Sunday, May 23, 2010

Sasha & Nathan's Pedicab Wedding, 5/21/10


Daisy, Daisy
Give me your answer, do.
I'm half crazy
All for the love of you.

It won't be a stylish marriage.
I can't afford a carriage.
But you'll look sweet
Upon the seat
Of a bicycle built for two.

This email came in mid-April:
"We are looking for a creative way to transport our families from City Hall to the North Cove Marina on May 21. Along with transportation we thought it would be great to get one of your famous tours of Downtown, if possible."

It turned out that this was to be a wedding ride. They wanted four pedicabs with sightseeing guides as drivers. I got busy, having five weeks to prepare.

The clients wanted a two-hour tour on pedicabs decorated with flowers, streamers and "Just Married" balloons. One that would allow them time to hop out for photos at their favorite downtown spots. I had to:

1. Get three other drivers who could individually give tours, would be willing to leave their midtown garages and pedal downtown for 45 minutes before starting, and back up after finishing. Therefore they had to be experienced drivers and tourguides. I had to offer them good money to get them out of Midtown, where most of us work.

2. Get at least one of these drivers to wear a suit and tie.

3. Provide the clients with a driver who speaks Russian. (This would be a typical New York City wedding in that she's Russian and he's English. My in-laws were from Tokyo and Nuremburg. My son is Irish-Chinese.)

4. Find sources for flowers, balloons and streamers downtown, because you can't put eight inflated Mylar balloons in the Smart Car and drive it there.

5. Design a tour of TriBeCa, The Financial District, Chinatown and The Battery that would both take in the clients' photo stops, and be exactly two hours long.

No problem. ...Right?

With over 400 pedicab drivers currently working in Manhattan, and with about a dozen of them licensed as sightseeing guides, I thought it'd be easy to get three others. But I was wrong. My first thought was to hire my friend Aaron The Tourguide, who's licensed to drive a pedicab and to give tours. But he was scheduled, as it turns out, to play in a tennis tournament in Maine that week.

A friend owns a pedicab company with five drivers, four of whom are licensed guides, so I asked him. But it seemed he had an event the same day and needed his drivers for that. So I had to come up with other guides. I offered the job to one guide who turned me down.

Okay, now I was beginning to worry.

I considered the matter for a couple of weeks, while mentally mapping a tour route. I tend to design tours with too much packed into them, and then cut segments as needed, editing the remainder together, like cutting-and-pasting. I used to be a copy editor. Now I edit tour routes.

It's an art that few dozen New Yorkers can do. You have to know the city really well, be able to write point-to-point travel for buses, cars, bikes or foot travel, and work the whole thing into a timeframe. What fun!

My first thought was to go north to Chinatown. Say, up Mulberry to Grand. Then we could make a stop in Little Italy for photos, take Grand to Bowery and go south to Chatham Square, doubling back to make a stop in Chinatown. This loop would take 10 to 20 minutes and provide us with two photo ops showing two distinct parts of the city.

Sasha and Nathan texted me a week before the wedding that they'd soon have definite locations they wanted photos at. Two nights later they emailed that they wanted photos at The Elevated Acre at 55 Water Street, and at the Yu Yu Yang sculpture farther NE on Water. They also wanted a photo stop north of the Brooklyn Bridge.

I replied with a tentative route for them to take a look at. Then I sent Nathan an email with links to balloon bouquets from The Balloon Saloon - - which is on West Broadway at Duane. He went for the regular round ones that say JUST MARRIED on them.

I put out word on a driver listserv that I was organizing a ride that took from around 11:30 to 4 PM and needed three drivers who could do a tour of downtown, dress well, and/or speak Russian. This ride would pay $150 per pedicab. Many guys responded. One guy responded loudly, in multiple emails and texts, over the course of the next three days. He offered to wear, instead of a suit or a tie, his white Spandex shorts and top. He cajoled me and insulted other drivers in those messages. I don't need such troublemakers.

After much consideration I chose drivers Tim and Jordan, who are guides, and Daniyar, who is not a guide but does speak Russian. Jordan and Tim are excellent tourguides; I've done double tours of Central Park with each of them. And I've been mentoring Daniyar (Danny), who hails from Khazakstan. He's inquisitive and has an upbeat personality. He's always asking me how to better express himself in English. He's a good kid. He's been wanting to learn more about New York, and I thought this would provide a great opportunity.

With three days to go, I wrote up a document--of four pages in 12-point--being the tour route, with turns and stops. Then I emailed it to the other three drivers, with instructions to print and study the info. Tim's girlfriend took the time to email me a turn sheet, replete with walking-tour times from stop to stop. I called to thank her, and we chatted back and forth about times. She's a guide, too. She's really smart. Tim's lucky to have her.

Here is Danny attaching two bouquets of pink roses to the sides of his 'cab. He had already attached some balloons before driving downtown. We furiously decorated, with just a few minutes to spare. I had arrived last on the scene, with four rolls of crepe paper and eight bouquets of pink and purple flowers, at 12:10.

The Office of the City Clerk has been moved from the Municipal Building to the Louis Lefkowitz Building, on the corner of Worth & Centre. This was done in 2009 to improve the "wedding experience" of couples who wanted to get married in Manhattan. We four pedicabs pulled up at 12:30, to the courthouse plaza across Worth from where Sasha and Nathan had just wed.
This photo features the bride, Sasha, and her mother. Behind them is the wedding photographer. And just out of sight is the courthouse where they staged Kris Kringle's hearing in the film, Miracle On 34th Street.

