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Taking back the night

For more than a month now, other pedicab drivers have been asking me: "Are you going to do a bar shift?"

I hem and haw. I am not sure I want to be on Victoria's downtown streets until 3 am.

"You've got to do a night shift," everyone says. "It's a completely different scene."

"It is like night and day!" jokes another.

Some veteran riders, like Tom B., no longer do nights. "I don't like it," says Tom. "You are hauling drunks around."865312-968267-thumbnail.jpg
Glynis diva of the night streets

Others, like Glynis MacDonald, riding for five years, almost exclusively do nights. "It's good money," says Glynis. "And it's fun. You gotta try it before the summer's over."

Glynis is confident and savvy, admired as one of the best riders in the barn, a woman who holds her own with the guys. She frequently works as a relief dispatcher for Randy, running the operation at night, keeping everyone in line. When she rides she wears a signature black fedora, with her long strawberry blonde hair flowing behind.

It is Glynis's perspective as a woman that most interests me. I have learned in my life, after a few scary and unpleasant experiences mostly in my 20s, to be wary of being out alone at night. As a feminist I firmly believe women the world over should feel as safe as men on dark streets. But as a rationalist and mother I accept the unpleasant reality and make my daughters accept it. Take back the night? Yah, but when was the night ever ours?

Besides, in my first week cabbing I had heard that a young female rider named Michelle (whom I've never met nor seen), had been robbed late on a Friday night by her ride when giving him back his change. He grabbed all her money and ran.

"What about Michelle -- aren't you worried?" I ask Glynis.

"No, not really. We all watch out for each other. And you develop a radar for it. If you don't feel comfortable don't do the ride, " said Glynis, adding, "And you know, Michelle held her own. She chased him down. He lost one of his expensive shoes running away. And she pitched it into the Inner Harbour. So he didn't come out ahead."

Glynis offers to show me the ropes, let me follow her around at night anytime I want to come out.

This week, I put aside my trepidation and sign up for a Friday night bar shift, 8 pm to 3 am.

I am slightly nervous all day -- butterflies. Yet I can see why others, who have day jobs or who are in school like Glynis, who is at the West Coast School of Massage Therapy in the spa program, like working nights. I put in a full day of writing work, have dinner with the family and then take our car to the barn for my shift.

I am yawning as I drive downtown and I have at least 8 hours ahead of me. I am not sure how I will last beyond my usual 11 pm bedtime.

Glynis is already out on the street, but other night riders who are doing their cab inspections at the barn are surprised to see me pull in. "Hey! Are you coming out tonight?! Awesome!'

Adam, nicknamed "Jesus" for his flowing hair and beard that gives him an uncanny resemblance to 19th Century biblical illustrations, reassures me and exchanges cellphone numbers. "Call me anytime. You'll be fine," he says. (How can I be nervous with Jesus on my side?) We all pack sweat shirts for ourselves and cozy blankets for our rides for the night air off the ocean.

Dusk is beautiful over the Inner Harbour. The Parliament buidlings have a pinkish hue, the Sooke Hills are glowing purple as the sun sets behind them. At the top of Wharf St. looking out over the harbour, the upper decks of the two cruise ships poke out over the tree tops, a few kilometres away at Ogden Point, like instant apartment blocks reflecting the brilliant yellow and red rays of the sun. The air is fresh, envigorating.

The streets feel more energized than during the days. The festive glow of the sunset lends a party atmosphere. That865312-969475-thumbnail.jpg
Lights illuminate the legislature
energy transfers to us riders. No worries about yawns or sleepiness. I feel pumped and strong. I don't even seem to breathe heavily going up the hills. Everything seems a bit easier. As the light fades, more than 3,000 lights outline the legislature facade, giving a magical quality to the vista. People stop to take pictures.

Some 4,000 visitors from the two cruise ships are milling about for a few hours. By 9 pm I start doing runs back to the cruise ship, $20 a pop. As soon as I drop off one and rush back to the Inner Harbour, I pick up another. I do three in a row -- everyone loves the ride --and returning from my third, by Fisherman's Wharf, pick up a fourth for another $10. It is just 10 pm, pitch black with no moon, and I have paid off my $70 lease.

