The Best and Worst of Bike Messengering – 2008 Jan21


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The Best and Worst of Bike Messengering – 2008

If there’s one thing I learned from watching 72 straight hours of VH1 countdowns over the holiday vacation, it’s that people love numbered lists. And seeing as how the esteemed editor of this fine website has flatly refused to run my steamy Rachel Maddow fanfic (despite the bike connection involvement of a sexy vintage tandem), or any of my tentative forays into the “steampunk erotica” genre, I guess I should give the people what they allegedly want and “play the hits”, so to speak. Yes, I’m tempted to use this space to count down the Top 100 VH1 countdowns, but what I will do instead is relate my own less-meta thoughts and feelings regarding the past year in bike messengering. Yes, bike messengering. As far as I know, that’s an arena that VH1 hasn’t ventured to explore yet… although I’m sure they’ll get to it eventually, somewhere between Top 40 Steampunk Erotica Videos and 100 Crunkest Moments of the 2008 Election Season. I aim to beat them to the punch. Thus, without placing further demands on your withered, pathetic attention spans, here it is—my personal list of the BEST AND WORST IN BIKE MESSENGERING 2008.

First, the good news. The Best of 2008:

Popping up all over downtown Portland, these magical timing devices indicate how many seconds you have left to get through the intersection before the light turns red, making the navigational decision-making process that much easier. Gone are the days when you had to have sharp reflexes—now there’s plenty of time to pre-plan. Should you throw down the hammer, or launch into that weird fixed-gear bird walk for a block or so? Perhaps a crowd-rousing skid is in order? Countdown crosswalks are the ultimate in track bike enablers–even my mom is rocking a sweet brakeless set-up!

No, this best-selling messenger erotica zine hasn’t actually been released yet, but rest assured that once we work through our community-wide awkwardness and get the ball rolling, it will be AMAZING. After all, the quality of the pun in the title of the project generally determines our commitment to actually seeing the project realized, which would explain pretty much every activity that Dawn Riddle and I have ever engaged in together. So far I’ve written this much: “You’ve probably never thought about having sex with a bike messenger… but chances are, a bike messenger has thought about having sex with you,” before the whole thing just dissolves into a particularly weird Penthouse Forum letter. It needs work, but look for it in 2009.

10-9 Day, AKA October 9th, AKA Messenger Appreciation Day, AKA Yom Kippur, is the one day of the year that we put aside our baffling internal prejudices and all get drunk together at the same bar. Thanks go to the Half and Half for the free coffee, and to the XV for putting up with us!

Some could convincingly argue that this was the WORST thing to happen all year, since the potential for actually making any money during Portland’s series of epic storms ranged from slim to none, but I had the TIME OF MY LIFE. Empty streets, downtown ghost town, roving around drunkenly in a traveling band of snow warriors, breaking out cyclocross bikes and lobster gloves, main-lining hot chocolate—it was pretty hard to heed News Channel 8’s panicky warnings that Stormageddon: Arctic Blast represented an icy harbinger of End Days. Yes, Portland’s disturbing lack of weather-removal infrastructure was a sweeping disappointment, but…I…just…like making snow angels.

And I didn’t get hit by a car even once! A banner year!

And now, the less-good news. The Worst of 2008:

This disconcerting new trend is taking hold of receptionist desks everywhere, and I suggest we curtail its inexplicable spread before I lose what little is left of my on-the-job sanity. Glassy, decorative rocks are an invasive species in the desktop dish world, displacing precious Hershey products from their native corporate habitat and offering up little nutritional or aesthetic value in return. The worst part about this increasingly widespread phenomenon is that I’m usually elbow-deep into the dish before I’ve discovered the bait-and-switch, already having committed my entire body and mind towards the singular purpose of procuring various Fun Sizes. Suddenly, an unexpected handful of decorative rocks forces me to launch into a weird Gollum impersonation, like I was just in the mood to awkwardly fondle something precious and shiny. Glass rocks have no place in the office environment!

