My experience pedicab driving during the Orlando Home/Garden/Boat/Gift Show at the OCCC in Orlando, FL on 1/19/2013 and during the Sunshine Blues Festival at Vinoy Park in St. Petersburg, FL on 1/20/2013.

That particular weekend really started on the 18th which was the first day of the home show. Having worked many home shows in the past, myself and many other drivers know that Friday is pretty much a waste of time to work the event because it’s a working day for a lot of people and a majority of people simply won’t show up for the show until the weekend when they’re off. With that knowledge, I didn’t waste my time but other drivers did against their own better judgment. Why anyone would do what they know for a fact is a bad decision is beyond me. The next day, I heard from several drivers how bad the day was from a money standpoint. Well, no shit!

For one thing, you gotta have a backup plan or two in this business we call pedicabbing. There will always be that situation where an event doesn’t produce what you expect. You gotta have options. Lucky for me, I do, and I weighed them all last weekend. I occupied my time in the day with something else on Friday but at night, I could’ve worked in downtown Orlando and made some decent money but I chose not to. Why? I had a conversation, maybe a month ago, with a chick who said she doesn’t like being home. I asked why. She said because she has kids. I can understand that to an extent but she made the choice to have them. I’d like to think people know what they’re getting into when they make that decision. If and when I have kids, I’ll know from second one that my life of self-dedication will be over for the next 18 years at minimum.

I’m pretty sure she isn’t alone in her stance of not wanting to be home because it isn’t necessarily the happy one she may want it to be but my stance is different. I love being home. One, because I have a lot to do to make it the happiest home possible. Two, it’s where I can work on those backup plans I mentioned earlier. I can be productive at home, I can relax, and I can have fun. There truly is no place like home if you create a good environment. So Friday, I stayed home because I was enjoying being there. Sometimes, it ain’t all about the money. Most times, it’s about your mental and physical well-being. You gotta take that time for yourself whenever possible; kids or no kids.

Saturday, I was on my pedicab and working close to noon for the home show. Based on what several people told me, I arrived at just the right time because it was very slow prior to that. There were a lot more pedicabs out for that home show than previous ones and apparently the same amount was out for Friday. No wonder it was so disappointing for so many drivers. It was pedicab overkill. There were Orange County cops on property checking every driver for permits when I was there and that was great. They should do that ALL THE TIME! I really hope they keep that up. The day didn’t start out too wonderfully at first but it didn’t take long for things to pick up and stay that way for the next 6 hours. My average per hour was very good and I fully expected it to be.

See, there was also a gift show, ACRE (American Craft Retailers Expo), that was going on at the North Concourse at the same time as the home show and in the hall next to it. I believe admission to one gave attendees admission to the other for free or at a discount. I’m not completely sure. Either way, that meant more people than usual. It also meant getting some conventioneers instead of just regular local people to take rides. For me, I was getting practically non-stop rides and fairly decent tips. One was a little too cheap, though. So cheap that because of it, I probably didn’t hit that magic round number I wanted to but I’m not at all complaining about my final tally. It was a damn good day for riding. Friday, drivers were saying it was cold and rainy. Saturday, the weather was perfect.

When things slowed down close to sunset, they really slowed down. I knew it was time to leave because the line of pedicabs staging was getting way too long, they weren’t getting rides, and the amount of cars in the parking lot was thinning out. In the past for certain conventions, I made the mistake of sticking around to get more money but the only thing I did was waste my time. I’ve learned the art of knowing when to leave and call it a day. Time is definitely money. Here’s where options come in handy. I told myself that if Saturday was good, I’d likely work in downtown Orlando that night and work the last day of the home show on Sunday. But there was another event that I was keeping my eye on: The Sunshine Blues Festival (SBF).

It happened on the same weekend as the home show and was held in Fort Myers on Friday, Boca Raton on Saturday, and St. Pete (where I’m permitted) on Sunday. There wasn’t much news about attendance for the Fort Myers and Boca shows but the online buzz was good about the acts performing. Both cities also got rained on so I know that also affected attendance. I looked at a lot of pictures to gauge the crowd sizes but there just wasn’t enough info available to make a solid judgment call on whether to work it or not. I took a huge risk and decided to work the event because paid Vinoy Park events have always been lucrative and there was far less competition. To say the very least, my gamble paid off and then some.

One has to factor in expenses when choosing to work out of town in cities that aren’t close to home. St. Pete is a 2 hour drive but only takes a quarter tank of gas to get to so the expense was relatively small. Not even 20 bucks when factoring everything in like gas, vehicle wear and tear, food, and beverages. Also, I like working there because the city is very beautiful. There’s what I think I could’ve made back home and then there’s what I HOPE I could’ve made in St. Pete. I set a goal (a pretty high one) and the way the day was going, I didn’t think I was gonna reach it but as the day went on and on (it was a very long day), I realized that I was gonna exceed it.

