From the October, 2017 issue
At the entrance to his high-ceilinged garage on S. Fourth Ave., Kevin Spangler greets me with a big smile. He's six-foot-five with shoulder-length brown hair, an angular face dominated by intense brown eyes, and a body that's all muscle. The garage is equally striking--it's stuffed with fourteen bicycle pedicabs, shelves filled with tools and books, and a Buddhist shrine.
Spangler reached this place, he says, "through lots of prayer and meditation." For most of his life, "I was pretty deep, dark, and down: [using] crack, heroin, every drug; selling drugs. I couldn't get a regular job because I've been in and out of jail."
His most recent arrest was in 2015 in Lenawee County. It was his "fifth DUI and my third resisting arrest. But I found out I was having a kid, and I made the decision to never get in trouble again.
"I'm a Buddhist, and I started praying for the judge, the police officers, my public defender, my probation officer, everybody to do with my case."
He served six months and got out in time to see his son, Romando, born. Then he moved ahead on the plan he made in jail, "a motivational model on how to stay in a positive mind-set."
In February 2016, he bought a single pedicab. He rode it around town, offering rides for whatever his passengers chose to give. In April, Jeff Kosmyna bought a second bike and became a partner in Boober Tours.
A year and a half later, Spangler is just one of about thirty drivers, most of whom also are in recovery. "The insurance company I have, they said they haven't seen somebody grow this fast," he says proudly.
"I was born May 27, 1982 in Ypsilanti," Spangler says. "Raised in Canton and moved in '89 to Manchester."
School was miserable. Diagnosed early with ADD, he took medicines that left him depressed. He "wasn't a troublemaker," he says, but after he graduated and joined the Navy, he turned
to street drugs.
That led to his first jail sentence: "I spent a year in military prison. It's not as bad as the county jails, but the fights are more dangerous when you have military training." Discharged after serving his time, he was "in and out of jail traveling around the country. I did one year, six months, another year, six months, three months, two months. It all adds up."
Though his ADD makes reading difficult, "in jail, I always read as much books as I possibly could on self-improvement, psychology, family psychology. My mother, every time I went to jail, she would send me Awaken the Giant Within by Anthony Robbins."
Spangler was already physically gigantic. "When I went to jail the last time, I weighed 300 pounds, and I was fatter than muscle. So, I developed some neural associative conditioning: writing one hundred reasons why drugs, alcohol, and cigarettes are bad and one hundred reasons that your life is going to gain" from giving them up.
He and Romando's mother had divorced because of his drug dealing, so after his release, he spent three months in the Delonis Center. He washed dishes and waited tables, helped fix up a house, and sold Groundcover News to earn the money to buy his first pedicab.
Spangler says a typical daytime ride is "from one side [of downtown] to the next. We give art tours and campus tours." Most of Boober's runs, though, are late at night, shuttling partiers between downtown bars. "People know they can give us a call at the beginning of the night and they don't have to get behind the wheel," he says.
At the end of each shift, the drivers "come back and tell me the donations they made," Spangler explains. Boober keeps 30 percent, but "I cap it out at $50--some nights, they'll make over $300." He hires people "who don't have a driver's license [or] who have a criminal record and people with social disorders that normally can't get jobs," Spangler says. "But if they're safe on the cabs, then I don't have to worry. I will train them."
"He's filling a really important niche," says Groundcover News publisher Susan Beckett. "One of the deficiencies in our area is work for people who can't adhere to a regular schedule for whatever reason."
As Spangler takes a phone call, I talk with driver Devon Schiller. Boober is "the best job I've ever had," Schiller says. "I like the freedom. I like being outside and meeting everybody and interacting with everybody: families, students, drunks, and homeless people." Schiller works about twenty-five hours weekly, mostly between midnight and 3 a.m., and brings in about $150 a night.
Spangler says some passengers take advantage of the service and make no donation at all. During the day, "that's fine--I don't mind giving free rides out. But at two o'clock in the morning, I would say it's almost disrespectful."
He figures the company now brings in an average of $3,000 a month. "Just the overhead, not including the maintenance, is $2,400. But I get also money through advertising, and that helps."
United Way of Washtenaw County has "exclusive advertising for two years on one of his cabs," says development director Deb Bratkovich. "We're debuting that vehicle for our kickoff for our annual campaign, when our two [campaign] chairs will arrive in the cab driven by Kevin." Spangler pursued the Bank of Ann Arbor "for a whole year" before they decided to take a couple of cabs. "Now they do a lot of advertising."
"We see him around Sonic Lunch," says Janice Ortbring, the bank's marketing director, and decided it was a "great way to promote the bank." President Tim Marshall says that when their ads went up on the pedicabs, "I got calls that they were everywhere within a week."
On the whiteboard above Spangler's shrine is scrawled "Chant for Renee Bush," the Ann Arbor police lieutenant he works with. "My goal is to pray for people that can control us," Spangler explains. "All the police love us. They've complimented us saying that--I don't know if it's true or not--but they feel that there's less DUIs" since Boober started.
What's with the name? "Boober means 'best boyfriend in the world' in urban slang," he explains. But for now, he's not in or seeking a relationship: "I don't have time. Maybe seven years from now. I want to be a good father to my son." Though they live apart, "I see him every day. I can't afford to make any poor decisions."
[Originally published in October, 2017.]
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