"I saw two girls lying in the street, making out," said Gaslamp pedicab driver Jimmy Wacker. "With a crowd, an applauding crowd. I mean, they were putting on a show, basically."
Wacker has seen a lot of strange things in three years of driving pedicabs, but nothing that compares to last week's Super Bowl revelry. "A couple guys gave Snoop Dogg and a few of his crew a ride, and there were girls chasing them down the street."
Pedicab drivers like Wacker serve as the unofficial experts and historians of Gaslamp nightlife. They see it all while pedaling their three-wheeled bikes day and night, giving rides to tourists, drunken clubgoers and anyone else who doesn't feel like hoofing it back to their car. If it happens in the Gaslamp, they know about it.
And they had never seen anything like the throngs of people who came out for last week's Super Bowl festivities. "Mardi Gras, a few people come down; there's a Street Scene music festival in the fall," said Wacker, but last week's crowds were "six or seven times" bigger than anything he's seen.
The extra business was good for downtown service workers, pedicab drivers included. While Wacker makes anywhere from $100 to $150 on a regular Friday or Saturday night, he figures he made around $600 a day last week. "We're overwhelmed, man," he said Saturday amidst a crowd of football fans on Fifth Avenue so dense he could hardly weave his pedicab through.
The Super Bowl came at an especially fortuitous time for Wacker; he and his friend Jeff Beame started up their own business, Paradise Pedicabs, just a few months ago. About five major pedicab companies operate in the Gaslamp, along with a few smaller, independent operations like Beame and Wacker's.
"So far, it's been completely successful for us," Beame said. "We're having a great time doing it." Paradise Pedicabs managed to get a sponsorship from Pepsi for Super Bowl week, which Beame said about doubled their income. He hopes to parlay the sponsorship into a permanent arrangement.
It turns out there's a perk to driving a pedicab: the chance to show some extra, shall we say, hospitality. "We're kind of the clean-up guys, you know?" said Wacker. "Ladies come out of the club, they may not have had the, uh, situation they wanted to, and there we are," he said with a laugh. "It's our job to find people and bring them to a good time, and they pay us money for it, and they're usually attractive women."
Yes, folks, pedicab drivers get hit on all the time. Wacker admits to once taking a woman up on her proposition, but it was "probably not my proudest moment," he said. "There are other guys with wilder stories," he continued. "I've heard about guys getting some company in a parking lot-dropping two girls off at their car, hopping in the car, enjoying each other, and he goes back to work. There's always a bike or two outside of a hotel, and you hear stories later about out-of-towners treating us, um, politely."
Just in case you're thinking about running out and starting your own pedicab business, know that San Diego requires pedicab companies to carry $2 million worth of liability insurance. "Essentially it's the liability that keeps people from jumping in and getting one bike, because the overhead would just eat you up," said Beame. But he said the city has cooperated with his small company. "They've actually got a pretty good system set up for interfacing with the pedicabs."So Wacker will continue to cruise the Gaslamp in his pedicab, looking for passengers and soaking in the nightlife. Seeing things like two girls groping each other in the street just goes with the territory. "The cops weren't even around," he said. "Let the ladies kiss, you know?"