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

Date: 21 Jul 2010 22:12:18 +0200
From: joshua klarer <yartheband@xxxxxxxxx>

Does anyone remember the day Travis came back into the Service First office 
after not working for the past year or so and getting Tom to give him a radio to 
play "messenger" while being taped for the Oprah show? That was rich! Oh, what 
about all those time he would be giving guided "working" tours of lower 
Mich/Wack to random people while pretending to be at work? Oh & what about that 
stuff that Matt said? I wonder if he still puts on the same messenger costume 
when he is interviewed? Cause that thing is like, soooo, the 1999 messenger 
look. I guess it's just fun to pretend sometimes. I'm just teasing, we all thank 
him very much for "his" wonderful stories and insights.


----- Original Message ----
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>
To: Messenger list <messengers@xxxxxxxxx>
Sent: Tue, July 20, 2010 6:19:21 AM
Subject: [messengers] Bike Messenger: A Job and A Way of Life

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 group.
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 shoulder.”
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 possible.
“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 carefully.
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 
“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 it.”
“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 
“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 
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 
“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 Fator.
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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