels.  The explosive was sold on Park Place, just a block or two from City Hall.  There was no need to keep a seller of high explosives away from such a sensitive political target.   The store's location, on Park Place, was a non-issue. 

Two blocks means a lot in Manhattan.  A lot of difference.  West Fifteenth Street is in Chelsea, but West 13th is in the Village. 

There's a liquor store on 40th between Eighth and Ninth.  Two blocks north of it is Holy Cross, Father Duffy's old parish church.  It's the oldest building on 42nd Street, dating from about 1882.  Should the liquor store be moved because it defiles the sanctified space of Holy Cross?
Should the peep shows and porn shops on Eighth Avenue be moved?
No and No.  Though the two concerns are not compatible with the teachings of the Catholic Church, no one calls for their relocation to an area farther away.  It will remain a non-issue until some fanatic comes along and starts pestering people and yelling about it. 

The following was sent my way through a newsgroup that serves NYC licensed sightseeing guides.  I don't know the original poster and can't verify the accuracy of the statement.  But I do know that the proposed mosque is to be on Park Place, a good two-and-a-half blocks from the WTC site.  It was right about there that high explosives were once sold, a stone's throw from City Hall.  It's printed verbatim. 

"I received the following from a friend who is an official, licensed by

the city, NYC Tour Guide.
I've done a few tours lately for a southern based Christian
travel company.  They always want to see the World Trade Center site on the tour to pay their respects (although it bugs me when they say "Will you take us to 911?" - as if I had a magic time machine.)
Anyway, I had a group the other day ask me to walk them over to the
site of the proposed mosque, which I did.  About three blocks into the trip to Park Place, they started complaining "why do we have to walk this far? We thought the mosque was right where the towers were, this is nowhere near it at all!"
Therein lies the myth. They were not so vocal about opposition after
that.  In fact one lady even told me that she's completely changed her
position and felt she'd been lied to by FOX News.' "

Google me as TourguideStan. I do walking, bike, pedicab and bus tours. Free tours for wounded vets, through www.hainyc.org.

As TourguideStan I give free advice to those traveling to NYC, on the NYC forum on www.tripadvisor.com.

Best wishes,

Stan O'Connor
licensed sightseeing guide
member, Guide Association of NYC
member, NYC Pedicab Owner Association




New York City, the greatest city in the world. 

Sunday, August 1, 2010

A twilit tour of the park

Before diving in, I want to send you a link to a tourguide of NYC named Jane Marx.  She speaks her mind and I applaud her for that. 

August 1, 2010
Rene Hernandez has spent all week thanking me for the $95 ride last Monday.  Rides are hard to come by, lately.  He and I hung out last night at 7:30 on the hill on E. 42nd between the Grand Hyatt and Grand Central.  We were hoping to get customers to pay $25 for a fun ride from the hotel to their respective Broadway theaters, but there are few such customers these days.  So we talked and joked with one another.
A sign attached to the front of my pedicab read,
Once in a half hour, someone will walk up and ask for directions. 
Sitting there, bike to bike with Rene, I replaced this sign with one reading, ASK ABOUT LICENSED TOURS OF CENTRAL PARK.  Ten seconds later, a family of five stopped, turned in our direction and asked about a licensed tour of Central Park.  Ten seconds! 

The father was concerned about funding this tour when I mentioned that each pedicab would be $75.
"But there are discounts."
"What kinds of discounts?"  He was intrigued.
"These,' I answered, pointing out the discount questions in fine print at the bottom of the sign, 'you get $5 off for each correct answer."
They were from New Jersey.  They didn't know "To which two colonial powers did this island once belong?" nor "What is the population, to the nearest million, of NYC?"  But they were pretty close on "How many acres are in Central Park?"  Likewise, "How many commonwealths are there in the USA?"  Kind of a trick question.  There are five, but one is Puerto Rico, and few remember that.  He got four; I gave it to him. 
So we were down to $65 per bike.  I didn't even mention that we usually charge $20-$25 just to get to 6th & 59th from Lex & 42nd.  And why did I not mention that?  Because neither Rene nor I had had a ride yet.  This was to be our first catch of the day. 
The family was two girl kids who, together, couldn't have weighed more than about 17 pounds.  They got into Rene's bike, while I, 55 years old, had to carry the parents and the toddler.  I didn't complain; they were our first ride and we were not going to lose them. 

Normally we would have taken Sixth Avenue, which has no hill.  Last night Sixth had a street fair, so we chose Madison. Up Madison Avenue, up the hill leading to Saint Patrick's Cathedral, then down the other side.  Stopping on Mad at 50th I pointed out the mansion to the left, saying, "In this beautiful mansion lives a well-dressed single older man who only makes $18,000 a year.  He is the Archbishop of the Archdiocese of New York."  Pointing at the cathedral behind, "And that's where he works.  Short commute."

