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Too few degrees of separation

My 16-year-old, Kate, has been at a teen party. A handsome young man, Rory, 17, chats her up.

"What are you doing this summer?, " Kate asks.

"Pedicabbing" he says.

She groans: "Oh No! My Mom is pedicabbing!"

I ask Randy on my next shift: "What operator number is Rory? Have I met him?"

"Why do you ask?" says Randy.

'Because he's text-messaging my daughter, trying to hit her up."

"He's my son," says Randy.

MP Hedy Fry and EA Paul
Sunday July 8th. Gay Pride Day parade in Victoria. Veteran rider Tom B., a master pedicabber who seems to land all rides, is dispatcher. He calls me at home, an hour before my shift. "Just want to warn you," says Tom. "The Inner Harbour streets are closed off for the parade for at least two hours."

We talk about the pros and cons of pedicabbing on Gay Pride Day. "Last year the young women riders cleaned up," says Tom. He has no data, however, on how a perimenopausal female rider might do. I decide to show up anyway. Even a bad day is good copy.

I spend the first 90 minutes at the barn helping two new francophone riders do the cab inspection run down. What two weeks ago took me 45 minutes is much faster and easier. I understand the arcane language. I explain "inside and outside bead" to them. There is no equivalent word in French.  For helping the francophones, Tom discounts my lease $15.

I ride out along the streets just after they open from the parade and pick up a handsome, 60-ish couple called Marilyn and Jack. Marilyn is a Victoria native, well groomed and animated. She is showing debonair Jack, visiting from Bellingham, Washington, around the city. They say this is the first time they have met. (Online romance? They are not forthcoming.) He is interested in architecture. We decide to visit the stunning, 19th century Christ Church Cathedral. It is a steady climb, first up Government and then right on Broughton. It is not easy but I don't die! My exertion is enough to earn a good tip but not so much as to discomfit my passengers. They are impressed but not guilt-ridden. Victory!

The rest of the day flies by. I do at least four taxi-rides from the Inner Harbour to the Gay Pride beer garden at Fisherman's Wharf. I give two free rides, one to an elderly woman bent over with osteoporosis. I see her struggling with a walker over rough Victoria streets. Can I help?

"Oh my dear," she says. "I don't have the money for you!"

It doesn't matter, I say. I fix her walker to the back of my cab and take her two blocks to her apartment in James Bay. Time cost to me: less than 2 minutes. "You are an angle of mercy, darling," she says.

I'm still revelling in the glow of my generosity outside the Empress. An impish 7-year old comes up and says: "That looks like a lot of fun."

She has twinkling eyes, a big smile.

"It is fun!" I say.

"Can I try sitting in the seat?"

Her mother, 30-ish, takes her arm and tries to continue down the causeway.

The little girl keeps talking to me. "Can I?""

"Sure" I say. The daughter comes back and jumps in the cab. The mom wanly follows. "I'm so sorry. We don't have the money for a ride."  The daughter is beaming, sitting in my cab. I figure the best sales job is a happy family going for a ride.

Making Wilde's day - Terry Wiens photo
"Shhh," I say. "Don't tell anyone. I will give you a two block ride for free. " I do an up-and-back stretch, u-turning in front of the Empress, rounding the corner on Humboldt to let them out. Cost to me, 5 minutes. The little girl is ecstatic. Her name is Wilde. She pretends to pay me in front of a line up of tourists waiting to board a tour bus. The mom, Bowen Island artist Tatania Michniewicz (see www.titania.ca) says: "You have made our day."

I feel noble. I contemplate simply riding around Victoria streets giving rides for free. Well... for like two seconds.  At minimum I'd be lynched by fellow entreprenuering pedicabbers.

I ride back to the Gay Pride beer garden. A familiar visage, dressed in a striking lime green jacket and hot pink boots is standing at the edge of the park. It is Federal Liberal Member of Parliament Dr. Hedy Fry, from Vancouver Centre. Twenty years ago, when I was the medical reporter at the Vancouver Sun, I interviewed her a few times. Her then-husband, Jim Gilmore, was public relations for the BC Medical Association. I talked to him at least monthly for a half-dozen years.

"Hedy Fry!" I yell, "You need a ride downtown!" She is with her executive assistant. They eye me, befuddled.
"It's Anne Mullens," I say. "I used to write for the Vancouver Sun."


She is aghast. She and her EA, Paul, were waiting for a real taxi cab, but her hot pink boots are killing her. She cancels the real cab and gets in. "Anne, what the hell are you doing?"

I explain the narrative allure of a summer getting fit pedicabbing.

"I am going to phone Jim right away. He won't believe you are doing this," she says.

On the ride downtown she explains she is the lead on the new Federal Liberal arts platform and that she and liberal leader Stéphane Dion recently met with leading Canadian writers, including Margaret Atwood, from the Canadian Writer's Union. I have 10 uninterrupted minutes to talk about federal arts policy with a government official.

"Did they talk about income averaging for artists?" I say, describing my three years in the mid-1990s in which I won a $60,000 fellowship to write my book, Timely Death. I was taxed the first year on $60,000 (at almost 50 per cent) but had two subsequent years of zero income. If I had been able to apply $20,000 to each year, the tax hit, and life, would have been a hell of a lot easier.

"I hear yah," said Hedy as I drop her and Paul off at a Wharf St. restaurant for a late lunch.

I close the day hauling an elegant Texan couple, from Houston, and their luggage from the Seattle Clipper to their Marriot Hotel. The man is dubious. He thinks $1 a minute is steep, but the wife (lovely impractical shoes) doesn't want to walk nor wait for a real taxi. I glide them through the angled sunshine of a late afternoon, trying my best to spin Victorian stories of history and intrigue. I drop them off at their hotel for a $10 fee.  "That was surprisingly pleasant and informative," he says.

I trike back to the barn, then bike home for dinner, elated, $50 over lease, positive interactions all around. I phone my parents at their Ontario cottage, 11 pm their time,  rambling on with stories of my new pedicabbing life. I am sure they think I'm manic. I feel tired and good. I eat a thick steak, fried mushrooms, baked potato and sour cream and a bowl of mango gelato. I sleep more than 8 solid hours without rousing.

Posted on Monday, July 9, 2007 at 12:37AM by Registered CommenterAnne | CommentsPost a Comment

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