Once upon a time, on a vacation …26 years ago? Sounds about right… I took a pedicab. It was in Key West, in September. Note to all: Never visit Key West in September. Not only is it hurricane season, it is hot like you wouldn’t believe. I mean: LIKE YOU WOULDN’T BELIEVE. It was a strange vacation in lots of ways, but the keyword most firmly attached to that week is: Hot.
I was visiting my friend Jeff, who with his friend Dennis, a Japanese/Hawaiian drag queen, had set off from San Francisco to live in America’s other gay Mecca and see what they could see. It was a disappointing experience; they could only afford a crappy shotgun-shack rental without air conditioning. Really. The front half of the duplex was occupied by the Stop Domestic Violence poster couple; he bounced her off the walls whenever his blood-alcohol level reached .10, which was around 1 in the afternoon. Next door was a large extended family that, I am not exaggerating, fought with one another at top volume from sunup until the wee hours, stopping for about four hours between 3 a.m. and 7. In between were Jeff and Dennis and their single fan, which ran all the time. The rule was: Never turn the fan off for any reason, because the last time anyone did that, it almost didn’t start again. Periodically it would sloooooww down and all conversation would cease — we’d stare at the fan, willing it to start back up, please please please don’t die don’t die — and the force of our collected thoughts would somehow give it the strength to start whirring again.
For this reason, we spent most of the week going out. We started at this place on Duval where a friend of Jeff’s was bartender (if you don’t know what it means to know the bartender, particularly back in the days when inventory wasn’t tracked quite so closely, you don’t know what you were missing — hic), and then we moved somewhere else for the Tea Dance, and then to the Monster, and finally to another place called, I think, Delmonico’s. Something like that. It was the same people in every place, and I wonder now why we bothered moving. We drank Myers’s gimlets — dark rum over ice with lime juice. We drank them like water, they were so delicious, and I’ve only had a few since then. When I do, it catapults me back to that week in Key West so thoroughly that I have a conditioned response: I start to sweat.
Anyway, where was I? Oh yeah, the pedicab. On my last night in town, it seemed to be even hotter than usual. On our way from the Tea Dance to the Monster I said, “Let’s take this pedicab. My treat. It’ll be nice not to have to walk.” And so I hailed the first one I saw, operated by some dreamy-looking hippie woman. We climbed in, and she set off.
The first thing we noticed is, we seemed to be moving really, really slowly. The other people from the tea dance were passing us, and they were walking. And it’s not like anyone was walking fast; it was still about 89 degrees, with 2,000 percent humidity. I had hoped for a breeze in my face, but the closest thing we got to that was the air stirring from people passing us on foot.
“Um,” I said to the woman. “We’re moving kind of slow.” She turned and gave me a stoned smile. “Yes,” she said. “Isn’t it nice? It’s sooo hot.”
We sat there and sweated. What the hell? You pay for a service and this seemed to be pretty bare minimum. She didn’t seem to be exerting herself; her legs pumped with the lazy cadence of someone out for a Sunday meander through the neighborhood — no, slower. Pump. (Pause.) Pump. (Pause.)
There’s no real punchline to this story, although I thought we’d arrive at the Monster in just enough time to make the en masse move to Delmonico’s. But as we got out I swore off pedicabs. I mean, if I’m going to be dragged through the world by another human, I want to see some goddamn effort. Not to be a Brit in pre-revolutionary China, but chop chop, my good man.
Now I see Detroit is getting its first pedicab service. Guy’s going to run it with his son, at a price of $1 a block. With my recent interest in cycling, I think this might end up being my retirement business. Today I make one promise to my someday-clientele: I will go faster.