by Matt Dodge
Last spring I was sitting in Crema, the coffee shop on Commercial Street, with my new boss, Matt Foley, manager of Maine Pedicab. It was training day and we’d just finished a ride around the Old Port so I could get a feel for the rig: a bicycle attached to a bulky fiberglass passenger seat that rests on two wheels and some heavy-duty shocks. It takes awhile to get used to the tricycle, to trust that it’s really not going to tip over.
Now we were talking sales. As the boss shared tips on how to pick up fares, it occurred to me that the size of your personality is as important as the size of your calves in this job. Foley spent the previous season riding the streets of Portland covered head-to-toe in a green body suit. The Green Man probably earned a couple extra grand.
“If she’s wearing high heels, just say, ‘Those look like they must be killing you. Why don’t you let me give you a ride?’” he said. A young lady sitting nearby looked at us as if we’d just sneezed on her women’s studies degree, then moved to another table.
Another technique is to move your arms in the direction of the passenger seat, drawing potential fares’ line of sight to the cab. It feels like you’re herding human livestock, though on certain nights the Old Port and Old Orchard Beach are like feedlots where all the grain has fermented.
Maine Pedicab came to town in the summer of 2012 with a fleet of six neon-green bikes. It’s part of Boston-based USA Pedicab, which runs rickshaws in several much larger cities, including Seattle, San Francisco and Austin. There were a couple lone pedicabbies in Portland before the company arrived, but these days it’s the only game in town.
The rigs Maine Pedicab uses are made by a company in Colorado, Main Street Pedicab. They have 21 gears and cost around $3, 000. The cab can accommodate two comfortably, three or four with some lap action. Hauling larger parties is not advised, but it happens.
There are roughly a dozen riders licensed to pedal for Maine Pedicab. The core group consists of about a half dozen guys, most between the ages of 22 and 40. It’s a funny and diverse bunch of sailors, marathoners, dads, slackers, surfers and musicians who have two things in common: the rebellious spirit of the independent contractor and a thirst for beer. Lots of beer.
Most of us could be described as “bike guys, ” though a few admit they hadn’t been in the saddle for years before taking the job. I applied in hopes of addressing a case of reverse-seasonal-depression disorder. The journalism jobs I landed after college kept me behind a desk for three Maine summers. I couldn’t stomach the prospect of missing another one.
To work for Maine Pedicab, you must have a Maine driver’s license and be reasonably friendly and fit. You also need to go to the city’s taxi-licensing office at the Jetport, fill out an application, pay about $70, and wait for them to complete a background check. (In my case, this also meant shelling out $150 to settle old parking tickets.) Maine Pedicab charges employees $20 for the mandatory training and $10 for their official, bright yellow t-shirt (I found a cheaper one at Goodwill).
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