"If you've made lease by this time of night, you're set up well for the bar runs," Glynis tells me.

But despite 16 years in Victoria, I don't really know where all the popular bars are.

"Follow me," says Glynis.

She takes me around her bar trolling route. She shows me how to negotiate the pilons into Bastion Square to hang out by Darcy's Pub. She points out the gay bar, the hard core rocker bar, the strip club, the young crowd's "Plan B" nightclub, and the old standby the Sticky Wicket (that one I know as my choir hangout) and the more up scale Hugos in the Magnolia Hotel. She tells me about the bar Evolution, way down past Chinatown, in a semi-deserted area. "But I try not to go down there too often. It is off the beaten track," she says.

Glynis is effortlessly outgoing. She talks to everyone. "Hey ladies, want a ride?" she will say. Or,"Hey fellas, where you heading?" She speaks to absolutely everyone in an assertive, positive tone.

Waiting outside the Irish Times
Between 10:30 pm and 11:30 pm is typically a lull in rides, Glynis tells me. The cruise ship passengers have all gone back to the boats, but the bar crowd is not yet coming out. So all the pedicabs tend to congregate around in the flat entrance to Bastion Squares outside the popular Irish Times Pub.

At 10:50 pm, six of us are sitting there, talking and comparing the evening so far. I am saying something like , "I really like nights. It's fun!," when a group of six rowdy young men and women stumble out of the pub and jump in the nearest cabs - mine, Jeeves's and Evert P.'s.

"Take us to the cruise ships," they slur. "We're crew. We have to be there by 11 pm."

We have 10 minutes to do a typical 20 minute ride. Evert leads down Bastion Square at a fast clip. I follow. My passengers, a blonde-haired nurse from Britain and a dark haired Italian engineer, snuggle under the blanket in the back.

"Let's put up the canopy," the engineer says. He is struggling to put the black cover up. I hear Jeeves yelling behind us, but I am concentrating on keeping up to Evert and ignore the commotion behind me. I take off down the street.

"Stop! Stop! Stop!," Jeeves is yelling. "Don't put up the canopy. There is stuff in it!!!

Oh %$#@! I have forgotten that I store all my stuff -- my guest book, water, snack and maps folder -- in the folds of my canopy for fast access. Jeeves has rescued the guest book. All the other stuff has presumably flown off somewhere over the street. I don't have time to search for it now.

In a convoy of three we roar down past the Tourist Centre. On the downhill I have no trouble keeping up to the guys. But as we round the corner in front of the legislature on the flats leading to an incline, they quickly begin to out pace me.

"Keep up to them!" my passengers demand.

"Look at his legs go," the nurse marvels at Jeeves' blur of rapid revolutions.

There is no way I can keep up. I can feel my legs aching already and I have at least 15 minutes to go. The guys get further and further ahead.

"We picked a dud," says the engineer.

I try to humour them. "Hey, you are lucky. (Pant, pant!). You have the oldest female (pant, pant) pedicab driver in Victoria history."(Pant pant)

"What's your name oldest driver?"

I say Anne, but it comes out more as a grunt, AHHHHNNN. They laugh uproariously and imitate my name, almost as if vomiting. AHHHNNNN!

Man these guys are obnoxious.

Jeeves and Evert are out of sight. We can't even see their distant tail lights. I am on the waterside route; they must have taken a residential street. Now my passengers heckle me for not only being slow but for not knowing the fastest route. The engineer pretends to whip me like old mare. "Faster, AHHNNN, faster." They are laughing, alternating between encouraging me - "You are doing great AHHNNN!" and wisecracking "You better be able to put us up in a hotel. We are staying at AHHNNN's house if we miss the ship."

I have never cycled as fast as this, but as we approach the cruise ships, gliding down the final stretch, I suddenly notice my left knee is throbbing. Oh, crap. I have struggled with a left knee problem off and on the last few years and last fall, after blowing out my knee during a 10 k trail run, I had to go through four months of physio. I have the sinking feeling that on this one stupid ride I may have set my knee back months.

