Friday, December 11, 2009

OK, the Smart Car isn't intimidating to other drivers, but...

...that doesn't give Van 9 of Yeshiva University the right to "share" my lane with me when going around the bend. It's a big, white, 12-passenger van with the YU logo on the back. The driver routinely keeps the left-side wheels in the Central Park bike lane when cruising through Central Park.
And, when in the right lane, he invades the space of the car in the left lane, whenever the road curves to the left. He got so close to me that I could see the top of the van in my sun roof. I am NOT going into the bike lane because this guy has to invade my space frmo the right. I will speed up or slow down, take other action. Today, I honked at him. By convention, almost no one honks a horn inside the park. But the Yeshiva U van wasn't being driven safely, so I honked once. Then I honked twice more when nothing changed. But the only thing that got the driver back in his lane was the fact that the road straightened out.

What's wrong with his own lane?

Someone in NYPD or PEP should be stationed on foot at those long left bends, like the one going up the Great Hill. They can watch for vehicles that use the bike lane as their secondary car lane, and signal ahead to summons those drivers.

Thursday, December 10, 2009

It's finally cold out

It's not going to go over 35 F today. It's sunny and breezy. I drove a friend around NYC and NJ in the Smart Car much of yesterday, during the wild rainy weather we had. When done, I was tired. I knew I should have gone to work but I didn't feel like it. Now I wish I had taken advantage of that day of late afternoon sun and temps in the 50s. NYC is 15 or 20 degrees shy of 50 right now, and it'll be even colder tomorrow.

There's a "HEATED SEATS" sign I clip to the pedicab for cold weather, but it blows off in the wind, and today is a windy day. If I charge $20 per ride in Midtown, my usual fee, I doubt I'll get five rides for $100 by 10 PM, my quitting time. Nobody believes the seats are really heated until they sit on them. Here's how it's done:

Here goes. I'm off to work. Please hire me when you see me on Fifth or Sixth Avenues tonight. I'll warm you up.

Monday, December 7, 2009

From the Apple Store to the Metropolitan Museum

A young couple on asked how to tweak their itinerary for a Christmastime trip to New York City. I gave them a walking tour through Central Park, since they wanted to see both the Metropolitan Museum and the Apple Store. The two are connected by Central Park.

Here's my reply:
Start at the Apple Store. Go one half block north of the nearest corner of the park, and enter through the wall, down a flight of steps. Turn right along the duck pond. Go up on the stone bridge and have someone take your picture with The Plaza behind you. Skating rink is nearby. Wanna hold off on Bryant Park and skate here instead?
Walk uphill to a multicolored wall-less building that has a slate roof. This is the Dairy, where they sell clothing that benefits the Central Park Conservancy. Go up the path, not the road, uphill from the Dairy and over the top. You should see rising steps cut into the stone, to your left about here. Continue down and under a bridge. Continue to the Carousel. It's $3.50 a ride.
Uphill from the Carousel, walk alongside East Drive. Out to the left on Central Park West, see a twin-towered apartment building, home of Steve Martin and other notables. It's called the San Remo. You're looking at it over the grass of the Sheep Meadow. You may see lights in the trees at Tavern On The Green, across the meadow. The tavern is better looked at than sampled, for another month, at least.
Continue parallel to the road. You're going uphill. Many massive trees are ahead. This is the world's last grove of American elms. Dutch elm disease killed off almost all of our native species. You will see a statue of a man in a robe holding a furled flag. He is Columbus. Turn at his statue and go up under the arching elm branches, on The Mall. This is where Meryl and Dustin exchange the little boy in Kramer Vs. Kramer, where Santa's sleigh runs out of power in Elf, and where Jennifer and Ben walk the ferret in Along Came Sally. The Mall runs between English-language authors' statues, about a quarter mile north. As you near the north end, you see a real mall, not the kind studded with stores but a real mall. Sit on the last original park benches in the park. To your right is Nussbaum Bandshell, dating from a time when, to hear music outdoors, you had to make it yourself. In Mr. Deeds, Adam Sandler buys bikes off of two boys. He and his girlfriend then ride them dangerously down the stairs.

Go down those stairs. Restrooms are halfway down them. Continue down to the Navy Terrace. The Angel Of The Waters, at Bethesda Fountain looks down at you, as seen here:
Facing the Lake, head to the right, toward a distant green roof. This is the Loeb Boathouse. You may recall a Sex & The City scene taken on this path, with the guy who was such a snob that he would never leave Manhattan, because the rest of the world sucks. Coming closer to the Boathouse, another Sex & The City scene: Carrie fell in the water here at the verandah. Mr. Big leaned over to help her out, and she pulled him in too.