My gut was continuously telling me that I should work in Orlando and I rarely recommend not listening to your body but it was a risk I had to take. This was the inaugural SBF and having researched the acts, it was a pretty big ticket. Also, having worked the Tampa Bay Blues Festival (TBBF) last year, I hoped that blues fans would show up and tip as well as they did during that event. My one and only concern was since the TBBF took place at the same venue in a matter of months, would people show up for this knowing that they’ll get their blues fix without having to wait too long? I have no idea what the attendance was but there was a steady flow of people coming in from noon until 5pm.

I started working a little after the show opened at 11am. Cool weather and cloudy skies meant I wouldn’t be using up a lot of energy to work. There are 2 sides to work around Vinoy Park: 5th Avenue which faces downtown and 7th Avenue which was closer to the event entrance near the community pool. 5th had more people streaming in but I just wasn’t and didn’t get many rides from that side coming in. Most of my day rides came from 7th, which is a much shorter distance for people to walk, but some rides are better than no rides. Throughout the day, I had to venture further out than normal to seek rides. I had to work to get them. They didn’t just come to me like they normally do for Vinoy Park events.

Since things didn’t start out that great, I had to take whatever tips my passengers had to give. Not that I got any cheap ones but I wasn’t able to quote much to get more money out of them. When it’s slow, you can’t be stingy or greedy. There were 2 golf carts and one other pedicab working on and off while I was there. I’ll take that compared to 15-20 other pedicabs as competition. I don’t have a beef with any of the St. Pete guys. We’re all cool. No hostilities between me and any of them although I still think they could work on mending fences amongst themselves. I don’t get a bad vibe from any of them individually and feel they could really do better overall by working together. I’m referring to the local competition, that is. A good sit down between them so they can come to a mutual understanding and agreement would really work wonders because they give me the impression that they’re all good guys and working together always makes a positive difference.

The SBF let people go in and out as they pleased up until 5pm. After that time, if you left, you couldn’t get back in. The hour leading up to that was pretty busy because people wanted to get back to the event in time without fear of not being able to get in. Again, most of my rides were short ones from the 7th Avenue side. I all but gave up on 5th Avenue. It didn’t make sense to use up energy for nothing. Even one of the golf cart guys gave in. No sense in using up battery power when the odds of you getting a ride are very slim. When I looked at my total at 5pm, it was pretty good but not as good as I wanted it to be. I wanted a higher average per hour.

A couple of hours before and just after 5pm, it was better to stage at the park to get rides from people leaving the event because it doesn’t take any energy to stage (but it does take patience) and there were more people going than coming. It was a slow trickle each way but the rides that we did get were well-tipped. About an hour later, something happened that I’d never seen before: it was completely dead. No one was coming or going. Everyone that wanted to be inside, they were already in. There was a lot of waiting and it was a little discouraging. Slowly but surely people started trickling out again. Rides picked up to the point of being non-stop and tips got much better. It was what the other pedicab driver anticipated but I wasn’t getting my hopes up because this was the first event of its kind. I know from past experience not to expect too much from a first-time event. You gotta let it play itself out and judge it afterwards but even then, year to year, things change.

Rides stayed steady for a good 2 hours and when the end came, when the event officially ended and everyone left the park, something else happened that I’d never experienced before: no one was taking rides. That part didn’t surprise me. It was on the 5th Avenue side where not many people were taking rides coming in anyway so it stood to reason that not many would take rides back to their car or hotel and they didn’t. I rode right through that wall of people. Only one guy asked for a ride but he didn’t wanna pay what it was worth. When I was staging at the park, and at that point it was just me working, all of the competition was done for the night, not a single person amongst the wall asked for or took a ride. People just passed me right on by. Not a single solicitation from the 5th or 7th Avenue sides.

That usually never happens. When a Vinoy Park event ends, you can’t make it back to the park without getting a ride because the demand is so high. You can only make it back there once everyone is long gone so that aspect, along with everything coming to a standstill earlier, made this event unique. I did manage to get a ride from some people I had given a ride to earlier. They just happened to be the last 2 people in the joint before they closed the fence. After dropping them off, I was about to go home but decided to give it one more whirl. Some people sitting at the marina got my attention and needed a ride. They were disabled and were happy to see me because the walk back to their car was too far for them. They said they were really hoping I’d come back so they could use my services so they sat down and waited for me. I’m glad I was able to help. Good thing for them that greed took over and I went back for more money. Otherwise, they would’ve been S.O.L.

Before 5pm, it wasn’t that great. After 5pm, it was clear that my risk paid off very handsomely. I made the right decision to work the event and if it swings through again, I’ll be there if nothing else better is going on elsewhere. It’s one thing to work an event at home where you know you can make a certain amount but it’s another thing to take a trip in the hopes of making more. That’s what pedicabbing is all about. If I can make more, I’ll travel for it. It helps that St. Pete is a great city to visit. When it was all over and I was packing it all in to go home, I had a long conversation with a guy who was parked near me. We talked about a lot of different things and he even gave me some money since he knew what I was doing there and I appreciated it. I don’t get the chance to just kick back and have good hours-long conversations about various topics anymore. The guy was on the same page as me so I’m thankful I got the chance to meet him and have that talk. It was getting late and cold so that contributed to us having to go our separate ways.

