Three pedicabbers, one drinking a Shiner, the second a margarita, and the third a hydrating glass of ice water, are taking a break at Bikini’s Sports Bar and Grill, where the scruffy youngsters present a stark contrast to the dozens of HD televisions, scantily clad waitresses, and the men who can’t decide what to stare at.
It’s the first half of the game, when the cyclists are finally able to take a break because few people are walking to or from the stadium. That means refueling time: Munch on some chips and queso, restock fluids with plenty of water –– and maybe toss back a cold one too.
“I never cared about sports until I stated pedicabbing,” Jesse says. “Now I have to. When the Cowboys or Rangers start losing, I’m like, ‘Damn it!’ because I know the tips won’t be as good.”
Despite the Cowboys’ so-so perfor-mance this season, Jesse and his two companions, Moorman and Chris Robertson, agree that Arlington is easy money in a controlled, comfortable environment. The tougher regulations limit competition and keep everyone professional, ensuring that they almost always go home with a decent amount of cash.
“If you’ve got some drug addict [pedicabber] getting somebody killed, it hurts all of us,” Chris says. “That’s the worst-case scenario, but it can happen.”
Though the three of them are all under 30, they’ve accumulated quite a bit of experience. They’ve each raked in about $1,000 a day ferrying concertgoers up and down Central Texas hills during the bedlam of the Austin City Limits Music Festival. Moorman and Chris even traveled to Charlotte, N.C., to work the Democratic National Convention, where Chris made $3,000 in four days. Jesse worked during the recent Formula 1 race east of Austin, when three Danish guys paid handsomely after jumping out and pushing him up a particularly steep hill.
“They were so excited, they paid me extra,” Jesse said. “They were like, ‘Thanks so much, that was so much fun.’ ”
But just showing up at a big event with a pedicab and calves to power it doesn’t ensure you’ll make enough money to pay rent.
For pedicabbers, personality goes a long way. They’re trying to win the hearts and cash of clients who are unfamiliar with pedicabs and often fear they are being conned, so it behooves each cabbie to bring something unique to the game.
Arlington’s pedicabbing clique is full of examples.
There’s Andre Sokolov, the Ukrainian with perfect English and a GQ smile whose ability to earn huge amounts of cash each night dumbfounds his peers. Or Indigo, the slender actress who can’t always prevent the “big, manly men” from feeling the need to jump out and push, refusing to believe that her dainty lady legs could haul their asses uphill. There’s Steve, who probably doesn’t appreciate that most of the other pedicabbers refer to him as “the old guy” because his tender 64 years make him an unlikely candidate for intense physical labor. Of course, he’s been doing this for eight years, longer than all of his whippersnapper competition.
For his part, Jesse makes generous use of his friendly laugh and impish smile, but he can talk politics, too –– the right pocket of his cargo shorts contains a copy of The Ugly American, a classic 1958 indictment of American foreign policy.
Moorman, a soft-spoken Austinite with girl-next-door good looks, put it simply: “Pedicabbers without personality don’t last very long.”
The game is tied 24-24 at the start of the fourth quarter, and morale is low.
Not because the Cowboys might lose –– most of the pedicabbers could care less whether the Cowboys make it to the play-offs. Their concern is for their own self-interest.
When games are close, everybody leaves at once, which ensures that a given pedicabber ends up with only three or four fares at the end of a game. But when it’s clear by half-time which team is going to win, the fans trickle out slowly and steadily, allowing the pedicabs to spend more time ferrying passengers and less time sitting around waiting for them to show up.
The Cowboys, despite a nearly two-decade drought of Super Bowl appearances, are still “America’s team,” and they manage to fill most of the stadium’s more than 80,000 seats.
The pedicabbers periodically check the score on their smart phones: The game remains tight, which means it’ll be pandemonium when the fourth quarter ends and the floodgates open. Worse, biking away from the stadium is more difficult, since they must pedal uphill.
It can mean a difference of $50 to $100 tonight.
“Those extra couple rides really help,” Jesse says.
It’s the calm before the storm, and 10 pedicabbers –– wait, now 13 pedicabbers –– are lined up on Randol Mill waiting for drunken, royal-blue hell to break loose.
The sweeping roar coming from the stadium lets the cabbies know the Cowboys have made a touchdown and, more importantly, that the customers are coming. With the Cowboys up 38-27 and 3:50 left in the fourth quarter, the crowds are starting to emerge in force.
“It’s gonna get crazy now,” says Scott Richards, who has a wife and kids to provide for back in Austin. “I’ve been riding since Wednesday, so I just hope my legs hold up.”
As the crowds start flooding out, Richards snags an immediate fare: a middle-aged couple going to Humperdinks two miles away and partially uphill.
The next pedicabber in line tells them to tip Richards well.
“That’s a long ride, treat that man well,” he says. “And Hump’s sells good beer,” he adds, no doubt sweetening an already clinched deal for a fellow pedicabber. For the most part, pedicabbers look out for one another.