Bathrooms are attached to the Boathouse.

Walk uphill on East Drive, in the pedestrian lane. It's shared with bikes, so be respectful of them. Watch out for the crouching black panther on the rocks to your left.
Farther ahead is an open space punctuated only by a lone statue. Get a good look at his face, then pull out a $10 bill. Notice the similarity?

Continue on. You should see a huge building -- not so much tall as wide -- dominating the view ahead, across the road. Next crosswalk, cross and head downhill. This will be the Metropolitan Museum. Go warm up.

Thursday, November 19, 2009

On The Beach

There are parallels between behavior in the book (or film), "On The Beach" and the pedicabbing business in New York City right now.

Today is Thursday, 11/19/09. This Saturday, the pedicab regulations will go into effect, and every pedicab will be insured and with a licensed driver. Until then, it's the Wild West.

Broadway Greenway Wrong-way

"On The Beach" is a Cold War book about the end of the world. The USA and the USSR released all their nukes, destroying each other, yes, but also poisoning all the air in the world. The last known American nuclear sub steams into a port in Australia for some R&R before they all die. All the Australians know they'll be dead in two weeks, too. There's a lot of suicidal behavior, because people would rather die quickly and in their own chosen way, than suffer two weeks of radiation sickness. Everyone knew that everyone was going to die.

This week, pedicab drivers are doing all the things they won't be able to, come Saturday. They're swerving on two wheels, taking passengers the wrong way on crowded Midtown streets, cutting off other pedicab drivers, running name it. They have only this week in which to make money before heading back to central Asia or wherever. Without a driver's license and a Social Security number, this week's driver is next week's unemployed. They're doing all they can to make all the money they can while they still can.

Yesterday I crossed the Broadway Greenway, stepping aside for a pedicab driver hauling two passengers up the hill the wrong way.

Hereafter, all licensed pedicab drivers can get traffic or criminal court tickets for their actions. And the companies they drive for will be held responsible for the actions of their drivers, so the companies have to hire responsible people.

But that's for the future. For now, feel free to run over pedestrian toes, zip in front of a city bus, and drive the wrong way on Broadway. It's typical behavior this week. Let's hope it doesn't continue into next.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

Pedicab regulations become personal

We in the NYC pedicab industry have been racing a deadline for the past two months. Mayor Bloomberg signed a new law in August, to take full effect on November 20. Pedicabs without Department of Consumer Affairs (DCA) plates will be illegal on city streets. My friend Rene told me last night that he's going to give up the business. He's an illegal alien from El Salvador, and has made a living by driving a pedicab for more than four years.

We started talking, I mean, seriously talking, sometime over the summer. We became friends in June or July. We never exchanged phone numbers, but shake hands when we meet on the street.

In order to get a license from the DCA for pedicab driving, one must have a driver's license from the USA or one of its allies, and a social security number. Rene probably has a license, but can't get a SS# unless he goes in for a green card. And that's not likely to happen.

For the past fifteen years, driving a pedicab has been a decent way to make a living in New York. In tough times you have a job, if you're willing to work harder than you normally would. In good times you'll zip past jaywalkers texting as they mill through traffic, calling after us, "Why don't you get a real job?" But you're too busy negotiating traffic and texters while making $20 in ten minutes -- which those idiots will never be able to do.

Eight years ago I was working as a double-decker guide when I chanced to meet longtime pedicab driver Craig Molino and asked him, How much money do you expect to make tonight? His answer was "About $200." Assuiming he was working five days a week, that's about a thousand a week, no small sum in New York.

Craig actually hasn't been driving pedicabs in a couople of years, because of all the illegals diluting the business. I suspect that half of all pedicab drivers are illegals of one kind or another. Craig got fed up about two years ago, but is considering coming back after 11/20/09, and I would welcome him back; I've missed him. Getting some of the longtimers back would take away some of the hurt that is sure to come when I lose the cameraderie of others, when the deadline falls.

Monday, October 26, 2009


Overheard last week when I was taking a guy from Penn Station to 53rd & Eighth:

"Amigo! How ya doing? ...Still dating that couple?"

Sunday, September 27, 2009

I got a death threat yesterday

I got a death threat yesterday.
This one was unlike any of the others in that it was given to me by a pedestrian. A pedestrian walking with his wife and daughter in the bike lane. I was coming down between Times Square and Herald Square in the new protected bike lane, which everyone loves, including pedestrians, who seem to figure it's OK to walk in it, since bikes can't kill them the way cars can.

