My experience pedicab driving during the NAFEM convention at the OCCC in Orlando, FL from 2/7 – 2/9/2013.

The NAFEM Show 2013 banner.
Working the first 2 days of the NAFEM (North American Association of Food Equipment Manufacturers) were pretty typical for a convention of its size taking place at the South Concourse. The money was good for Thursday and Friday for the time that I was there and there weren’t too many pedicabs out to dilute the income. Less is always better. Saturday is the day that stood out because of the logistics involved with the NADA (National Automobile Dealers Association) convention taking place at the West Concourse. They didn’t want pedicabs on property for their event and only they know why.

Saturday was the last day of the NAFEM. I don’t recall the convention ever taking place in Orlando and if it did, I wasn’t pedicab driving for it so this was a first for me and practically every other driver. None of us had any expectations but the first day proved to be worth it. There was a long lull on the first two days but the entrances and exits made up for it. After the first day, there was a good idea of what to expect on the second. After the second day, with the third day being the last day, we thought the busy trend would continue but that wasn’t the case.

The last day, there were a decent amount of cars but people weren’t taking rides. I arrived right on time for the first two days from what other drivers told me but I was ready to go in the parking lot early on the last day and there still weren’t too many pedicabs working that day, either. It was very, very slow. I’m not the type to sit around like other drivers. I know what’s going on in the area and Saturday was the first day of the expo for the NADA. Word got around pretty quickly that they didn’t want pedicabs on property but that didn’t mean we couldn’t stage on the sidewalk.

A cop got on my case about what’s convention center property and what’s not. There’s a small area by the Rosen Plaza where pedicabs stage to pick people up leaving that parking lot to go to the West Concourse. We stage there all the time but a cop came over to me and said that he was told we weren’t allowed on property and that the small area was convention center property. That was news to me. When I told other drivers what happened, it was news to them, too. The cop wasn’t an asshole or anything but I don’t think he knew what he was talking about. I’m gonna get clarification on what he said at a later time. I don’t believe him.

The NAFEM was slow enough on Saturday that I left it to work the public areas around the OCCC (Orange County Convention Center) West Concourse and my first destination was that little sidewalk area that I just talked about. After that fiasco with the cop, I didn’t argue about it. I just left and went inconspicuously onto Rosen Plaza property; basically, the other side of that little sidewalk, separated by bushes, where the cop could still see me but couldn’t tell me shit. Rosen properties frown upon pedicabs, too, but I didn’t stay long. I got rides from the sidewalk before the cop became a nuisance but while on Rosen property, things had dried up. I saw a couple of other drivers getting rides from further up the road so I went to investigate where they were getting them from. By that time, that had dried up, too.

There was no point in going back to the South because almost every other driver had eventually left there and we were all working the NADA because that’s where the rides were coming from. There was quite a bit of waiting for those rides but the ones that came were mostly well-tipped. Most people were going to Pointe Orlando for lunch but return rides were minimal. Naturally, the lull for that came and it dried up. That meant there was only one place left to go to make money: the NAFEM. Luckily, that was exiting at the time and even though there was still a long wait for rides, the tips were good. The way the day was going, something was better than nothing. I’d rather have waited for a short ride at the NAFEM than a long one from the NADA. Didn’t wanna use up too much energy.

The reason for that is because there was a Jimmy Buffett concert at the North Concourse that night. This was another situation where no one had any expectations but we had to stick around to find out what it was gonna be like. I was honestly ready to go home after the NAFEM ended because the day really wasn’t that great up to that point but curiosity made me stay. Sometimes, you just have to tough it out so you’ll have knowledge for future events. There were a few other events going on in the area that I was wishing I had worked instead but I was where I was and I was gonna stay for the long haul.

There were several hours to go before the concert started. That meant we all had to work I-Drive for rides. I rarely work at night on the strip but there were definitely rides to be had and the tips were good. Like anything else, there’s gonna be that period where people will already be at the restaurants or places they wanna be and we gotta wait for them to filter out. I didn’t join in on that activity. I hung around the south area of the strip to be ready for what I was hoping would be a rush to the North Concourse. The NADA had a lot of private events going on that night, and I gave rides to some of them, but I mainly staged at the Rosen Centre. I knew that would be the place to be if there was gonna be a rush and I was right.

