I went recently to the wedding of a good friend. They tied the knot in St.Ives, Cornwall, in a castle of Hogwarts proportions overlooking the ocean, a location so stunning and remote it had to be nearly impossible to get to.
Anyway most of the wedding crowd had come up from London, where they were doing well for themselves as lawyers, actuaries, hedge fund managers and a couple who seemed to be paid a bunch of money in order to tell companies they should probably move online. Among the sparkly and canapés before the main meal, and over the background din of champagne-fueled small talk, one of the actuaries leaned over to me and asked “And what is it you do?”
-“I drive a rickshaw taxi at the beach”.
Life as a rickshaw taxi driver has been eye-opening, colourful, leant me a fascinating new perspective into Barcelona life, and got me a badasss tan. How did you get yourself into such an enviable position, in such a lucrative career, you might ask? It wasn’t easy.
When I first arrived in Barcelona, travelling through Spain as a recent graduate, doing one last drunken holiday before it was time to get one of those serious job things in London, I saw the rickshaw drivers at the beach, and thought ‘That is the job for me’. You get a great bronzed bod, and your office is the beach. So I decided to get serious and responsible, and put aside those frivolous dreams of graduate training schemes in London, masters courses in Bath, and carve out my career as a rickshaw taxi driver.
It wasn’t easy. I applied to FunkyCycle about seventeen times, sending them my CV with increasingly frantic cover letters of my ardent dream to be a rickshaw driver, my promise that even as a girl I would be fit enough to do the company proud. Silence. Three years, in fact, of silence.
During this time I did other very serious jobs in Barcelona. I worked in several Irish bars, leaving a trail of broken pint glasses in my wake. I taught English to everyone from CEOs of companies like Volkswagen and Fujitsu to snotty-nosed three year olds in a local primary school (I was able to use the same lesson plans for both). I spent a few months assisting the editor of a big Catalan news agency, and did a stint at Stunt School learning to fall over (one of my fortes if I do admit).
Over the course of these three years, I did, periodically send an email to FunkyCycle, just in case. This was met without fail by deafening silence, and eventually even these dried up and my dreams of cycling my way around the sunniest office in town eventually wilted.
Then one day, I was trawling through photos of girls in bikinis, in my new job as the Barcelona booker for a Russian modelling agency, wondering vaguely if I was a human trafficker, and if so, whether I should change my business cards to ‘Nell English: P.I.M.P’ when I decided to check Loquo, the employment website, and saw an ad: ‘Rickshaw drivers needed’.
So, after a grueling and arduous application and interview process (I cycled the owner of the company and his friend to the airport bus stop, and didn’t kill anyone), I got the job, and became Barcelona’s only female rickshaw driver.
For the first week, I did wonder, how did it all work? There seemed to be a huge number of rickshaw drivers, presumably competition, at the beach. As a rookie, would there be an initiation process? Would I have to dance around a rickshaw, or offer a sacrificial spare wheel? Was there a rickshaw mafia, and territorial system? I scanned the colours of the bikes in different areas of the beach…perhaps Pedicabs and FunkyCycle controlled Barceloneta, while Trixie and EcoBikes manned the upper beaches? I pedaled off on the first day, ready to suss out the system, wondering if my arrival as yet another rickshaw driver in an already saturated market, and the only girl to boot, would be very unwelcomed.
But instead of glares and interrogations, I got holas and fist pumps. Drivers of supposedly rival companies would ting their bells as they passed, in a kind of rickshaw greeting. There are about forty of us now, and all a really nice bunch. Very international, there’s Lenny from Liverpool, couple of guys from Venezuela including two brothers at different companies, French drivers from Paris to Marseille, and about three Polish. Mostly everyone gets on, although there is a bit of drama in the rickshaw industry at the moment due to one ex-rider getting fired and trying (vainly) to start a syndicate from the sidelines. Also two guys who made the rookie error of working at FunkyCycle for a few weeks, then peeling off and building their own rickshaws, which didn’t go down too well with everyone else, all of whom pay large weekly rents to be with legal companies, and who are now in the unenviable position of being cold-shouldered by the rest of the group.
The rickshaw WhatsApp group for day riders seems to sum it up, alternating between rants on employment practices (how much to charge, routes to avoid-the legal status of the rickshaw is in a bit of a grey area at the moment, and police are doling out fines to appease the anti-tourist locals at the beach-shout outs for extra bikes needed for big groups). These long texts will be peppered with questions like ‘alguien trabaja hoy?’ (‘Anyone working today’, asked on a particular humid and sunny Tuesday) to be answered with beach selfies of smiling riders who’d ditched their bikes and headed to the sea.
I’ve only been working for a month, and there have already been some interesting times. Such as the Russian tourist, who was paralytic drunk (to be fair, it was already the late hour of 11.30 am) whom I tried to help to his hotel. Only to have him fall on the accelerator and have the rickshaw nearly shoot into oncoming traffic. Then there the group of old German men, who instead of a ride asked me to join them for tapas and wine and insisted I park the rickshaw outside their very fancy restaurant. Or the two English guys on a stag do, who I was taking back to their hotel when, as we were whizzing across the zebra crossing to make the green man, the rickshaw got stuck in between the bollards! 99.9 per cent of the bollards across Barcelona are just, by milimetres, wide enough to squeeze the rickshaw through. I managed, on the second day, to find the 0.1 percent.
So, to sum up, I am loving my new job as Barcelona’s only female rickshaw rider! Some days are harder than others, but the other riders are all really friendly and helpful. We share rides occasionally, and circle the beach in pairs trying to catch groups. (Sometimes I do feel a bit vulturish, swooping down on unsuspecting tourist prey to hawk my wares). Getting a very funny beach tan, in my underwear it looks like I am wearing a pair of bright white shorts, and have developed a sort of giraffe pattern on my feet from always wearing the same pair of Jesus sandals. Also I carry my guitar, so can practice while waiting for tourists. I normally put it away before they get too close as I believe the quality foo the playing might have the opposite desired affect. It has, however, earned me the nickname ‘La Mariachi’ haha.
Yet there are some really colourful characters behind the rickshaw wheels around Barcelona. For once, in all my eclectic jobs, I am not the craziest person in the workplace! Since I wrote this, a lot has happened in the wheeled world of the rickshaws of Barcelona. From meeting one driver from Liverpool, who told me he’d spent the last week drinking up a tree, to getting stuck in the Gay Pride Parade down Passeig de Colon, with a nervous Norwegian family in the bike, to accidentally nearly running over my boss. To be continued!