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Answering the call

For 16 years each spring versions of this ad run almost daily in the classifieds of the Victoria Times Colonist:

Tour Guide.

Work for yourself. Get buns of steel.

Make good money. Get fit pedicabbing tourists. 


613 Herald St @ 11:30 am.

For weeks now I've been finding reasons not to go. Cold rainy weather, too much work. Or I'll look up from writing and it is 12 noon. But today, Tuesday June 12th, I look up and it is 11:25 am - I'll be late but I am going. I expect a crowd of  applicants.

I arrive at 11:40 am. Kabuki Kabs at 613 Herald St is a 1920-era autoshop garage backing onto Victoria's historic Chinatown. My feet crunch across the gravel parking lot.  The left side is a big open garage with a roll-up red door and a grease-stained asphalt floor, holding more than a dozen 2 and 4-person pedicabs. A workbench in the back left corner is ladened with tools, spare parts and WD40-like lubes and oils. On the right side of the garage are two small rooms; one a  storage room with cupboards, hanging bike rack and a blue door to a delapidated and rather scary-looking loo. The back room is a glassed-in office obscured by bamboo blinds. The place smells of stale cigarette smoke. It is quiet. Is anyone around?

I poked my head in the office door. A wiry man wearing a baseball cap is writing at the desk. He looks up and eyes me, surprised, as if thinking: who's this, some driver's worried Mom? A bill collector? 

"Umm, I'd like to try being a pedicabber... am I too late today?" I ask.

At least he doesn't burst out laughing. "No... Time is rather fluid here," he says. "Weather's been so crappy..."

He is Randy Phipps, the guy who 24 years ago, in his early 20s founded Kabuki Kabs, one of the oldest pedicab outfits in North America, winning young entrepreneur awards from the Chamber of Commerce in the process. He is boyish looking, rakish. The walls and ceiling are plastered with coloured-handwritten squares, as if hundreds of ADD kids have been let loose with a rainbow of magic markers. The squares have handwritten names of drivers, exuberantly marking for posterity a memorable day: "Chico - $950!" "Steve $780." One wall holds a magic markered calendar system of numbers and dates on a laminate white board whose complexity seems to rival the Mayans.

I sit on a bench across from his desk. He takes 15 minute to tell me the deal: he owns and maintains the 20-some cabs and he sets a lease rate for each shift based on how many tourists are expected to be on the streets. He explains the complex numbers on the laminate boards as shift rates and times.  Drivers pay him the lease rate and take the cab, trying to earn out the lease, plus a reasonable profit, plying Victoria streets during the allotted shift time, returning the cab on time or facing a fine. "It is all up to you. You are selling unique, customized tours of Victoria and the experience of the ride."865312-915188-thumbnail.jpg

And then he asks me the question hanging in the room: “Some might ask, why would a middle aged woman want to be a Kabuki Kab driver?”

Ahhh. How to explain summers slipping away unmarked and unremarkable? Day after day spent indoors at a computer only to look up to see September has arrived; the longing for sun and wind and summer scents, for carefree movement and energy of my youth, the excitement of never knowing what a summer day will hold. How to explain creaky knees, wanning strength and the desire to feel strong and capable and really fit again? And of course, the constant need for a gregarious, outgoing writer to find new experiences to chronicle rather than spend days alone in a room with only words on a screen as her inspiration and companion.

Too long and inexplicable. So instead I say. "I think it might be kinda fun... "

But will tourists ride with me? Do I look too old and wimpy and motherly? Given a hot young, muscular stud, and me,  would anybody ride?

Randy looks me over.  "You've got an open face and a twinkle in your eye. I think some people --like the elderly-- might go for you."

But can I do the deed? Can I pedal two adults up a Victoria hill? "Come back at noon on Saturday and we'll see," he says.

Posted on Tuesday, June 12, 2007 at 08:21PM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

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