What wasn’t the best of days, by the end of the night, turned into one of the best overall days I’ve ever had working any convention. It was that good thanks to the concert. My first ride to it came from the Rosen Centre and the tip was exceptional. One for the record books. Along the way, I saw a rush of people walking to the concert from the Hilton bridge. Rather than leave the area after dropping people off like every other driver did, I stuck around and got rides from Hilton people and those tips were great. That rush dried up and at that point, I went back out onto I-Drive to get some more rides but I made sure to stay close to the North Concourse.

Having worked many a concert at the Amway Center, I know how they work. The pattern is the same for them all. Not many people parked at the North for the show but a lot walked while others took shuttle buses. These were Parrotheads. They have plenty of money. They like to drink. Their hotels were luxurious, expensive, and far to walk to and from. There were no taxis on the side of the building where they entered and exited. That left me as the sole method of transportation available for walkers since all the other drivers were out working the strip. Just because a concert ends at a certain time doesn’t mean everyone will be leaving it at that time. I guess I’m the only one who knew that. Experience has its benefits.

I know that when a concert starts, it doesn’t take long for people to leave for whatever reason. There will always be that slow trickle. In this case, it wasn’t just the concert going on. There was also the AIC (All-Industry Celebration) that was a dinner and reception to accompany the concert. Some people went just for that and when the concert began after it, they didn’t care less about Jimmy Buffett and left. That meant rides for me. I did have a long waiting period a couple of times during the concert but the rides I got made up for it. I didn’t get many but the tips were very good while Buffett was still performing and I had no competition from anyone else.

Near the end of the concert, I was getting non-stop rides, almost exclusively to the Hilton, and the tips were amazing for every ride. At the very end is when other drivers showed up but not many of them. One was smart enough to follow my lead and was caking as much as I was. I could see that she was getting constant rides while the others weren’t because for whatever reason, they staged at the front of the building. That’s just plain inexperience. You gonna follow the guy that knows what he’s doing or the guy who thinks he knows what he’s doing? Let’s just say I’m glad they did what they did because that meant more money for me and the other driver.

My last ride was to the Rosen Centre and, surprisingly, the security guard at the shack let me through into the back parking lot so I could drop my people off. That very rarely happens due to Rosen policy towards pedicabs but some of their people understand what we do and the service we provide and work with us instead of against us. When I made it back to the North, it had died completely. I counted my stash and like I already said, it was a day to be proud of. Half of my take came from the concert. And to think I was thinking about working in downtown Orlando that night. I’m glad I didn’t! I just wish the concert had more people and lasted a bit longer. Reviews were wide-ranging from it being good to “dragging on” to “he should hang it up.” Like I told one of my passengers, as long as people are still willing to pay to see him, he ain’t goin’ nowhere.

It was a very long day with some tough, long, grueling rides along the strip but when looking at my hourly average, oh yeah, it was all worth it. It would definitely have been preferred if the NADA let us permitted drivers onto a property we have permission to be on but it is what it is. Aside from the cop at the Rosen Plaza, there was a security guard at the concert that gave me an unnecessary hard time that I can’t get into any details about. Those were the only two dramatic instances of the weekend. Just two. That’s rare because it’s usually some bullshit amongst us drivers that creates drama. Not that some drivers (mainly the non-permitted independent and the inexperienced ones) weren’t doing stupid shit but nothing so stupid that was cause for drama.

I didn’t work the remaining days of the NADA expo because I wasn’t in the mood to waste my time with it since we couldn’t be where we needed to be to make the real money but the NAFEM turned out to be a good convention to work. Too bad it’s ditching Orlando for California for the next one. It sucks when those really good conventions either run intermittently or go to other cities. No matter what, the OCCC is where it’s at and I’m very glad to be a part of the process.

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