Bike taxi drivers get a workout on gamedays

Sunday, September 26, 2010 | 5:45 p.m. CDT; updated 6:06 p.m. CDT, Sunday, September 26, 2010

COLUMBIA — Water bottle? Check.

Tennis shoes? Laced and tied.

Perched on their bicycles, Anna and Ben Zack appeared ready for a good workout. Dressed in comfortable shorts and T-shirts, the husband-and-wife team was about to break a sweat, but their workout was not for pleasure.

Behind each of their bikes was a cart meant to seat two people. 

Just a few hours before Saturday’s football game against Miami (Ohio), the Zacks reported to work as the drivers of two of Shakespeare’s Pizza’s bike taxis. This season, the couple has made game days a family business, and they enjoy their duties of giving kids short rides around Memorial Stadium or shuttling fans to and from the field.

“I’m a bike nerd, and this is kind of a dream job,” Ben Zack said.

Ben Zack has been working as a bike taxi driver for about a year, and he recruited his wife at the beginning of the fall to help out, especially on game days. During games, they cover a radius that stretches from Greektown to College Avenue and from downtown to just south of Memorial Stadium.

On Saturday, the pair began working mid-morning for the 1 p.m. game, and they said that they usually work before kickoff and during the first half. For the remainder of the game they take a break before returning to the stadium for another post-game tour of duty. They each give about 20 to 30 rides on a game day.

“We get a lot of drunk people towards the end of the game,” Anna Zack said. “People get drunker and drunker, and then they start saying funny things. That’s a lot of the entertainment.”

Not only do the tailgate-happy fans tell the couple funny stories, they also sometimes get a little too frisky. Wincing, Ben Zack said that he recently had a passenger tickle him. Although his wife laughed as he recounted the tale, Ben Zack seemed less than pleased.

Despite these occasional nuisances, the Zacks said the job is incredibly enjoyable. They make the same wages as a server at Shakespeare’s, but they don’t have to work on a strict schedule. As long as the carts are back at the pizza joint downtown by the time the restaurant closes — which is listed on the website as “past your bedtime” — the Zacks can work as many or few hours as they please.

“We do it until either we get tired or people stop wanting rides,” Anna Zack said.

Getting tired is less of a threat than one might imagine, though. Fiddling with the gear shifter on her handlebars, Anna Zack said that the bikes have very low gear settings, which come in incredibly handy when she’s working her way up the hill from the Reactor Field parking lot to the stadium. Even so, she definitely likes the active nature of the job.

“It’s like getting paid to have a gym membership,” she said.

The most difficult moments come when people insist on piling on top of one another in the taxis. Because the rides are free, the taxis are in high-demand, and Anna Zack has faced situations in which she’s had too many people stacked in the two-seater cart, a pile of black and gold bouncing along behind her as she tests the limits of her cycling strength.

“My limit — I don’t like to do it, but I’ve done five people in here,” she said. “They just sit on top of each other.”

Despite these more difficult rides and the throngs of tailgaters surrounding Memorial Stadium, Ben Zack said that his time spent around the stadium is some of the easiest he spends on the job.

“Game days are usually more calm, actually,” he said. “There’s a lot of adults who are putting their 10-year-old kids on the bike to ride around just for fun.”

Although the Zacks don’t have much time to relax during the games, they do manage to keep on top of the score. Ben Zack steals looks at the big screen when he can see it, or he can tell how the game is going from the roar of the crowd. But not attending the game doesn’t bother the Zacks. Along with the ushers, band and concession workers, the Zacks see Saturdays as just another workday, albeit a somewhat sweaty one.

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