I see Evert and Jeeves pulling out of the cruise ship roundabout as I pull up to the pier. It is 11:06, I have done the ride in 16 minutes, arriving maybe two minutes behind the guys. They give me a knowing thumbs up as if their rides have been just as boorish despite their faster pace.

"You did great! We are only a few minutes late.Way to go," says the nurse.

Enlightened Evert Pater
The nurse and engineer both pull out $20 bills to pay. The nurse gives me hers first, and then the engineer still holds his out. I contemplate taking both -- the ride was brutal, my knee aches, but I decline his $20, telling them to work it out. They look at me as if I am an idiot. (Evert scolds me later back at the barn: "You should have taken $40. Steve and I both took $40!!! They were obnoxious. Obnoxious people pay extra!" )

I cycle back slowly into the downtown core, testing the strength of my knee. Some rotations it feels fine, then it seems to catch and stick with a stab of pain, like a hinge without oil. Dang! I go along Wharf St. to Courtenay, trying to retrace our earliest blocks to see if I can find my missing stuff dropped from the canopy. I find my water bottle and snack Ziplock of almonds and goji berries in the gutter near Fort St. and Langley.

I pull in front of the Irish Times, pissed at myself for not controlling the situation better, for injurying my knee to placate passengers I should have instead told to button up or take a hike. Glynis rolls up. She saw my maps pack fly off in the first block and retrieved it. At least I have all my gear back.

Over the next hour I do a bunch of short rides between bars. Where daytime rides are all about knowledgable slow tours,  night rides are all about speed. All passengers are in their cups but relatively manageable, even the guy who is singing at the top of his lungs. He wants to stand up as we coast down Douglas St. and I tell him no and he pouts. "At least I asked first," he says. My knee twinges in pain off and on.

Glynis has told me night drivers work for tips not time -- it is too dark to see the numbers on my stop watch. anyway. This "pay what you want" policy tends to skew in our favour. Rides give me $10 for a 5 minute ride, $20 for a 10 minute ride. The exception is three young girls, barely looking of legal drinking age despite blatant displays of ripe young cleavage. (If I were a bouncer, I would card them, but my passenger giggles, telling me their experience that night at Plan B: "There was a great big line, but the bouncer just let us walk right in." Giggle giggle.) They give Glynis and me each a single loonie for a five block ride between bars. "Sorry, that is all we have," they say disingeniously as they enter the bar. No money as they go clubbing? Well, I guess their plan is to use their impressive decolletage get drinks and a ride home.

It is 1:15 am. I have made at least $130 so far and I am trolling Glynis's route, rolling past Hugo's bar. A middle-aged man, tanned, blond, black open neck shirt, black crisp seamed pants is standing on the sidewalk. He smiles when he sees me and waves. I slow. He is mid-40s and looks like Rod Stewart circa 1990 without the mullet. He runs across the street and jumps in the back. Almost immediately he seems too friendly, leaning forward, putting his hands on my back as if to steady himself. My radar goes off, but he is already in my cab. I act as if everything is cool. I am cool.

"Where do you want to go?"

"Where do you want to take me?" he oozes. "I'm all yours." He is sloshed.

He wants a bar, a happening place, but not too young a crowd. A place where he will feel comfortable. Irish Times is now closed. I have no idea. I pedal up Government. Spy Evert and Glynis. I yell across the street, describe my passenger's needs. "Where should I take him?"

"Swans!" they respond in unision.

I pedal down Government to Pandora. The streets are more dark and deserted here.

"You've got the cutest little bum," he says. This guy really is sloshed.

He stands up and leaning forward around to the side, out over the street, peers at my face, assessing the crinkles around my eyes, the softening of my neck.

"But you are not young!" he says, seemingly delighted. " What are you? 43? 45? I am 45," he says as if this gives us an instant bond.

"Sit down! " I say. He obeys. Then I give my standard line, with as much authority as possible: "I am the oldest female pedicab driver in Victoria history. I am five months away from my 50th birthday!"