I had picked up two Danish women at Paley Park on 53rd Street and was taking them down to the Pennsylvania, on Seventh across from Penn Station.
Paley Park is a little hole in the wall, a little space probably about 50' x 80' or 90'. Its side walls are lined with ivy vines and a waterfall forms the back wall. All these features combine to refract -- rather than reflect -- street noises in all directions, especially away from the ears of those seated within the park.
The children of Bill Paley commissioned the park. Bill Paley was the founder and longtime head of the Columbia Broadcasting System, now just called CBS. He died, I think, in the early 1970s. Frank Langella played him in the 2007 film, Goodnight And Good Luck. Blackrock, the CBS headquarters building, stands a block west and a half-block south at 52nd and Sixth. According to Justin Ferate, the guide who gave me the fam tour of the area, Paley's grown kids periodically visit the park, making sure it's clean and being maintained properly.

Perhaps I should have saved a block of biking by biking my passengers straight down Seventh Avenue. But, until it becomes illegal to do so, I'm going to choose that bike lane. And I'm going to call ahead to the pedestrians, "Please don't walk in the bike lane! Please share the bike lane!" And so on.

This guy stepped aside, saw what I was driving and said -- yelled -- "That's not a BIKE! You don't belong in the bike lane!" I quoted NYS law to him, that a bike is defined as "any two- or three-wheeled vehicle deriving power from a chain drive..." etc., but he was adamant. "That's a tricycle! You get out of the bike lane!"
"So you three can walk in it?"
"You don't belong in it!" He wasn't admitting that he didn't belong in it.
"I need it for my passengers' safety. You should either walk in the pedestrian zone or the sidewalk. Don't take the only path open to me."
"Tell you what, I drive a big truck on Sixth Avenue, and you guys always get in front of me. You get in the bike lane on Sixth, because I'm gonna come looking for you. When I see you I'm gonna run you over and KILL you!!"
"You hit me and you'll just lose your license and your truck."
"I'm gonna kill you!" --In front of my passengers, who could easily be witnesses.
I was getting pretty shaken up. I couldn't make a coherent reply and keep going. This guy wanted to rattle me. I wasn't scared, but I was worried for the time being that he really would come looking for me. It wouldn't be impossible to kill a cyclist with a truck, and get away with it.

Usually, motorists threaten to kill cyclists and then charge off in a cloud of diesel smoke. But there was the case of road rage earlier this year wherein an SUV driver struck and killed a cyclist after arguing with him. That guy's in jail, because there were witnesses to the argument.
So I went on, verbally defeated and very angry. This guy takes something that others need and he doesn't, then threatens to kill them when they take it back from him. He's an asshole.

It has taken me a day to stop being scared. There's a 50-50 chance he doesn't drive a truck. There's a 1-in-700 chance he can recognize my pedicab from behind, unless he just starts running over every pedicab in sight. And he was probably just mouthing off, saving face.
But I wish I'd been recording him, or that a cop had been in earshot, because when someone threatens to kill me, I want him caught and punished. What are my legal rights concerning a death threat? I've no idea.

This idiot is probably the tenth person to say he'd kill me for driving a pedicab. I got countless more death threats from motorists in the 1980s, when I was commuting from Brooklyn to Manhattan, 18 miles a day. Motorists would honk, lean on the horn, rev the engine behind me at lights, do whatever it took to try and intimidate me into getting out of "their" way, even though I'd usually just pass them at the next light. I would taunt them then, too. Not a good idea, but I was younger then.

There was nothing I could do to this guy. I wanted to fight him, but I promised myself and my wife, that I wasn't going to fight anymore. So I asked, "What's your name, brave guy?" and went on.

A block later I pointed out a "ghost bike" chained to a pole at the corner of 36th and Broadway in honor of Alvaro Olsen, 54, who had been run down and killed by a truck as he delivered food by bike. I had come upon the scene a few minutes after they took his crushed and bloody body away. Cops and firemen were standing there, arms crossed, stroking their necks or faces, each alone in his thoughts about the poor cyclist. A four-inch-wide rivulet of blood led from the scene, down to the gutter.

I told my passengers that this protected bike lane had been in the planning, but was not put in until two months after Olsen's death. And we went on.

And pedestrians continue to take the lane from cyclists. Some family is walking in it right now, thinking what a liberating thing it is to walk in the street.

I bring this story up because a rule in the new pedicab law will soon make it illegal for me to use the bike lane, or any bike lane in the city. That means all 700 pedicabs will be forced to either bike in front of all the trucks, or face a fine and jail time. While a truck parked in the bike lane will get a fine of $115, the first fine for a pedicab will be $250. The fourth fine for a pedicab is $10,000 and two weeks in jail. The guy who threatened my life can park his truck in the bike lane and laugh at cyclists while pedicab drivers go to jail.

