Re: [messengers] Bike Messenger: A Job and A Way of Life

Date: 21 Jul 2010 01:42:51 +0200
From: "andy duncan" <mcbstrd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx>

   ... veterans always have much more sensible things to say - that's why
   we are still here!
   even so, the usual stereotypes prevail in the mix of bad journalism and
   professional inexperience
   --- dannykdc@xxxxxxxxx wrote:
   From: Danny Koniowsky <dannykdc@xxxxxxxxx>
   To: mcbstrd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx
   Cc: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>, messengers@xxxxxxxxx
   Subject: Re: [messengers] Bike Messenger: A Job and A Way of Life
   Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2010 10:47:32 -0400
   Those are also just things that that rookie dude in the article said.
   The more veteran riders in the article had much smarter things to say
   than the dude whose bit hit 8 times in his 1 year working as a
   messenger, and talks about "if you‚re going to last long-term it‚s
   because you love the lifestyle"... hopefully he will get it one day.
   On Tue, Jul 20, 2010 at 10:38 AM, andy duncan
   <[1]mcbstrd@xxxxxxxxxxxxx> wrote:

     when reading articles like this I often feel that a North American
     journalist should write about being a messenger in european
     provincial cities .... my work is not for example in the least bit
     like a video game, and I am not prepared to mow down a row of
     pedestrians just to get the job done two seconds sooner ....
     my ten eurocents
     love and peace,
     --- [2]messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx wrote:
     From: Joe Hendry <[3]messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>
     To: Messenger list <[4]messengers@xxxxxxxxx>
     Subject: [messengers] Bike Messenger: A Job and A Way of Life
     Date: Tue, 20 Jul 2010 06:19:21 -0700 (PDT)

     Bike Messenger: A Job and A Way of Life
     Chicago Talks, July 20, 2010

     By Katy Nielsen
     They blaze through red lights, skid around pedestrians and nearly
     collide with oncoming traffic. Sergio Rodriguez, a criminal defense
     attorney from Chicago called them ‚a nuisance.‚

     Who are they: Urban bike messengers.

     ‚What these people don‚t know is that the bicycle is more than a
     sport and more than a job. . . the bicycle is a philosophy, a way of
     life,‚ explains Chicago bike messenger Travis Hugh Culley, author of
     The Immortal Class. His book reveals the art of bike messaging
     through his firsthand account, shedding light on a misunderstood

     Among Chicago‚s 200 bike messengers, there is a sense of pride in
     what they do. Mike Malone, 27, has worked two years as a bike
     messenger in Chicago, ‚it‚s partially my love of biking;‚ he said,
     ‚but it‚s also just the freedom of not having someone look over my

     On a typical day, the messenger will get a chirp from his boss on
     his Nextel with information about where to pickup and drop-off a
     package; he scribbles down or memorizes that information and takes
     to the street.

     So what exactly are bike messengers carrying? For the most part,
     they deliver architectural blueprints, court documents, camera parts
     and subcontracts. Messengers can carry up to six or more packages at
     one time.

     They also buy their own gear and carry it with them all day. A
     messenger‚s equipment in addition to his bike includes a
     walkie-talkie, tire pump, spare tire, levers to take a tire off,
     bike lock and a collection of tools.

     As soon as the messenger receives orders from dispatch, the focus
     becomes moving the package from point A, to point B as fast as

     ‚It‚s like being in a videogame all day.  That‚s why people love the
     job, because you‚re getting paid to race,‚ explains Grant Fator, 27,
     a messenger who has worked in Chicago for a year and messaged in
     Austin for six months.

     Messengers are sprinters; getting on and off their bikes as fast as
     they can and locking them up in three seconds or less. Most runs are
     a mile and a half, and to put that into perspective, the distance
     from 1200 South Michigan to 1200 North Michigan is about three
     miles. Timing is everything, so messengers have to plan their routes

     Nico Deportago-Cabrera, 26, a veteran bike messenger explained that
     ‚with time you learn how to be more efficient.‚ A good messenger
     will make about 30 runs and earn about $100 a day. That is one a
     good day, Deportago-Cabrera said.

     ‚They‚re going to pay you more the faster you get to a place, the
     more red lights you run. I have literally seen messengers plow
     pedestrians down; I have seen messengers try to gun the red light
     and get smashed by a bus,‚ Fator said.

     This is not a job for the fainthearted.

     ‚In order to do the job that‚s required of you, you have to be
     willing to break the law all day long,‚ said Chris Horner, 27, who
     has worked as a messenger for 2 years, adding, ‚you basically have
     to be fearless.‚

     Messengers are expected to know how to get around the city and where
     to take packages.

     ‚When you hear, ‚take it to 233 S. Wacker,‚ if you take [that
     package] in 233 S. Wacker, security guards will literally come up
     and ask if you‚re a bike messenger and tell you to go around the
     back,‚ said Fator.

