To some the idea of spending all day riding your bike and getting paid for it would be a dream come true.
But factor in the low pay, the danger and the weather and it takes a unique bunch of people to stick to a bike messenger job.
Getting paid to ride…
I’ve had a lot of downtime this past 12 months. As you’ll have gleaned from earlier posts I’ve not had much time on my bike this year, but I haven’t been completely adrift from the world of cycling. Instead, I have been absorbing myself in the cultural side; of hearing and reading about people riding theirs. Lately I’ve become fascinated by bike messengers.
People have been delivering packages by bicycle for almost as long as the bicycle (in its current form) has been around. It’s a dangerous, exhausting profession that generally pays really, really badly.
It is a profession that generally appeals to those who need to be outside; who hate the prospect of seeing out their years behind a desk, gaining weight and slowly ceasing up. As someone who seems to be seeing out his years behind a desk, gaining weight and slowly ceasing up, this probably explains the attraction.
However, it often captures those who have found themselves at the bottom of the economic ladder for whatever reason and becoming a bike messenger is one of the few options left.
Murder of Couriers tells the story of a group of messengers plying their trade in Vancouver. Many of the people featured simply fell into the trade, arriving in the city with seemingly no other options, but found the apparent benefits difficult to escape from –the joy of riding their bike all day; the social side where they would take part in bike polo, alleycat races and drink away much of their disposable income long into the early hours, before returning to work straight after with a raging hangover.
It’s an excellent documentary, very well shot and featuring a bunch of very likeable characters who you would hope would welcome you into their circle –after you’ve done a few winters, of course.
Other messenger media…
If you fancy following me down this rabbit hole, there’s a couple of movies you may like:
- Quicksilver – referenced in Murder of Couriers, this is the unlikely story of a stock broker losing everything and becoming a courier. It stars Kevin Bacon; Laurence Fishburne and Jami Gertz.
- Premium Rush – a more modern take on the messenger scene. Here Joseph Gordon-Levitt decides to drop out of law school to become a bike messenger. Unfortunately he takes on a job that sees him chased across Manhattan by a corrupt cop, Michael Shannon.
If reading is more your thing, I can highly recommend two books.
- What goes around – Emily Chappell – You may remember Emily from her talk at Little Man Coffee a year or so ago. This is the story of her time as a bike messenger in London, with a particular focus on the ups and downs of her own life set against the backdrop of the messenger scene before, heading on a trip around the world.
- Messengers – Julian Sayarer – Another London bike messenger story, although this takes place after Julian has circumnavigated the globe by bicycle in record time. He returns to the company he worked for before his travels at a time when the City was in turmoil; when banks were folding; when messenger work was starting to dry up and everything was going pear shaped. Whilst there is some personal trials and tribulations within these pages, it’s hard to escape the seething resentment aimed squarely at the opulence of London’s elite.
One thing that sets bicycles apart from other forms of transport is that there is rarely a dull moment. You may ride the same route over and over, but being exposed to an ever-changing and unpredictable world means that you’ll probably never get to the end of your journey wondering how you got there.
Our minds have a way of discarding useless duplication –the boring memories of doing the same thing over and over; the mundane or the unpleasant. They say that life is short, but perhaps that is just because many of us arrive at a certain age, glance at the mirror and wonder where the time went. Our minds having filed away only the novel or remarkable events in our lives and discarded the rest.
Messengers may not be winning in the financial stakes, but if Murder of Couriers is anything to go by, they may be winning in the only way that really matters.