No all-women’s alleycat. No high-concept race themed on a dystopian science fiction movie from the ‘70’s. No Halloween Zombie Massacre. No nothin’!


Ubiquitous construction has left behind a convoluted grid of deadly tracks on nearly every road in downtown Portland. Public transportation mayhem is still forthcoming, but until the new routes are engaged, we’re left with the opportunity to slide out on wet, inescapable tracks at nearly every turn. My grievances with this nightmarish situation are manifold, but it all boils down to this: a human being should have the inalienable right to bicycle in a full-body banana costume without worrying that a wayward pile of track-obscuring leaves could spell instant disaster. Hey, as long as they’re paving downtown with metal, why not throw in a few cattle guards for good measure?

Obviously the sit-lie ordinance damages the homeless in more serious ways than it affects bike messengers, but I have to mention it here in a general protest on behalf of ALL loitering citizens of Portland. What the hell were they thinking when they voted to pass this bullshit? Do they really want to live in a world where you can’t sit on the ground for 20 seconds without being hustled along by some nutless, uniformed asshole on a Segway? Jesus, didn’t anyone read Fahrenheit 451 in 6th grade?? Additionally, I’m curious to know why UPS and DHL delivery drivers are allowed to use tables and chairs in downtown building lobbies that are forbidden to bike messengers on the grounds that “bike messengers aren’t employed inside the premises”. I’m also curious to know why these policies are ONLY enforced on extremely cold/rainy/sleety days, and why I’m “not allowed to dance through the lobby” at 1120 NW Couch, nor sit in the leather chairs at 222 SW Columbia. As I’m not packing a shiv or a shank (and have thus far only used my pointy incisors for good and not evil), I don’t believe that “messengers could be carrying something sharp that might puncture the leather” is a good enough reason to eject me forcibly from the building for having the audacity to sit down in a chair. I will continue to dance in your elevators until these discriminatory policies have been lifted!

Speaking of dancing, when one of our own drunkenly punched out a Pedi-Cab driver before inexplicably trying to escape with said driver’s hulking passenger vehicle, the threat of interspecies warfare between the previously-peaceful Bike Messenger and Pedi-Cab communities loomed large on the downtown horizon. Rarely had two such well-matched adversaries been so abruptly thrown together into unexpected conflict. With this one irreversible, preemptive attack, the streets of downtown Portland teetered on the edge of an all-out turf war—the kind of territorial death match that can only be settled in one way—a DANCE-OFF. And like most Dance-offs, the Messengers vs. Pedi-Cabbers Dance-off would be about more than just hand-clapping, foot-stomping, or the occasional vigorous pop-and-lock. It would be a necessary proving grounds to finally settle for once and for all the age-old debate that’s kept a palpable tension afire between bitter archrivals—WHICH MINIMUM WAGE BIKE INDUSTRY REIGNS SUPREME THROUGHOUT THE MEAN STREETS OF DOWNTOWN PORTLAND?? I could picture the confrontation taking place on a fateful, undisclosed afternoon at the Bank Tower Plaza, as weeks of earnest choreographing coalesce into a fiery showdown fueled by righteous indignation. I’m not saying I supported our casting of the first stone, but as a proud member of the Portland United Messenger Association (and a proficient Roger Rabbiter), I was ready to stand up and protect my own. THOSE PEDI-CABBERS WILL NEVER TAKE OUR FREEDOM!
…Unfortunately, though, the charges were abruptly dropped and the Dance-Off didn’t happen. It remains one of those weird things that I talk about a lot and never actually follow through on, probably because I never came up with a good pun to encapsulate all that cross-community turmoil and strife. Oh well, another missed Dance-Off opportunity—better luck in 2009?

1. Actually, on second thought, THE ECONOMY was the Worst in Bike Messengering 2008. But who wants to hear about that?