"No shit! You look fantastic. You have a fantastic bum! "

To my astonishment he put his hands out and squeezes my bottom, then runs his hands up and down my back. I stand up and cycle, putting more distance between us. He stills tries to caress my backside. We arrive at Swans.

"Here we are." I say. "Out you go!"

"But I want to keep riding with you!" he says. " Let's go somewhere else."

"No. Here you are. Out you go! Pay what you want."

"I think that was only worth $10," he says.

"Fine," I say.

I am turning around to cycle back to the Irish Times, when a young couple flags me.

"Take us to Evolution."

Ugh. I want to head back to civilization but instead we pedal past boarded-up buildings, the homeless shelter, the dark and deserted Capital Iron , vacant parking lots. Street lighting is dismal.

A crowd is outside, but my couple is embarassed to be seen dropped off by a pedicab. I drop them off down the block, far enough away, they think, from judgemental eyes. He gives me $10 for a $5 ride.

I ride back over dark deserted streets. The emptiness makes me apprehensive. I have about $150 around my waist. It is 1:35 am. My knee at one moment feels fine, and then for multiple revolutions aches. I try to stretch it out. For an entire block it seizes, as if the knee cap is caught. Extreme pain. Then it releases.

I am half a block from the barn. I can see its warm light spilling out onto the parking lot. I contemplate lasting out the night. But my knee and the knowledge that rides are apt to be as drunk or drunker than my lecherous man, heads me to the barn.

Mike, the night dispatcher, and Cole,19, a young keener from Alberta,  are sitting in the office. Cole rides at least five days a week, often double shifts in a day. Cole is the front runner for Randy's annual Rookie of the Year Prize. Randy has even allowed him to have his own tandem cab that Cole has customized with blue lights and a stereo system. But tonight in an extremely rare event, Cole 's brakes on his tandem have malfunctioned with a full four person tour from the cruise ships, forcing him to unload his passengers and call it a night. Otherwise he would still be out there.

I get a beer from the fridge and sit and tell them my night shift adventures, including the bum grab.865312-967923-thumbnail.jpg
Cole's Kabuki thigh

"You mean that crap happens at your age, too?" says an incredulous Mike, and when I laugh, he says. "Oh sorry."

Cole describes the knee injury that sidelined him for more than a week earlier in the season. "Your thigh muscles are getting so strong so fast that the ligaments can't accommodate and you can pull your kneecap our of alignment," he explains. Then he rolls up the leg of his long shorts and shows me the bulging, enormous vastus lateralis muscle on the outside of his thigh. "We call that the tandem bulge."

We sit chatting about cabbing and how to avoid injury. "Make sure to alternate your power leg that pushes off from a stop. That evens out the stress on your knees," advises Cole.

My cellphone rings. It is my teenager daughter who has woken up to find that I am not yet home. "Where are you? What are you doing out so late? When are you coming home?" she says groggily. I file this table-turned experience for a future teaching moment.

It is 3 am. Other drivers start rolling into the barn. Everyone takes a beer from the fridge and lounges in the back of the cabs, telling funny stories of cabbing adventures. The easy camaraderie is one of the best parts of the night. It reminds me of the late night hanging around with friends in my single 20s. I am tempted to stay longer, but I have a family and a full Saturday ahead. At 3:30 am I say goodnight and head home.

The house is quiet. Even the dog doesn't rouse. I slip in beside my husband and fall asleep by 4 am with an ice pack wrapped around my knee.

Posted on Sunday, August 12, 2007 at 06:33PM by Registered CommenterAnne | Comments4 Comments

Reader Comments (4)

August 19, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterCole
wow, its cool to read about a night i experienced as me, working in the "barn"!!
August 22, 2007 | Unregistered Commentermike
Hey Anne, I couldn't figure out whether you were bragging or complaining about the bottom grabber. Personally, I charge them an extra five bucks for every grab. And drunk women are worse by far than drunk men!
August 27, 2007 | Unregistered CommenterTerrence Wiens
Cole's my son!

He called and told me about your site. I'm speaking to him right now.
September 10, 2007 | Unregistered Commenteranna

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