     In order to avoid encounters with security, messengers must learn
     how to be unseen. This is one of many unwritten rules in this line
     of work.

     At lunchtime, messengers congregate at the Thompson Center, mostly
     because of the cheap food, public bathrooms, protective awnings and
     because its central location. On nice days, it is a place where
     messengers do bike tricks outside.

     At the end of the day, each messenger turns in a manifest, a record
     of when and who signed for each package. This is how a messenger is
     paid. They bike home and, because messengers are often roommates,
     swap stories over beers and cigarettes before going to bed.

     ‚In general as a bike messenger if you‚re going to last long-term
     it‚s because you love the lifestyle,‚ explains Fator. ‚When you‚re
     working from 8 a.m. to 6 p.m. six days-a-week it pretty much
     envelopes your life. You are just dead tired all the time, but you
     are doing great work. You‚re living that lifestyle all the time so
     you have to love it because you‚re not making that much money doing

     ‚When you‚re riding as much as we do you start to use all five
     senses to get around the traffic. It‚s really impossible to
     explain,‚ said Malone, ‚another messenger, Josh Corby said ‚it‚s
     kind of like watching a river flow over some rocks you can‚t pick
     out the path the river takes it just flows around and through and
     just gets past the rocks‚.‚

     Deportago-Cabrera said: There‚s a rhythm that goes with [messaging].
     You feel like you‚re a part of this organism that is the city. It‚s
     like you‚re delivering oxygen to different parts of this body.
     You‚re an insignificant part of it but you‚re essential to it.

     The job of bike messaging, when described by messengers, is an art
     form. It is something not everyone can do and few people master.

     Messengers describe weaving through traffic like following a line
     through the city.

     ‚There‚s no stopping, that‚s why guys ride without brakes. You just
     want to keep going around things and through things. You don‚t want
     to stop,‚ Fator said.

     ‚It‚s when the pedestrians do the deer-in-the-headlights thing that
     we run into trouble,‚ said Fator. ‚If no one ever saw bike
     messengers and they just kept walking, we would be an inch away from
     you but we would be fine.‚

     The need for speed extends past the messenger‚s workday into the
     nightlife. ‚Alleycat‚ races are high-speed scavenger hunts for
     bikers. Racers show up to a place at a certain time, pay a few bucks
     to the organizer, and right before they get the signal to go, each
     racer is given a manifest with a list of checkpoints.

     At each checkpoint there is someone waiting to sign off. The first
     one to complete their manifest wins.

     ‚Basically you‚re doing your job afterhours and trying to be the
     fast guy,‚ said Fator.

     Deportago-Cabrera was the 2009 Cycle Currier Champion, and he has
     competed in cities all over the world, taking him as far as Tokyo.

     ‚It really got me amped on my job,‚ said Deportago-Cabrera of
     alleycat races.

     For messengers, street credit means everything. That credit comes
     from surviving the winter in Chicago as a messenger and winning
     alleycat races.

     The lifestyle of a messenger is high-risk. Injuries are part of the
     job. Of 113 Boston bicycle messengers who responded to a
     self-administered Harvard survey 90% reported injuries on the job;
     however, only 55% of those injured sought medical attention. In
     total, there were 25,000 ‚close calls‚ reported by the messengers
     over the course of their job experience.

     Fator, like many messengers, does not have health insurance.
     Messengers can buy liability insurance through their companies, but
     it does not cover hospital stays.

     ‚If any insurance stuff needs to be taken care of and it gets sent
     to your dispatch; 8 times out of 10 you lose your job over it,‚ said

     When messengers get into accidents, they try to escape that
     situation as fast as they can. Fator expressed more concern about
     his bike braking than his body. He has had eight collisions with
     cars, and has been ‚doored‚ (hit by a car door) three times.

     ‚Whenever [messengers] heal they‚re out there doing the same thing
     because it‚s a passion, it‚s an adrenaline thing,‚ said Fator.

     Of course, messengers know there is a risk. For many of them that is
     part of the job‚s appeal.

     Travis Hugh Culley said this his book The Immortal Class:
     Unforeseeable problems can surface, threatening serious injury,
     extreme fatigue, and frustration. But if a biker can keep a good
     outlook in the face of wrong addresses, rude recipients, flat tires,
     dying radio batteries, unruly cops, hotheaded security guards, and
     injured friends, he can become indispensable to a company.

     People become messengers for different reasons, but they all share
     the passion for riding their bikes through a beautiful, living,
     breathing city. As Malone said, ‚I‚ve found something that I love to
     do and can make a living at it. At the end of the day, it makes me
     happy. At the end of the day I feel satisfied that I‚ve done my job.
     To me, that‚s all that matters.‚

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