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Novak says the word’s out in Serbia’s colleges that San Diego is the place to pick up summer money and learn English and keep fit, all at the same time. “This is a summer-vacation thing. Earn money, travel ’round California and maybe Mexico. I’ve been here 45 days. There are too many pedicabs, but the money’s not bad. Physically, you get in shape in two or three weeks. But it’s hard mentally. You may have a whole day with no money. Even if you don’t have a ride, you have to pay the daily lease of $35. But once you get above $35, you can relax. Some start at 8:00 in the morning and stay all day. I start around 1:00 in the afternoon and quit after last call. Most customers are tourists. Locals get in when they’re drunk. For me, the best tippers are foreigners. People from England. But tourists from Texas are good, too.”

A couple of guys cruise past, looking for business.

“We are Kurds, from Turkey,” Vahap says, when I catch up. He and Abdullah had high hopes for this trip. “We have been riding for two weeks. In Turkey, everybody says about USA, it’s a good country, everything will be good because you are students. We came here through a company. It cost us about $3000 in exits, passport, visa. We had to borrow.”

“We come to U.S.,” continues Abdullah, “and it’s really for us very bad. They lied to us. The company here is okay, but the Turkish company lied. They said we’d have a place to live. But they brought us to a hotel, and now we pay $600 each. Six living in one room. We have to work all day and night to pay this rent and then $150 a week for each pedicab. And we have to eat. We are not making any money. There are too many riders, not enough customers.”

“We gave $1200 for this form,” says Vahap, pulling out his J-1, the 120-day student work-study application. “But they are free.”

Vahap is a second-year student in Turkey, art history and journalism. Abdullah studies history and language. They’re both 21.

“We were keen to come here,” says Vahap. “But our families warned us. We have ten friends who flew back to Turkey this week. They couldn’t survive. We must work and at least have some money. We are planning to leave at the end of this month.”

Yes, says Abdullah, they knew Sukru Safa Cinar, the Turkish student who had the accident. “He has flown back to Turkey. I saw him. He was in a very, very bad state. He cried. He said [Mrs. Miller and her friend] came and asked the price. They sat down, and he started the ride, and the woman stood up on the bike and was dancing. He said, ‘When I turned back and saw her, she fell off.’ The other woman said he [Cinar] hadn’t made any mistake. That’s why the judge freed him. If she said he had [been weaving back and forth], he would have been charged. Yet now people say bad things to us. ‘You are killers!’ ‘I don’t want to die.’ Normally, we took about $60–$70 a day. Now everybody’s waiting for customers.”

Vahap and Abdullah have been friends since childhood. “We came here to see another culture,” Vahap says. “We have been working every summer since we were nine years old. But now, this fall, we will go back, and no money. It will be very difficult to afford books and accommodation at university. And it is already hard being Kurdish. Abdullah and I are the only ones. Turks don’t like Kurdish people.”

I can see from their struggles with English how much harder it must be for them to charm tourists than their more fluent brothers and sisters.

Paulie has no such problem. She’s a spunky girl-rider who has her pedicab parked near the Asti restaurant. “Yes, there are too many of us,” she says. “There should be a limit of 300. People are starting to get sick of us. It’s not like an entertainment thing in the city anymore. Too many riders shouting, ‘Pedicab! Pedicab!’ It’s not funny.”

Paulie says she studies economics at the New Bulgarian University. She learned about the pedicab job through an outfit called International Educational Exchange. She thinks the accident has been played up too much. “There is a crash with cars every second. It hasn’t helped our business. But I’ll stay till September 20, because I love the city. It’s beautiful, clean, so safe. And it’s sunny. That’s my god, the sun. I think San Diego is a city of heaven. Oh…excuse me.”

She has just spotted two men, potential customers, across the road. Men like to be driven by women, just as women prefer male drivers. I watch Paulie coast with her passengers down the gentle slope of F, toward Fourth. She turns in her seat and chats, and the guys laugh out loud. They’re having a good time, nice and slow. You don’t get this in a taxicab.