We coasted for several downhill blocks, the reward for toiling up.  Biking is like that.  Turning on 57th, we made our way to 6th Avenue.  As it turned out, the parents had lived all their lives in or near Cherry Hill, New Jersey, and had never been to Central Park.  They were excited, though apprehensive.  The park has a certain reputation outside of New York City.  A dangerous one. 

Sixth Avenue was renamed Avenue of the Americas when the UN opened in the early 1950s.  It was decorated--still is--with 38 plaques hanging from the streetlights, in honor of the 38 Western Hemisphere nations.  Rene pointed out El Salvador, his home.  We entered the park, and the temperature went from 85 to 75, just like that.  Buildings and streets store solar heat.  Trees prevent heat from touching the ground.  Central Park has 26,000 trees. 

The topography is like that of northern NJ: lots of rocks, smoothed over thousands of years ago by glaciers.  These were southern NJ people.  I don't think glaciers ever got to Cherry Hill.  They have forests, farms and suburbia.  They were fascinated.  Crystalline Manhattan glitters at sunset. 

The mother was concerned about safety, having remembered the notorious case of the woman jogger.  Rene and I reassured the parents that things were very different now from that case, which happened in 1989 and is a permanent mark of shame for New York and Central Park.  The nation was gripped by high crime in the crack cocaine era.  A jogger, alone, was viciously beaten, raped, and left for dead. 
Central Park has its own police precinct.  We showed them the "CPP" emblazoned on every cop car passing us in the park; CPP standing for Central Park Precinct.  The precinct says Central Park is the safest place in the city. 
Indeed, before the tour was done, at about 8:30 PM, we were paralleled by a Central Park Conservancy SUV, which was met by a patrol car.  As we and the family passed, two cops came out of the car in the twilight, confronted a man dressed in black hat, black top and black long pants, and conversed with him.  The father, looking back seconds later, muttered to his wife and me, "They're taking him down." 
An object lesson: the park is safe. 

Okay, it's one thing to reassure nervous people about safety.  It's quite another to see it demonstrated effortlessly.  Every Saturday evening in the summer, newyorktango.com hosts tango, surrounding Shakespeare's statue on The Mall.  My guests were amazed.  Unsafe parks do not have 200 people in them dancing by candlelight.  This is so New York. 

The mood of our passengers changed at that moment.  They really were in a wonderful place, after all.  Though the baby fussed, the parents snuggled. 

Best wishes,
Stan O'Connor
Google "TourguideStan" or look up my videos on Youtube, and advice to NYC visitors on tripadvisor.com's NYC forum. 

I give oil-free green tours here: http://www.oconnorgreentoursnyc.com/ on foot, on bikes and on pedicabs. 

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Twenty pedicab drivers and two ride thieves

Imagine that you work in an office.  You arrived at work yesterday only to find your office door was locked.  Someone had gotten in and was doing your work.  They sneaked in before you got there, took over your job for the day, kept to themselves, emailed the work out at 5 PM, and finished up.  The person who took over your office for the day then went to your boss and demanded your salary! 

Should the manager pay them, because of the work they did or should you,  the person who was hired for the job, be paid?  This was the position I found myself in yesterday: the position of the manager who has been fooled by someone who usurped the place of the hired worker. 

Yesterday was Monday, July 26.  On May 21 I got a query from a tour operator in Ohio: would I organize a tour of Central Park by twenty pedicabs for July 26?  The gig was to be a full tour of the lower loop of Central Park, followed by a trip south on Seventh, right turn on 47th to the hotel on Eighth Avenue. We corresponded back and forth for the next two months, twenty emails in all, covering the route, pickup and dropoff, customer preferences, payment, timing, etc. 

On my own, I started finding drivers.  This would be tricky.  Monday is the day off for people in the tourism and hospitality trades, including pedicab drivers.

Working within the framework of the NYC Pedicab Owner Association (POA), of which I'm a member, is best.  I hired drivers for the event who either owned their own pedicabs or rented from POA members.  These people have a stake in the pedicab industry and are least likely to get instructions wrong, or to get ticketed while driving with clients.  In a word, they're trustworthy.  It's probable that they're also trained better than drivers from non-POA companies, but that's a matter of opinion. 

The bulk of POA member garages are not in Midtown.  Revolution Rickshaw is down on far West 31st Street; Manhattan Rickshaw, in business since 1995, is way down on Washington near 10th, in the West Village.  But their people are dedicated.  Some of them have been driving at least as long as I have.  I knew they could be counted on to show up, even on a Monday. 

About two weeks from the date of the tour, I started hiring drivers.  Got nine on the first day.  I would be the second-oldest driver.  The eldest was 68.  Between the tour operator in Ohio and myself, we calculated 1.5 hours for the whole tour.  Payment was to be better than average, which made it easier to get people for a Monday gig. 

