Editor's Note: On June 21, Newsday staff spent the day chronicling "A Day in the Life of Long Island" through photos, videos and social media posts. As a follow-up to the project, we are spending the day with people all over Long Island to learn about the responsibilities, experiences and challenges that come with an average day. If you'd like us to check out what your day on Long Island is like, email firstname.lastname@example.org.
Ed McGill is a driver, a DJ, a tour guide and a beer authority -- all at the same time.
Every Saturday, two or three times a day, he hoists himself up onto a huge cycle and leads lively Long Islanders to the bars and breweries of Riverhead.
McGill wears many hats, including one that says “Brew Crew Cycles.” Founded in 2014, the business offers tours of local beer spots, including Long Ireland Beer Company, The Birchwood of Polish Town, and Crooked Ladder Brewing Company.
The twist? Getting to each place requires pedaling a cycle built for 14 riders.
The tours are held from April through November, rain or shine, but McGill noted, “There’s no snow tires on the thing! We can’t go that far. But, it’s always beer-drinking weather.”
McGill, 37, has been a driver for Brew Crew Cycles for two seasons. When he's not leading tours, he works full time as a social worker. As he boarded his cycle for a tour on a recent Saturday, he went over the rules of the road with the passengers: a gaggle of excited cousins from different parts of Long Island and Pennsylvania sporting matching "Cousins Drinking Squad" T-shirts, and a married couple celebrating a birthday.
“I want to let them enjoy themselves,” said McGill, a resident of Center Moriches. “I don’t want to be pestering. If they’re friendly and they’re inviting me to talk to them, that’s great too, but they’re here to enjoy the experience with one another, and I’m just here to orchestrate it and make sure it all goes well.”
McGill told the group about the history of each bar on the itinerary, sprinkling in a handful of fun facts, and made sure everyone was ready to go. Then, amid cheers and playful shouts, the bike started moving.
In addition to steering, McGill operates a big gear shift and a noisy horn. The power of the cycle, however, solely comes from the pedalers. There are two rows facing each other and eight seats with pedals (out of 14 seats total) with a bench in the back. McGill will tell the cyclers to add resistance when they’re approaching a turn or a hill, and holds out his hand to signal a stop once they’ve arrived at their destination.
Along the way, McGill allowed one of the riders to plug his phone into the speakers to play music. He usually enjoys blasting one of his own Spotify playlists, but lets the rider handle the tunes for the day. The second song to come on -- Michael Jackson's "Beat It" -- had everyone singing and dancing in place, driver included.
As he pulled into the first stop -- Long Ireland Beer Company -- he reminded the group that they’d have a half-hour inside. He swapped out the Long Ireland Beer Company menus on each seat for a set of Birchwood menus, to coincide with the next stop.
McGill then sat down on the cycle as the wind picked up, and remembered a day with similar weather last year where he found himself running up and down the streets of Riverhead.
“I was doing a tour and we were actually coming down Pulaski Street, headed over to Long Ireland, and a young lady had in her back pocket -- don’t ask me why -- $700 in $20 bills,” he remembered with a laugh. “It flew out of her back pocket as we were going down the road, and she didn’t realize it until we got here.”
McGill, with the help of three or four other people, searched for the cash on main roads and side streets. They ultimately found all but about $20 or $40. “She was so thankful,” he said.
Of course, the job comes with other challenges: Mother Nature’s mood swings, navigating Main Street traffic, and making sure everyone is acting safely and appropriately throughout the two-and-a-half hour journey. But overall, McGill says the job is all about forming relationships with the consumers and employees at each bar and brewery.
“I try to be a customer at each one of them when I’m not working, because I’m thankful,” he said. “I want to give them my patronage because when I come in even on my off-hours, they know that I’m from Brew Crew Cycles because you build a relationship.”
Throughout the day, McGill was approached by Brew Crew Cyclers from different tours and warmly greeted by bartenders at each stop. On the way to Birchwood, passersby waved as he drove past, to which he gleefully honked the cycle’s horn.
By the time the group reached the last stop -- Crooked Ladder -- the cyclers had doubled in volume and were eager to pose for photos with McGill. He remained upbeat and all smiles, bonding with the cyclers over the drinks they selected. Perhaps not a job requirement -- but a definite plus -- McGill loves beer, too.
"I’ve been getting into craft beer over the last couple of years," he said. "It’s cool to see this happening in Riverhead. There’s been a craft beer explosion all over the country, on Long Island I want to say it was ahead of the game, going back over the last decade or so... It’s cool to embrace it, it’s cool to see it happening in a quaint little town like Riverhead that has so much history in and of itself."
The tour concluded back at Brew Crew's headquarters on Pulaski Street, nearly three hours later. As soon as the cycle screeched to a halt, a chant of “Ed! Ed! Ed!” broke out among the group. McGill laughed and thanked the riders for coming, retrieving everyone’s belongings from the cycle’s center aisle. Some folks handed him cash tips as they exited.
“I probably should have been doing this all my life, but I haven’t been,” McGill said with a smile, later adding, “I wish I could do something like this seven days a week.”