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Cabbing humiliation

Friday June 22 – My first Kabuki shift. The newspaper notes it is the 250th anniversary of George Vancouver’s birth. A good omen. Vancouver visited the Pacific Northwest three times, setting off first with Capt. James Cook as a 15-year-old for Cook's 1772-1775 expedition, returning twice again as Captain of the HMS Discovery on exploration of what he called "this lonely desolate land" in 1791-1795. Sailing boldly off into the unknown. An apt metaphor.

the%20barn.jpgI am nervous. I get up at six am. I force myself to eat a big breakfast. I load all my stuff - lock, sunscreen, snacks, water, blanket, tourist info - into my bike panniers and set off at 8:20 am for my 9 am start. It takes 10 minutes to bike through Victoria's downtown to the barn from my home.

Before I can take a cab out, I must pass a knowledge test. Randy makes me study one more time a wall of printed information in the office, depicting various diagrams of parking spots and street restrictions, the shift sign up and general decorum rules. One iron clad law: any use of alcohol and drugs while on shift is grounds for immediate termination. One sip from a beer and you are out, no exceptions, even if a ride invites you into a restaurant for dinner and a drink. "I have got to be strict. Zero tolerance," says Randy. But you can have a drink at the barn if your shift is over.

We sit outside the barn in the sun on plastic garden chairs, Randy puffing on a cigarella while he quizzes me about pedicabbing rules and etiquette, i.e.: "A ride hands you $200 for a $150 fare, what do you say?"

"Just a second and I'll get your change," I respond.

"Right!" says Randy. "Never assume anything is your tip until they tell you."

We go over questions for 20 minutes or so - Randy assisting and elaborating on any challenging topics, supplying the answer on any hesitation. His objective is to have as many drivers as possible knowing the rules and out plying the street. Only real dunces would fail this test. Randy hands me the uniform - a sweat shirt and for women a rather skimpy pink singlet with the Kabuki Kabs logo right at the breasts. Marketing genius this guy, but he probably didn't factor in a 49-year-old. I decide to stick with my plain white Tee.

Shift report check list
Randy then takes me slowly through the pre/post shift inspection report, a 47-point check list that must be completed and signed off at the start of every shift. It itemizes every part and function of the vehicle to ensure every pedicab leaves the barn in good working order and that problems that need attention and repair are identified immediately on return. Gears shift smoothly? Breaking power good? Treads on all tires? Check, check, check. Even with Randy's help it takes me 40 minutes to understand and go through the rundown. What is an 'inside and outside bead'? (The tire rims, I learn.) I watch veteran riders arrive and zip through the list in less than five minues.

It takes me more than an hour to get off the lot. "Don't worry, " says Randy. "Go slow your first day." As an added incentive to take it easy he waives the lease fee for my first shift. "Get to know the bike and the streets, don't worry too much about getting rides."

I ride off the lot after 10 am, coasting down along Wharf to the Inner Harbour. I love the feeling of freedom on my big white trike, the wind in my hair. I am out 5 minutes when I spot my ideal niche market - two small frail elderly woman, not 130 lbs between them, walking with cruise ship bags and maps in hand, looking a bit lost and disoriented. They are travelling on the opposite side of the street in the opposite direction but I can see they notice me. I smile and coast by, but am too nervous to actually sell them. A block later I muster my courage, turn around and come back, startling them as I ride up behind them. I give my spiel - a customized tour to suit their needs, I can show them the sights, the places to eat and shop. They look mid-70s, British accents. They seem interested. Can it be this easy? "How much?" one asks.

"It is based on time, a 30 minute tour is $15 each," I say and can see them do the math... hmm that't $1 a minute...is she worth it? They hesitate, look at each other, look at me. The moment of decision. They look at me again and you can see the decision on their face. Something about me lost the sale. They back away. "Not today thank you."

I was so sure I had it. What happened? That look?...Damn, I left my sunglasses on.... "Always take your sunglasses off when you are making the pitch. They need to see your eyes," Randy had stressed.

As the day wears on and on - with no rides, I learn that selling rides is as hard or harder than carting tourists up hills. I have no luck nor skill getting people into my cab. I watch other veteran drivers chatting up tourists on the street, doing the pitch, and then they step into cab. How do they close the sale?

I cycle around for hours trying to pitch. I fear my first day will pass without a ride. My shift is almost over and I am parked outside the Empress when an animated, happy couple spy me. "I want to do that," says the woman, who is a few years younger than me. "I was a bike courier and I loved it! It must be sooo much fun!"

When I confess it is my first day with no paying rides yet, they jump in - a pity ride. "We'll be your first," she laughs. Her name is Lurvie and she is originally from Atlanta, now in Seattle. I am both elated and freaked. The man, Paul, is about 6'4" and all muscle, a linebacker. I can feel his side of the cab tilt when he gets in. They want to go to Darcy's pub -- uphill along Wharf St. I start out gamely and then my deepest fear is realized. I have momentum until the light changes on the grade by the tourist centre. When it turns back to green, I can't move. I can't budge the cab. Cars start honking. I try and try and then confess: "I'm sorry, but you are going to have to get out and walk a few feet," I say.

"What???" says Paul.

"No, I am serious, can you please just get out and walk across the intersection? I can't get it moving." I can feel my face is beat red in both exertion and embarrassment. Cars are still honking. All the tourists standing outside the info centre start to laugh. Bet none of them will now take a pedicab ride...

Lurvie and Paul hop out and walk behind me 10 metres, laughing uproariously as I sheepishly cross the intersection and get to a flatter spot.

"Okay, now get back in," I say. It has been a long time since I felt quite so humiliated.

I try to regroup, tell them the stories of Victoria's history. "In 1843 (pant, pant), the Hudson's Bay Company (pant pant)." I can't talk. I can't give a tour and pull them. Oh God. I am insane. I can't do this job.

I drop them at the pub, breathless and sweaty. Heart racing at 200 beats per minute. Paul gives me $5 (no tip). Lurvie signs my guest book and squeezes my arm. "Don't worry honey," she says in her warm southern drawl. "You'll get it together."

When I cycle away I can feel that Paul's weight has done something to the back right wheel of the cab. There is a rubbing noise, a groan.

I have no more rides for the day. I am sure I am emitting a 'please don't ride we me' vibe -- I can't do this.' I limp back to the barn, taking the hills in high gear to get stronger. I write on the  shift report: 'rubbing sound over back right wheel after heavy ride' and sign out.

I have made $5 in six hours.

Posted on Saturday, June 23, 2007 at 11:12AM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments1 Comment

Reader Comments (1)

Ha ha ha, your first cabbing shift was just too funny. I sure wish I had your guts!
August 25, 2013 | Unregistered CommenterJeb

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