One driver is 68, as said, and I'm glad to get him any work I can.  Another is a petite woman who just turned 40.  She needed the money for some health-related matters.  Very few pedicabbers have health insurance, so keeping healthy can be very expensive. 

On the morning of the 3:00 PM ride, I group texted all those who were hired: "Say YES if you're ready for this afternoon's ride."  One after another, the YESes came in, though there were a few who couldn't make it.  And one whose phone was turned off.  I hung out here at my desk, getting the numbers of POA members and even nonmembers.  Then I had to arrange with a POA member who owned several pedicabs to make a definite replacement for the missing man.  He also brought another driver on standby, in case one or two of my people wouldn't show up.  As it happened, someone also had a flat tire and nearly missed the gig! 

Twenty pedicabs gathered in the unused parking lot of the once and future Tavern On The Green.  But several pedicabbers not in the gig showed up as well.  Suspecting that I might, after all, need to hire them, I asked them to wait and see how things turned out.  The tour escort had earlier offered to pay on the spot for extras if needed.

But here I made a crucial pair of mistakes.  I didn't think to separate their pedicabs from my guys.  I also didn't think to mark my pedicabs with the name of the tour company, which I really should have done.  I'll always do that from now on.  It turned out badly for me and two other drivers who drove three miles up from Greenwich Village for the gig. 

The customers came in.  I greeted them en masse, then turned to the tour escort and the licensed guide, an old friend, as the customers went and got into pedicabs.  One minute later I turned around.  A few pedicabs had already left!  I had wanted to stagger their departures.  Who pulled out in such a hurry, I wondered to myself? 

As the rest pulled out into the park, it became clear that two of my hired drivers were empty.  I turned to the tour operator and asked, "Did everyone show up?  All forty?"
"Yes, they're all here.  Is everything OK?"
My pedicab was empty, as well as those of two other drivers.
"Something's wrong... it looks like six people got on the wrong bikes." 
Instantly I thought of the standbys.  I thought they had mistakenly gotten mixed up in the ride.  But the important thing from the operator's point of view was that all the customers were getting their tour.  So they and the guide left, and I was left with the two drivers. 

When the tour was over, my spare drivers and I drove down to the hotel.  I had to pay the drivers.  One of them maintained that the two who "mistakenly" picked people up were ride thieves.  When I got there, a few of my drivers whispered and texted to me that the two guys who had come in on their own had hustled customers into their 'cabs and taken off. The two were unaware that I, and not the customers, would pay drivers at the end.

And what is a ride thief?  This is a term peculiar to our industry.  A ride thief insinuates himself into a lineup for a ride, takes off with customers, then demands payment for the work that he did, ignoring the fact that he's shut someone else out of the job. 
As it turned out, my friend's standby driver had mistakenly picked people up.  I apologized to him and gave him $10 out of my own pocket. Then  I talked with one of the ride thieves, explaining that I had NOT told him to pick people up; that I'd asked him to wait.  He was not happy to hear that I couldn't pay him.  At that moment, I believed him to be an honest man who had made a mistake.  A day later, I'm still wondering.  I've always liked the guy. 
But the other guy!  He demanded payment.  "I just worked an hour and a half, and you don't want to give me anything?"  I apologized and explained that I'd asked him to wait.  "I'm waiting!  I'm waiting now!"  He kept on demanding money for the work he'd done, not listening to my explanations.  I got out my Manhattan map and showed him that the driver he's taken the ride from had come in on the train from Queens, walked ten blocks to the garage, and drove three miles up to the park.   And that they would have to go back empty-handed if I paid him for taking their customers. 
I apologized to this guy like fifteen times, but he wasn't having it.  I offered him $10 out of my own pocket (should I get nothing for doing all this planning and execution?).  "F U C K your ten dollars!"  He kept insisting that I owed him the same payment I gave all the others. 
One of my friends spoke to him in French, his native tongue, explaining the situation, plucking the map out of my hand and showing the ride  thief how much the other driver deserved the money.  Another driver told him that the money was all paid out to the hirees; there was no more to pay him with. 
Finally he rode off, angrily pointing at me and saying, "I'm gonna remember you owe me money!!"  A veiled threat?
Now I have twenty drivers appreciative of making good money on a Monday, two unhappy drivers, and one wild card.  What happens next time he sees me, and we're not surrounded by other drivers? 


Find my videos about New York and worldwide travel by going to Youtube.com and typing in "TourguideStan"

Volunteer work:
TourguideStan on the New York City forum of traveler advice at TripAdvisor.com.  http://www.tripadvisor.com/ShowForum-g60763-i5-New_York_City_New_York.html

My site for pedicab, bike, bus or walking tours: http://www.oconnorgreentoursnyc.com/