BY DEBORAH SALOMON: FEATURE WRITER
Some men of a certain age ditch the sedan for a little red convertible. Others run a tab on the golf cart.
Ed Peele, an already super-fit 54-year-old Southern Pines resident, decided to pedal his way into a new career as the Ride Peddler. His vehicle — a shiny green pedicab.
Green’s the right color for this tin lizzie — no gas, no emissions, breeze-cooled, aerobically powered, made-in-the U.S.A. Pedicabs ferried guests to the premiere of Al Gore’s pro-earth film “An Inconvenient Truth.” Green is also the color associated with Pinehurst and Southern Pines
“Everybody just smiles and waves when we go by,” Peele says.
Perhaps because rides are free.“I work for tips,” hopefully the greenback kind, says the recently retired restoration/renovation contractor.
Compensation for the unflappable Peele averages $5 for a swing around the Broad Street loop, although some passengers pull out a buck or just say thanks.
“That’s OK, too,” Peele grins.
Downtown Southern Pines and Pinehurst Village couldn’t be better locations, with gentle terrain, a friendly year-round climate and enough landmarks for a well-researched 60-minute historic tour. Which isn’t free.
Peele turns a profit with advertising placards — Elliott’s on Linden during September — and gigs billed by the hour or event: date nights (a rose or chocolates included), children’s parties, corporate affairs, anniversaries and, of course, weddings.
Delouis Wilson has already hired Peele for her May nuptials in Pittsboro.
“It’s such a cool thing,” says the bride-to-be, who has ridden pedicabs in Raleigh, where Raleigh Rickshaw operates a fleet of 16. “It sets the tone — lets people know that this is something special, and they’re going to have fun.”
The Ride Peddler will ferry guests from a parking area to the ceremony. Wilson hopes the driver will wear black shorts and a white shirt. Top hat is optional. She expects the decorated pedicab to figure prominently in wedding photos.
A horse-drawn buggy might be more picturesque, but pedicabs don’t require a shovel-up.
“There’s a breeze, it’s a lot quieter, and there’s no smell of manure,” says Eli Cox of Southern Pines, taking a spin with wife, Jaime, on a cool early-autumn morning.
Peele’s construction career ended this year.
“I wanted to and had to look for something that would be adequate and fun,” he said, something that he and wife, Michelle — an athletically inclined artist — could do together.
He was already in excellent physical condition and has the mechanical skills to maintain the vehicle which, according to the manufacturer’s Web site, costs about $5,000. Other expenses include taxi and business licenses and insurance. The sturdy three-wheeled, 21-gear pedicab has hydraulic brakes, shock absorbers, seat belts, lights and a passenger canopy.
Peele’s gregarious personality suits the job. Many riders are tourists.
“The driver becomes an ambassador for downtown,” he says. “Everybody smiles and says good morning. It brings out the friendliness in people.”
Most people, at least. The Ride Peddler was a huge hit at the most recent First Friday in downtown Southern Pines, especially with children.
“Parents were reluctant initially but look — lo and behold, I brought their children back,” he says.
Peele has encountered other reticence.
“It’s fun to watch reactions,” he says. “You can tell people want to ride but they hesitate, more skeptical than suspicious. Maybe they’re taken aback because it’s free.”
Passengers do attract attention.
“I tell them to wave, like a homecoming queen in a parade,” Michelle Peele demonstrates.
Frank Dean and his 6-year-old daughter, Sarah Ellen, enjoyed the elevated view and the leisurely pace.
“Ed had to work a bit getting over the railroad tracks but it was really fun, a novelty,” Dean says.
The Peeles are developing ideas and costumes for Halloween and Christmas, surely reindeer horns on Ed’s head, and bells jingling from the “pedisleigh.”
The workout part has worked out. Vehicle plus passengers and driver may total 700 pounds. At first Peele, a runner, was too winded to converse with customers. He learned to zigzag between streets to avoid a steady climb. But for him, the joy of riding trumps any physical discomfort except on certain Ben-Gay days, “when I feel like I have 300 grandchildren.”
“We had a great idea, but we put it into action without knowing the ramifications,” he says. “(The business) has been experimental to this point.”
The alternative, his wife adds, was to sit around the house acting like life was over after the kids left.
Upsizing is the healthy state of this enterprise. The Peeles have ordered a second pedicab and are seeking personable, industrious, qualified drivers who pass a background check and are willing to work for tips, bookings, sleeker torsos and stronger legs.
Then, Ed Peele will pedal off to something else.
“I’ve got resumes out,” he says. “I’m looking for a career to replace the job I had. When I find one I’ll phase this over to the younger guys.”
Contact The Ride Peddler at www.theridepeddler.com or email email@example.com.Tags: advertising, al gore, Cabs, cool thing, corporate affairs, downtown, driver, Drivers, fleet, fun, horse drawn buggy, hydraulic brake, hydraulic brakes, Legs, passenger, peddler, Pedicab, Pedicab News, pedicabs, rickshaw, ride, southern pines, tourists