[messengers] NIU assistant professor delivers insight on bike messengers

Date: 13 Sep 2011 13:20:29 +0200
From: Joe Hendry <messvilleto@xxxxxxxxx>


NIU assistant professor delivers insight on bike messengers


Northern Star, September 13, 2011
 
By Chelsey Boutan
 
When assistant professor of sociology Jeff Kidder first rode
his bike down New York City's
streets, he was afraid.
 
 
Angry commuters, red lights, traffic, one-way streets -
Kidder struggled to weave through the urban maze so he could pick up an
application at a bike messenger company.
"It's sort of like being in the middle of an aluminum Grand Canyon," Kidder said. "It feels very
frightening."
 
 
Kidder's interest in this subculture grew as he worked as a
bike messenger for his doctoral research, which became the foundation for his
recently published book, "Urban Flow: Bike Messengers and the City."
 
 
"A bike messenger's self identity is really wrapped up
in their work, and I find that very interesting," Kidder said. "My
book tries to unpack what about this job allows that to happen."
 
 
For more than three years, Kidder worked as a bike messenger
in New York City, Seattle and San Diego.
Kidder said having direct experience with the group's activities is the best
way to study a subculture.
 
 
"Jeff's research shows that participant observation is
much, much more than simply describing the experiences and culture of persons
in a unique setting," said Kirk Miller, department chair and associate
professor of sociology.
By taking this approach, Kidder experienced the freedom but
also the dangers of being a bike messenger. Kidder recalled a close call he had
while he was working in New York City.
 
 
"I was riding during a blizzard, and on my way home, I
slipped and swerved in front of a car that hit me head on," Kidder said.
"I don't know how, but I didn't get hurt at all."
Even though this occupation can be physically and
psychologically demanding, Kidder said solving the problem of getting through
traffic quickly to deliver a package allows for spontaneity and creativity that
is structured out of most jobs.
 
 
"For many of us, work is just a means to a paycheck so
that we can realize our true selves somewhere else," said Kidder.
"[Bike messengers] show us that being an active participant in the
decisions we make throughout the day helps make what we do seem like it
matters."
 
 
Kenton Hoppas, owner of a Aloha Bicycle Courier, a bicycle
messenger company in San Diego,
said Kidder's book encapsulates the lifestyle well.
 
 
"I felt proud to be a bike messenger when I was reading
his book," Hoppas said. "He accurately wrote about everything that a
bike messenger feels."

 
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