Now, for the event itself, there were a lot of complaints. Some warranted, some not. From a pedicab standpoint, a cop told me I couldn’t ride on the sidewalk per a city ordinance. It’s a good thing that I didn’t need to ride on the sidewalk anymore after he told me because we do it not only because it’s a shorter, easier route to downtown but also because it adds ambiance and value to the ride for us to get a bigger tip. There’s always one cop that just has to be a buzzkill. Always one person in every fucking crowd. It never fails. From the standpoint of people who attended the show, it seems the ticket price was the biggest issue amongst many others.

Other complaints I heard directly were about the long lines to use the portable toilets and late-admission ticket pricing. People, you can’t be afraid to use a tree or a bush to take a piss. Tampa Bay was right there. Sit down on the ledge and let the piss fly if no one is around you. There are worse things in that water than your urine. I’m pretty sure the event organizers got the message loud and clear that they’ll need more bathrooms for the next show if there is one. If you gotta take a shit, the Vinoy hotel is your closest bet to do that in comfort and cleanliness. The public restrooms near the bay beaches are a disaster so I wouldn’t recommend those. They’re no better than the portable toilets. As for late-admission prices, I can totally agree with the passenger of mine who complained about that. There’s that fine line between devaluing the event and selling a ticket for less than it’s worth and selling a cheaper ticket because there was only one act left to see: The Tedeschi Trucks Band (TTB).

TTB got a 2 hour set. All the other acts only got about an hour. I think it would’ve been fair to sell a discounted ticket when they were onstage because one, they were the main event. Two, that was it for the other acts. The $55 price was good for everything. Maybe half price or lower could’ve been good just for TTB. Better to get something than nothing. I’m sure the vendors inside wouldn’t complain. Online complaints were different: Food, drink, and parking prices were high. Visibility of the stage was low because people were standing up or had high-backed chairs. Sound quality from one of the stages wasn’t good. There was no time to mingle between acts.

If you go to almost any concert these days and don’t expect to get ripped on parking and food, then you probably shouldn’t be going to that or any other event. That’s just the norm. Eat before you go, bring your own water (this event allowed that), park further away for cheap or in a residential area for free. That’s how you solve that bullshit. If you’re expecting people not to dance during a concert then, again, maybe concert-going isn’t for you. My solution is to always buy a seat in the first row. That’s the only way to guarantee that no one will be standing in front of you. I can vouch for the sound quality being good but I couldn’t say which stage it was coming from. At one point, I heard studio-quality sound from one of the acts. And you can hear the music clearly close to a mile away. Some people just hung out on the lawn by Vinoy Place while others peeped through the fence to enjoy the show because you can hear everything pretty much crystal clear at that distance. For those people, they just wanted to hear some live music and didn’t care if they could see the performance. Then you have the boats on the bay that get to see and hear everything for free. Lucky bastards. If they closed off the bay near Vinoy Park for the event, I have no idea. It’d be smart to try and charge boats to dock there during events, though.

I’ll give the show credit for sticking to their set times. When one band ended, it wasn’t long before the other began on the other stage. It was continuous blues all day long. You’d think no one would complain about that but as I’ve said before, there’s always at least one in every crowd. You can’t please everyone. Maybe the promoters loaded the show up too much and could’ve done without an act or two to give fans time to eat, drink, shop, piss, shit, and mingle. This goes back to the ticket price. Almost 11 straight hours of music from 11 top-notch blues bands for 55 bucks. Who the hell could possibly complain about that level of value? You already know the answer to that one: SOMEbody SOMEwhere! I got asked frequently about whether I was a blues fan. I’m not. Not that I don’t like the music, not that I won’t listen to it and enjoy it when it’s being played if it’s quality, but I don’t actively download, buy, or listen to music in that genre. To each their own.

The crowd demographic was mostly baby-boomer white people. It’s only natural that they’d complain about EACH OTHER, right? Mainly about drinking too much and acting stupid. That complaint applies to almost every generation. I have to say that whoever the female was that Dr. John performed with, my man, you need to replace her. She was terrible. She sounded way too white and cheesy instead of black and bluesy. The event only took up half of the park but I can imagine it’ll take up a bit more in the future with more toilets and vendors. Another complaint I read about was that they needed to serve wine instead of mostly beer. Gotta get that alcohol in one form or another, don’t they? For me, this event was a success. I even got a nice tip from some people who paid me to use my sunscreen. That’s right, a darkie with SPF 50 sunscreen. I knew it’d come in handy one of these days! For the fans, there were more praises than complaints. The vast majority of them enjoyed themselves. For the promoters, the only way we’ll know if this event was good for them is if it returns for another tour next year. We’ll just have to wait and see.

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