On the Embarcadero, most days, the J-1’s (as the American drivers call the foreign pedicab drivers) make their play at the Midway, where the aircraft carrier’s visitors come out looking for a way back to downtown. Americans stake a spot by the Coronado ferry landing, where folks from the ferry and the Star of India are likely to want a ride to Seaport Village or up to Horton Plaza. There’s nothing official about this. Just an unspoken territorial agreement.

“All right, sir…

where can I take you today?” asks Rudy Diggs, wheeling his pedicab to intercept a line of tourists that climbs the gangplank from an arriving ferry. Diggs is tall, African-American, and he doesn’t have to shout, not with his resonant tones. He’s full of come-on one-liners. “Young ladies? Save those feet, use this seat. Sunglasses get discounts. Why stroll when you can roll?”

“Take a carriage, save the marriage!” chimes his buddy Matt Williams. Matt has weathered cheeks and a red beard and has been pedicabbing for ten years. He wears a green T-shirt that says, “Sometimes I pee when I laugh.”

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marko Sept. 9, 2009 @ 2:52 p.m.

make them have a CA drivers licenses, and make them be bonded/insured. that would fix all the problems.


jerome Sept. 9, 2009 @ 4:59 p.m.

hmmm? anger, racism,threatening physical harm,all very rare it seems to this local resident,the economy is on a slow road up its been down so long no one knows whats UP. but yep, maybe to many pedicabs, but the market will balance itself>thats american capitalism. but there is no subsitute for time, the word will get out and less out of country drivers will be the reality. why confuse the issue with hate,hate a hater and your a hater,oh god when will we learn. my experience>>>>GOT OFF THE FERRY,WALKING TO SEAPORT VILLAGE LIMPING WITH MY CANE NO EXTRA $ FOR A RIDE; I HEAR "HEY SIR WHERE YA GOIN", I SAY SEAPORT VILLAGE BUT I'M BROKE,HE REPLYS GET IN ITS ON ME> NOW THATS THE SAN DIEGO I SEE .........THEN OUTTA THE BLUE I SEE MY DAUGHTER back from her hike from harbor island she says hey dad where ya goin, she hops in >FREE off we go chillaxe peeps you only see whats inside you.........


CaptainSanDiego Sept. 9, 2009 @ 5:15 p.m.

I took the ferry to work on Coronado every day for three years. So I saw how the Pedicab operators operated. Some were okay but some were obnoxiously rude. A tourist who ignores them or just says, "No" is usually given a parting shot. I heard, "Well, F-ing walk then," more than a few times. There is a fine line between hawking and hassling and some of these guys cross that line . . .


basilisk Sept. 10, 2009 @ 1:10 a.m.

What an intersting story. I only go downtown if I have to. So this opened my eyes,



Ponzi Sept. 11, 2009 @ 1:44 p.m.

This issue could be easily solved by eliminating the fraud in the J-1 Visa system and in particular by attacking the pedicab loophole that is being abused.

These “scholars” that are issued a J-1 Visa are sponsored by an employer. They are suppose to be getting additional education as an “intern” or “trainee.“

The J-1 sponsor is suppose to “formulate a training outline that provides a clear definition of the internship/training goals and describes the proposed tasks“ and submit that to the U.S State Department.

The spirit of the J-1 program is to allow scholars to work and study in the U.S. and immerse in the culture, language and work ethic.

The program is NOT for WORK alone. It sounds like, in the case of these foreign pedicab employees, the J-1 Visa is being highly abused.

The program is not for them to come over to the U.S. and work 12 hours a day, 7 days a week to save money. It is an educational and cultural Immersement and study/learning program.

If driving pedicels is all these people are doing, the simple thing is to report all of them to the U.S. State Department.

You can’t convince me that working as a pedicab driver is “learning” or a “trainee” for any scholarly pursuit. These folks probably never even visit a museum at Balboa Park!

“We gave $1200 for this form,” says Vahap, pulling out his J-1, the 120-day student work-study application. “But they are free.”

These are foreign scholars? They can’t use their own embassy to find out this is a free application? Why? Because I’m betting many are not even college students and many others pay to get the sham paperwork riddled with baloney about learning and pushed through the State Department.


Ponzi Sept. 11, 2009 @ 1:48 p.m.

