Between Uber partnerships and Viking long boats, getting around the Gaslamp District of Comic-Con International: San Diego has become a breath of fresh air in an otherwise crowded area. Yet beyond the decked-out cars, a long-standing tradition of the Gaslamp has now become a staple of transportation at the show. Pedicabs, ranging from privately owned and operated vehicles to decorated, sponsored bike taxis, are some of the most popular methods of getting around Comic-Con's offsite area in a rush. When the hordes of cosplay-clad fans descent upon San Diego, it can cause chaos and a break from the norm for the people who work at the event but have nothing to do with geek culture, pedicab drivers included. For nearly five days, these cycling wonders drive around the Gaslamp, operated by enthusiastic drivers who know the area like the back of their hands and are eager to share it with visiting convention goers.
This year's lineup of pedicabs ranged from Colony's widespread, massive marketing campaign to a promotional cart for The Muppets, where classic characters hung off of the side of the cart. Game of Thrones returned with their well-loved Iron Throne pedicabs, and other favorites such as Once Upon a Time drove their fans around in a cart modeled after the Evil Queen's preferred horse-drawn carriage.
My first pedicab on Wednesday was one of the free rides (as many are), and my driver for the trip was no stranger to the frenzy of Comic-Con. "[This is] my fifth year driving for Comic-Con," said Stephanie Hernandez during the brisk ride toward Petco Park, "and I'm going to be around for five more, I think." Stephanie went on to talk about how she got into the business of pedicab driving, and what makes her return every year for San Diego's biggest event.
"It's amazing," she explained. "Sometimes I'll drive someone in costume, but every once in a while, you meet someone famous. I think I like coming back every year because it's like a gigantic carnival. My son reads comic books and loves all of this, so I get to bring home fun things for him, and that just makes his day."
When it comes to celebrity encounters, Hernandez is a seasoned pro. "Your job, when you're doing this, it's more like adding to the magic for them. I have only asked for one autograph ever, from Danny Trejo, because I would rather not bother my passengers about what they do."
But I couldn't help but wonder if she'd ever been star-struck.
"Of course, but I'm still working. I met Arnold Schwarzenegger a few years ago, and I had to keep my cool. He didn't ride with me -- he was waiting for a car on the corner where I was parked and asked how to get somewhere -- but that was The Terminator. When he left, I screamed inside of my throat."
While many of the pedicab drivers at Comic-Con work their routes year-round, a hefty crop of cyclists often find the job through ad sites like Craigslist. First-year cyclist Joshua Young, who enthusiastically cosplayed to match his cart's theme, found the gig while browsing for summer jobs.
"I just answered the ad and got it the next day," the eager driver explained. "I was hoping to come down here, because I live an hour north, so that I could finally see Comic-Con. Having the money to do so has been great. I always cosplay at anime conventions, and now I get to go to, you know, the big one."
At only 22 years old, Young described his first year at Comic-Con as a "blast", and said that his downtime was often occupied with taking photos of cosplayers, or checking out the badge-free offsite events. "It's like nerd Disneyland... even if it means there are just as many lines."
The downsides, according to both of them, don't quite outweigh their enthusiasm yet. San Diego's unpredictable weather can make for extremely hot days and wintery nights - plus, not all customers are well-acquainted with manners. "Most of the time, people won't tip," said Young. "But that's not really the worst thing that can happen. I mean, sometimes, they puke." Driving in the evening hours isn't something you'll find a lot of con-specific carts doing, so while Young managed to avoid the evening party crowds, his passengers' morning hangovers did manage to surprise him.
Hernandez explained that days were long, but it all paid off in the end. "I like this crowd, because only a few people give us the attitude we deal with on a normal day. Everyone's just so happy to be here."
Young's first celebrity encounter took place almost immediately, when he found himself driving The Doctor himself to his hotel. "I met Peter Capaldi, and he was really nice. I was honestly pretty nervous because, like, my girlfriend Jessie loves that show, and I wanted to try and get an autograph for her. He signed a page in my notebook for her and I haven't told her yet."
As for Young's personal goals, he did have one celebrity that he specifically hoped to meet. "I really like Hayley Atwell from [Marvel's Agent Carter](tag:1119765) ... I actually watched Agent Carter and then watched Captain America: The First Avenger a second time just to see Peggy's roots again. I think she would be a really great person to meet."
When it came to advice for aspiring Comic-Con pedicab riders, Hernandez had some wise words based on her years of experience.
"Try and tip," she advised, "but also just have fun. Not a lot of us decide to work this weekend without knowing what's about to happen and we're all really happy to be a part of it. So chat us up, tell us about your day and have fun when you ride. Oh -- and come back every year. You really just never know who you're gonna run into."