Sasha and Nathan are in front, in my blue pedicab, surrounded by streamers and balloons, and flanked by a dozen pink roses to each side of them. Daniyar, who speaks Russian, drives the second 'cab with Sasha's Russian-speaking mother in it. Tim has the third vehicle. It doesn't show in this photo, but he's wearing a tuxedo-top biking jersey, with a spoke wrench lapel pin! Jordan brings up the rear, in his red baseball cap. You can't see me, but I'm wearing a suit jacket, white button-down shirt, print necktie...Bermuda shorts, black socks and sandals. Atop the melange is a sun hat. I am a fashion plate. The temperature is about 85.

The parade started eastbound on Worth, into Chinatown. The first hurdle was that two firetrucks were in the way, a block down on Catherine Street. The guests disembarked for a moment, and we walked the bikes around the fire trucks on the narrow Chinatown street.
As we went, the four gaily-decorated pedicabs with well-dressed riders attracted a good deal of attention. Here are five tourists with five cameras, wishing Sasha & Nathan well.
Oh, and that tour bus back there? In nearly every tour bus that passed us in the next two hours, drivers honked, tourguides boomed approval and congrats over their speakers, and passengers applauded!

We stopped in the background area under the highway for some shots flanked by the Brooklyn Bridge. A photo from that set is the first thing you saw in this blog.
We went through South Street Seaport, then up Maiden Lane to Water Street and our second stop, this Yu Yu Yang sculpture at Water & Pine.
The wedding couple are playing in the sculpture. Don't they look great?

From here the wedding party walked to the Elevated Acre, where they were picked up and taken to the next several stops on the tour.

We drove up to Broad Street and stopped in front of Fraunces Tavern. I gave the story of the old place, and then we cruised past the National Association of Securities Dealers - Automated Quotes, or The NASDAQ. This photo was taken in their reflective blue wall. You know your marriage will be a success if the NASDAQ is in it from the start.

Their last photo stop was at The Brooklyn Bridge. I took a photo with Sasha's camera, then another with my own. Danny took one with Sasha's mother's. And dozens of people passing by got out their own cameras, took their own photos, applauded and offered best wishes. Sasha and Nathan were New York celebrities.

The couple were delighted with their wedding tour. It finished in Battery Park City, right on time. We'd gone through Chinatown, Sailortown, South Street Seaport, The Financial District, The Brooklyn Bridge, and City Hall. The drivers complimented me for choosing a tour route that was flat, without any hills. The wedding ride was a sensation. I'm very pleased with the success as I write this. Everything went perfectly.
Best wishes,
licensed sightseeing guide

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Very windy on Saturday

Yesterday, May 8, was a really windy day. The sign on my fender skirt blew off. I lost my chin-strapped sun hat three times, and my glasses once. Things were blowing around, all over town. The west wind was so fierce that it was difficult to carry people westbound on my pedicab, on the west side.

One of the things that blew away last night was the pedicab driver license of Onur Altintas. I found it at the corner of 49th & Broadway while chasing my hat! The license is expired. Why was he still driving with an expired license? Did he replace it and give or sell it to someone else, for them to use illegally? Was he using it because he couldn't afford $35 to renew for the coming year?

My dilemma was, should I throw the license away, keep it, or find him and give it back to him? My decision stems from the history of pedicabbing in the eight years since I started. In 2002 there were about 75 pedicab drivers citywide. One was Algerian, one French, one Ecuadorean and one Canadian. All the rest were Americans. All were licensed drivers, and all had insurance.

Two Turk nationals found that the pedicab business in NYC was unregulated and, therefore, ripe for cheating. They bought dozens of pedicabs each, and advertised in Turkey for drivers to come to NYC and make money. And they ran uninsured , unlit pedicabs driven by unlicensed drivers, all over midtown. The number of pedicabs grew, and problems were noticed. Guys were driving the wrong way. Guys were driving on sidewalks. Guys didn't have a clue where Penn Station was.

The City finally regulated our business in November of 2009. By that time, well over a thousand pedicab drivers from Turkey and Central Asia were taking business away from me, a licensed driver who'd spent $2000 a year on insurance, and who had good lights. In anticipation of the deadline, hundreds of defective pedicabs were offered for sale on Craigslist. Hundreds of drivers were scrambling to get green cards for US residency, NYS driver licenses, or fake IDs.

When the smoke cleared on 9/21/09, there were about 325 licensed pedicab drivers and over 900 registered 'cabs. These were just the ones that passed inspection. This means that at least that number of pedicabs had been driven daily. Many, many more had failed inspection. I realized that I had been competing for business with around 700 to 800 illegals.

Sgt. Andy Lopez of Midtown North NYPD had said to me that pedicab licenses are easy to fake. Cops need to check licenses by had to make sure they're real. A cop checked mine in February, excusing himself by saying that there were many fake licenses out there.

My guess is that Onur Altintas had a real license, but that someone else has been using it, because the odds of being stopped and checked by a cop are fairly slim. And now I have his expired license. What should I do?

Last night was May 8. The license expired on April 30th, a week and a day ago. It clearly was lost last night, so it was used as recently as last night. For all I know, it's been passed to someone else, who is competing with me by using Onur's expired license. That's a good reason for me to protect my business.

I'm keeping the license. Maybe I'll throw it away.