And if what I posted doesn’t seem to resonate as true, then why doesn’t every Mexican student get a J-1 Visa and work as a pedicab or other menial job all over the US?

There is fraud in the system and it’s being perpetuated by the pedicab owners who are recruiting these “students” who are using the J-1 for a purpose it is not intended to be used.

If the San Diego City Council, the citizens, the U.S. citizen pedicab operators, to anyone else annoyed by them should be filing complaints with the U.S Department of State and their numbers will evaporate.


Ponzi Sept. 11, 2009 @ 2 p.m.

This is from the Dept of State website: (1) Ensure that the participant has sufficient financial resources to support him or herself during his or her search for employment;

(2) Provide the participant with pre-departure information that explains how to seek employment and how to secure lodging in the United States;

(3) Prepare and provide to program participants a roster of bona fide job listings equal to or greater than the number of participants for whom pre-arranged employment has not been secured; and,

(4) Undertake reasonable efforts to secure suitable employment for any participant who has not found suitable employment within one week of commencing his or her job search.

(e) Participant compensation. Sponsors shall advise program participants regarding Federal Minimum Wage requirements and shall ensure that participants receive pay and benefits commensurate with those offered to their American counterparts.

(i) Unauthorized activities. Program participants may not be employed as domestic employees in United States households or in positions that require the participant to invest his or her own monies to provide themselves with inventory for the purpose of door-to-door sales.

They ar enot to invest their own money, which is like being an entrepreneur. But they are "renting" a pedicab which is like buying inventory. Perhaps this rule needs to be clarified.

Also, they are suppose to have enough money to get through their stay, so if they are complaining baout not having enough money to return home, they have also violated the rules.


whyigotahaveid Sept. 14, 2009 @ 8:16 p.m.

why anytime things get tuff n competitive, the whites right away wanna blame the immigrants . they already have the advantage , most businesses are white owned and hire their own. whites usually wont do any type of labor. so its natural that the applicants for these type of jobs are flooded with eager happy to work immigrants that think the $ is great. i saw something interesting today, white men working the carwash . now that has to be the sign of the times.


Ponzi Sept. 15, 2009 @ 12:23 p.m.

whyigotahaveid, nothing like some racists comments about whites.

My point is that what they are doing is illegal. They are using the J-1 visa just for work and that is not what the visa is supposed to be used for. It is for learning, an internship, cultural emersion and study. Renting a bike and working 12 hours a day is not what the visa is intended for.

If the local authorities would address the situation with the Department of State, the situation would hopefully go away. There are plenty of "white" kids doing menial jobs and many would gladly do the pedicab work. I would much rather see our own citizens, whatever color, sex, or other label they be, get those jobs. Plus the issue is of "over-capacity" so sending half of them home would begin to fix the problem as well.


SDaniels Sept. 15, 2009 @ 2:53 p.m.

whyigota, you make some valid points, but they a little off mark for this situation, and it is best-- as always-- to look ahead at what we can do to fix it. Ponzi's got this issue sewn. Thanks!


whyigotahaveid Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:35 p.m.

i like these comment forums, cuz i can read the views of others . mine may not be right but i take into account yours. and learn. i used to be very closed minded and racist. but now i see it aint all yall . and it aint all us. but a beautiful rainbow sherbert of disfunction that is our world. so please dont take offense. and i wont take any also. lets have a beer !


CuddleFish Oct. 1, 2009 @ 9:46 p.m.

but a beautiful rainbow sherbert of disfunction that is our world

LOL I love that! Thanks, why, very good. :)


SDaniels Oct. 1, 2009 @ 11:23 p.m.

I agree, and would definitely raise a toast to whyigota's phrase.


whyigotahaveid Oct. 2, 2009 @ 10:44 a.m.

ha ha, i knew i wasnt crazy . i dont care what that Dr. sez


MountainMike Nov. 7, 2016 @ 10:46 a.m.

In 2004 I was driving an electric cab called Mini Roadsters (they were golf carts modified to look like a roadster). The pedicabs would make fun of us by calling us "clown cars" and yelling, "clown cars suck!". All the instances but one of disrespect were from pedicabs.


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