My Fellow Americans. If you are in DC for the inauguration and are bracing yourselves for the logistical nightmares involved in getting around -- you are hearing stories about roads and bridges being shut down; you're hearing predictions about a metro system in meltdown, and you know that DC taxis who will rip you off on a regular day are going to have a field day with your vulnerability this time around. ("What else can you do lady, you're wearing stilettos, it's cold out there, I'm willing to drive you three blocks for three times the fare.") You do have an alternative: Pedicabs. Rickshaws. You know, the small little cabs, room enough for two, pulled by a bicycle, something that maybe, just maybe you associate with hot and exotic places like Vietnam or Thailand.
Well. They too have come to Washington to celebrate the inauguration of Barack Obama.
I know. I rode down from New York City with two of them.
Dennis and John. We met on CraigsList. They will give you a ride.
They gave me one. Just to see what it's like.
My observations, below:
It was cold, but you knew that already. This is January in DC, the temperature is 17 degrees Fahrenheit. The coldest day. They do have blankets though which you can wrap around yourself. And if you're lucky, there will be two of you snuggled into that carriage in which case, well, you probably won't feel the cold all that much.
It was a little bumpy.
"Gotta love Washington DC roads," Dennis says. "Ka-doink, Ka-doink!"
There are plenty of potholes in Washington, DC.
"We're the best road state," Dennis says, nodding proudly, "North Carolina."
First in Flight and the best roads in the Union. Who knew?
It's not going to break the bank.
"Some people charge $30 a head," John says, "but I can't do that, frankly because I don't think it's worth it... I can go about $15 a head."
Usually these guys ride for tips. For longer journeys - something more than say, seven long DC blocks - they will agree on a fare with you before you take off.
They can get you there. John & Dennis took me past the White House, by the Jefferson Memorial and right underneath the Washington Monument. This city impresses me every time I come. The architecture, the monuments, the history breathing through every piece of it ... to get to see it on a pedicab adds that little bit of something. Not quite a horse-drawn carriage, but not a taxi either. Certainly not a taxi stuck in traffic. There isn't a lot that can stop these pedicabs, something that was evident last night in Downtown DC. Traffic, traffic everywhere, and the pedicabs sailing right on through.
These guys might look like gangsters ... but they aren't. They've got woolen caps on, the scarves wrapped around the face to minimize skin exposure. Maybe on a typical night you might say no to a guy dressed like this offering you a ride but this is Washington DC. Inauguration weekend. The whole world is here and there's not a cab in sight. Jump in.
Their ambition for the weekend?
"I just want to make enough money to buy food," Dennis says.
Methinks they'll make enough to dine at Washington's best restaurants ... but only if they can get a reservation.