Now we are faced with a life decision: do we risk a $10,000 fine and jail, or stay in the traffic lanes and risk injury or death? Each year in New York City, roughly 20 cyclists are killed by cars. And all of us have been threatened by drivers, either through revving and horns, or outright verbal threats. The AAA announced in June of 2009 that New York drivers are the worst in the nation, and the rudest. A new rule that will force pedicabs to drive at 6 MPH right in front of the nation's worst drivers is a bad rule.

What I've decided to do is fight the rule. It's going to get pedicab drivers and passengers killed. I'm going to the media before November, when the entire law becomes enforced. I'm going to invite reporters to sit on the pedicab in car traffic, and then in the bike lane, and see which they prefer.


Thursday, April 2, 2009

Repairing our image will take a while

The New York City pedicab business image has been damaged, over the past four or five years, by drivers who have been out to make all they can in the shortest possible time. We hear about 3-block rides that cost $40, "tours" of Central Park in which misinformation is passed, for $120. There are guys who try to charge $40 on every street hail. One guy told me that he tries to do it every time because, if he asks 30 people in a day and only four of them accede, he's got $160 in his pocket, and that's a decent day.

Our numbers have risen to perhaps 600 pedicabs on the streets. But no one really knows. It's rumored that Osman Zenk has 200 pedicabs (195 of them uninsured) but again, no one knows. The determination of numbers will be up to the Department of Consumer Affairs, if and when the Pedicab Owner Association lawsuit appeal (by the DCA) is decided. Then, registrations will begin.

When pedicabs finally undergo registration, they will be tested for basic safety equipment such as brake lights, hydraulic brakes, turn signals, seat belts. All pedicabs in the New York City Pedicab Owner Association already have everything that makes us street legal. When registration comes, we will stand, and they will fall.

But damage has been done to our reputation by these illegal fly-by-nights. It's going to take a long time to repair our image in the eyes of the riding public.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Ontarian limerick

There once was a group from Ontario.

Seriously, I once had a two-day step-on with a group from the far side of Lake Erie. I rattled off some poetry during the first day's step-on tour, and someone challenged me to make up a poem that would rhyme and would be specific to them, by the next day's tour. I worked on this into the night. Finally I recalled how a Buffalo-area radio DJ had always made fun of the town of Guelph, Ontario. He said it sounded like the voice of a diner in a restaurant, choking on his meat. "Guelph! GUELLLLPH!!"
So I worked with that town's name, which easily rhymes with lots of words. Here's the finished product:

There once was a fellow from Guelph,
Who left hot chicken soup on a shelf.
When he got back in town,
He gulped it all down.
Then he threw up all over himself.

Saturday, January 31, 2009

Someone asks for something to do outside of Manhattan on their third trip here.

What time of year are you coming? You could go down to City Hall and walk acros the Brooklyn Bridge. Once there, you can exit the staircase where the Bridge flattens out, and head down Fulton Street to the Fulton Ferry dock. Along the way you'll see an excellent pizzeria by the name of Grimaldi's on the right side, and an old, large orange-brick buiding with an arched brick opening on the left. That building was the Brooklyn Eagle Newspaper Building, and they once had an editor named Walt Whitman.
Down at the dock, the rail around the perimeter is emblazoned with the words Whitman wrote about New York, "O city of spires and masts! My city!"
Stand at the dock and ask someone (others are there) to take your picture with the skyscrapers of Lower Manhattan, or the Brooklyn Bridge, or both as your backdrop.
Just a few steps away is The River Cafe, a restaurant on a barge. I'm not saying it's expensive but my wife and I went with another couple there for coffee and desserts, and the bill was $74. Bring lots of money.
If it's high summer, you could take the subway to the beach. Take the Q or B to Coney Island, a bay beach with small waves and brackish water and, in August, an infestation of little transparent jellyfish. The good side is that Coney has the Reigelmann Boardwalk, where you can stroll a mile back and forth, and partake of excellent American or Russian food, street food, the original Nathan's Hot Dogs -- that is to say, the original hot dogs! -- and fool around with bumper cars, shooting galeries and various rides.
Or take the A to Rock Rock, Rockaway Beach (make sure is the A to Far Rockaway, not the other A to JFK/Howard Beach). Mind you, the trip is well over an hour.
There are very few amenities, but Rockaway is a much better beach. This is an Atlantic beach. The water is clean, the waves are Alantic ocean surf: that is, long lines of big breakers. The surf is especially high if a hurricane is within a thousand miles or so. However, that means a rip tide, so bring something that floats.
If you don't mind walking a while, you can cross uot of the public beach to the Federal Recreation Area. Same beach, no people. Swimming isn't allowed, though.