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.