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How to Turn Your Life Around: Become a Rickshaw Driver

New America Media, Commentary, Said Farah Posted: Apr 09, 2010

Editor's Note: After sending out resumes and looking for work with no success, a 21-year-old Somali American living in San Jose, Calif. decided to become a rickshaw driver. Said Farah is a contributing writer to Silicon Valley DeBug.org.

Being a struggling young artist in a foreign city with no family to speak of is no Yogi Bear pic-a-nic basket. So when I found myself facing destitute poverty and still sending out resumes and waiting for callbacks, I decided to think creatively.

After fielding random ads on Craigslist for temporary work, I found a pretty enticing offer. The concept would be to pedal my ass off for tips on a 300-pound pedicab rickshaw, with drunken passengers on board. At first, it seemed like there were no drawbacks. Id be able to get into good shape (which is hard to do as a half-pack-a-day smoker) while being entertained by tipsy tippers. More importantly, I could do it consistently and mold some semblance of a life around my hard-earned crumpled dollar bills. I really had nothing to lose, so the least I could do was give it a try.

I started riding around for menial tips the weekend following my run-in with the company. At first the work was grueling to say the least. I was leading an extremely sedentary lifestyle at the time. I was eating once a day, if that, so it was beneficial for me to use as little energy as possible to stretch out my meals. I usually worked three-hour shifts at first to build up my leg strength and quickly switched over to seven-hour marathons for more pocket money. At one point I was sleeping in my car but quickly found a situation that would allow me to stay rent-free for half a month while I saved up tip money.

Being hopped up on Red Bull and hauling heavy human cargo for extended periods of time was quickly getting tiresome. I was coming home zombified every night and eating more than a pro-football offensive lineman every day. But I quickly fell in love with my newfound source of income.

Now, Ill be the first one to tell you: the perks are what make me look forward to my pedicab hustle. Of course people want to drink with you, among other things, but it doesnt stop there. Two words, my friends: eye candy. I guess Im no more superficial than the next Joe in line, but its kind of hard to avoid scantily clad women with plenty of social lubricant in their systems. Does it help that the carts light up like a Christmas tree at night? Hell no, but you wont find me complaining. The other night four gorgeous women hopped onto my cart, I mean way out of my league type of girls. They had just gotten out of the club and needed a ride back to their car. The trip shouldnt have taken more than five minutes, but I was forced to circle around for no apparent reason while deflecting their constant barrage of propositions. Im telling you folks, I got no less than a thorough massage that night. If I werent black, I probably would have been blushing. Afterwards I had to pinch myself to make sure I didnt doze off in front of some bar and start fantasizing on the clock.

One weekend I was offered to go down to Carmel for a special event, with the chance of running into celebrities and getting guaranteed money as well. It was slow going at first, but I knew it would be a good night when my first tip turned out to be a $20. Halfway through the night, after finally recovering from the shock at the slew of trophy girlfriends and wives outside every establishment, I ran into some former NFL players. One of them had won three super bowls with the Forty-Niners in the '80s and ended up giving me personal advice for close to an hour. What shocked me was how humble and down to earth he was considering the amount of success he enjoyed in his life. At this point, I was feeling pretty good. There was a steady flow of generous tips and I had gotten fully acclimated to the treacherous hills of the downtown strip. Killing time outside of a bar with the worlds most interesting limo driver, my buddy lets me know that Bill Murray just got on the dance floor.

I decided to entertain the notion and strolled casually to one of the modestly sized windows. There he was, with that trademark nonchalant look glazed over his face while diving into a late night snack. To my surprise, Bill Murray ordered another drink and proceeded to throw down on the dance floor. That made my night, hands down. The best part was, I must have counted my money at least eight times on the way back to San Jose. I could actually afford a car wash. This rickshaw thing was really starting to pay off.

So I guess Ive been doing this for a month and a half now and Ive somehow managed to gain 15 pounds while losing body fat. The only downside is the inconsistency of cash flow. No two nights are the same and you never know what youll run into. Ive seen people stage dive off of moving rickshaws to avoid paying a non-mandatory tip. Ive had countless frat-type dudes asked me ever so eloquently if they could touch my "wang! Ive made friends with people that Ive given rides to, which is a huge plus for someone whos only been in the area for two months. Overall, I cant complain. The rickshaw has been good to my body and me, so I dont see myself stopping anytime soon. The next time you see an ordinary-looking biker hauling around overweight drunkards up Himalayan inclines while chugging copious amounts of Red Bull, make sure you get a ride with them on their way back down the hill. And, please: Tip your driver! You dont know what we go through.

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