WASHINGTON - Underneath a corporate office building on 18th and L streets in downtown D.C., a group of sleepy-eyed pedicab riders sipped coffee, leaned on bikes and geared up for the inauguration.
They caravanned in cars, crammed into buses and flew in from cities like Boston, Seattle, San Francisco, Chicago and Newport, R.I., to ride alongside their local brethren.
"Remember to charge your batteries. Always charge your batteries," says Nathan Pierce, D.C. branch manager of National Pedicabs. "And bring a blanket."
As tourists from around the globe descend on Washington for the inauguration, pedicab drivers from all over the country are preparing for what will likely be the industry's biggest weekend.
National Pedicabs is upping its fleet to about 25 riders that will be dispersed near the National Mall and around restaurant-heavy neighborhoods like Dupont Circle.
That some guest riders are unfamiliar with D.C.'s streets is just part of the fun.
"I'm actually kind of excited about it," says Clay Serna, Chicago branch manager of National Pedicabs. "Every day on a pedicab is like living a videogame. It's basically the craziest Frogger game you've ever played."
For others, coming to the capital is a chance to witness history.
"We're just really excited to be here, to be part of it. I think the energy is really high for everyone," says Oskar Mosco, who flew in from San Francisco last week. "Everything is lining up to be a really solid weekend, unless it snows or something like that."
Other potential problems include navigating through the hordes of people, blocked off streets and heavy police presence.
Mosco, who first started riding in D.C. four years, doesn't anticipate any major snags now that drivers have established better relationships with law enforcement. During the last inauguration, some pedicabs received frivolous tickets or conflicting information because neither the company managers nor police knew the exact laws, he says.
But National Park Service has cleared up those grey areas and is now working more closely with pedicabs instead of against them, Mosco says.
"It had been really frustrating, but NPS put a lid on that," he says.
With legalities out of the way, surviving inauguration weekend comes down to a combination of skill and initiative.
So how are the out-of-town riders planning to navigate a city they don't know?
"With smartphones and smiles," says 25-year-old Graham Ward from Boston. "We're just going to wing it. We'll figure it out."
Ward spent eights hours in a car with three other cyclists from Massachusetts. They got in late Thursday night and woke up early Friday morning for the planning meeting.
"It's a neat experience, but I hope to never do it again," Ward jokes about the long car ride. "But this is an event for history. I want to be part of it."
Mike Kowalczyk from Newport, R.I., appears a little more skittish about finding his way around town. On his first night in D.C., he and the other guys from Rhode Island spent 30 minutes looking for U Street. They never found it.
"I just hope half the [customers] know where they're going and, the other half of the time, I'm hoping that the GPS on my phone doesn't shut off," he says smiling.
He plans to shadow experienced Washington pedicabs until heading out on his own Sunday and Monday. But like the other cyclists who came in for the inauguration, Kowalczyk says getting lost and meeting new people is what will make this experience special.
"We figured it would be a cool roadtrip," he says of the decision to come down this weekend. "The four of us just packed into the car, sleeping head to foot in the van, and just hung out...It's an adventure."
D.C. native Jennifer Kramer is working her first inauguration. She has been living in Seattle for the last several years and is excited about witnessing history. As a child, she says she took these types of events for granted.
"When there are events that people are happy to be at, being able to enhance that experience is always nice," she says, adding that sporting events can be a mixed bag when half of the crowd is upset because their team lost.
Kramer also happens to be the only woman riding with National Pedicabs, and is therefore making a bit of her own history.
"I get a lot of families who won't approach a male driver, but they will approach me," she says. "Especially being friendly and outgoing, it can really be disarming for people."
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