Denver's Bike Messengers Are a Union Divided
Bike messengers ride fast and they ride alone, which is why an effort to organize them has hit the skids.
By Adam Cayton-Holland
Denver Westworld, October 11, 2007
House of J-Bone, July
"I'm Father Time," Jason Abernethy says with a crooked smile. "Others can talk to you about the bike-messenger scene, I suppose, but they sent you over here because I have an increased vision of bike messengers and time."
Seated in his cramped Capitol Hill apartment, surrounded by stacks of papers and magazines, art pieces that he refers to as "sculptures," and plates and platters of silver and gold to be melted down in the event of economic collapse, Abernethy, aka J-Bone, does indeed seem to have an augmented mastery of time. For starters, there's his appearance. J-Bone is 56 now — an old man, he says — but he is wiry thin and looks fifteen years younger, particularly when you take into account the flaming red Mohawk, Mad Max shin guards and funky shorts and T-shirts that make up his messenger regalia.
"Being a bike messenger keeps you healthy," he says. "You quit riding, you turn into an old troll."
And then, of course, there's the time machine.
"I'll read out some tiny things to connect you to where we're at," J-Bone says, unearthing an eighty-plus-page book he's written, a meticulous tome full of ornate drawings, elaborate calligraphy and instructions in different languages explaining how to build and operate a time machine — or, as he calls it, a KIBX machine. "'But we're going back to the beginning and essences of time itself and what it is,'" he reads. "'As time itself being subject to life, it cannot be pre-cast into a living object. Time can only be cast in real physical form, as life itself is neither subjective nor objective.'"
He pauses. "It's literally scary what you can do with a time machine if you really know how to use it," he says.
For J-Bone, a self-proclaimed conceptual artist, all of it is connected: the KIBX machine; the denim vest hanging on the wall, carefully outfitted with thousands of safety pins; the interview taking place in his living room. It's all part of the canvas of his life, another art piece adorning and documenting his existence.
But of all the "sculptures" J-Bone has molded in his time on this planet, his proudest accomplishment by far is the Denver Professional Bike Messengers Association, a loose-knit union of messengers that he conceived and manned for years — and recently turned over to new management.
J-Bone grew up in Five Points and attended Manual High School before moving in the late 1970s to San Francisco, where he was first exposed to the concept of bike messengers. He had just quit his job as a dishwasher when his roommate told him he could find work making deliveries. J-Bone started out on foot before earning enough for a bike, and he never looked back.
"I remember it was Friday the 13th, 1978, and I got hit by a 29-ton streetcar," he says with an explosive laugh easily three times louder than his normal speaking voice. "People to this day marvel at how I could get slammed into a full-blown streetcar and live; the strike alone is enough to kill. I just remember waking up and being underneath the wheel and crawling out as fast as I could. That's when I knew God was on my side, by golly."
Streetcar lesson learned, J-Bone stuck around the city for another ten years, mastering the trade, earning street cred by never missing a drop, and reveling in the San Francisco bike-messenger scene in its glory days. With his signature style and skills, J-Bone found himself the subject of local news stories and magazine profiles, involved in a messenger documentary and sought after to model clothing in advertisements. But it was a pure love of messenging and riding that kept him satisfied.
"It's ever-changing, all the time," he explains. "Everything is quixotic — the bikes, the whole scene. It's great. You don't have to think. I'm a horse. I make deliveries. I'm not going to be a computer designer or programmer, because I can't; I'm ready to admit my deficiencies. But I've always been quick and physically adept, however inert, so biking gives me the personal satisfaction of being able to achieve and keep a state of physical activity that I need."
So when J-Bone moved back home to be closer to his aging parents in 1988, he never considered hanging up his messenger hat; he merely donned it in a different city. But the Denver bike scene back then was far less cohesive then what he'd left behind in San Francisco, and far less understood.
"It was chaotic," J-Bone remembers. "Messengers and police were at arms; the police were unrelenting in their rhetoric, not allowing any messengers to ride on the sidewalk. Every day, people were getting tickets — three, four a week you would get. It was the ugliest thing in the world, people being treated like that, and they were paying for those tickets out of their paychecks, which have never been all that much. They needed that money to pay rent, to eat. These kids were in shambles.
"And then one day, by the stroke of God, a man walks up to me and says, 'Hi, I'm Mayor Peña,'" J-Bone recalls. "I said, 'Hey, Feddy, I'm J-Bone! Your Honor, things with bike messengers here in Denver are just not really happening at all, and it's not good.' And then the next day, he sent the police captain to my house to talk about it. I said, 'Shit, boy, it's a good thing I didn't have everything laying out, by golly!'"
J-Bone reviewed city records and concluded that 75 percent of the citations issued for bicycle transgressions were to bike messengers working between the hours of 8 a.m. and 5 p.m. To give messengers a voice, he built a roster and reported back to the city administration. Thanks to J-Bone's efforts, the ticketing slowed and the Mayor's Bike Advisory Committee was born, as was the Denver Professional Bike Messengers Association (DPBMA).
"But we had to regiment ourselves," J-Bone continues. "It wasn't a regiment; it was an embryo. It was me representing the bike messengers of the city and county. They were a little complacent, subdued. They had not yet had the experience of let's-get-together like I had in San Francisco."
So J-Bone created the Road Rash Bash, which became an annual gathering of bike messengers and enthusiasts who wanted to celebrate the trade — "a big fucking holiday," he calls it — replete with a race now known as the Abernethy Cup, in his honor. Over time, the cops began to leave the messengers alone, and the scene established itself as it had in San Francisco.
J-Bone views the DPBMA, and the events it spawned, as his baby. And while his baby has cried out here and there with a raucous messenger get-together or a rallying call whenever one of Denver's bipedal warriors is somehow screwed over, for the most part it has sat silent for the past decade.
But lately the baby has been stirring.
J-Bone recently called it quits as the de facto leader and turned the handlebars over to an ambitious new crop of messengers eager to make the DPBMA into something more, an organization that could help raise pay for bike messengers, earn them more benefits and put Denver on the international bike messenger scene.
But convincing a group of bike messengers — a notoriously skeptical subculture full of anarchists, anti-establishment-types and good-natured fuckups drawn to the trade's unconventional lifestyle — of anything, let alone the need for their association's evolution, can be an incredibly difficult task.
Maybe even impossible.
Young Lieutenant, August
"My student council slogan in elementary school was 'Vote for Jaimie, The Girl With Two I 's That Can See Into the Future,' Jaimie Lusk says, removing her helmet after a hot day on the job and collapsing into a pizza at City O' City. "I didn't win."
If Jaimie, 28, is still programming dates into her internal DeLorean, she's setting the coordinates for 2009, when Denver has a real shot at hosting the North American Cycle Courier Championship (NACCC), and 2010, when the World Messenger Championships could follow.
As the first woman to cross the finish line at the world championship in Dublin, Ireland, a few weeks earlier, Jaimie can be excused for being excited about the possibility. "It was just so cool," says Jaimie, who came in eleventh overall. "You meet the most incredible people. I met this guy from Dublin who lived in Berlin, and he was telling me that in places like Berlin, bike messenging is a legitimate life they can sustain, where people make as much as a postman or something. That's way more than we can make here."
Jaimie, who works for Denver Boulder Couriers, estimates that she makes $11 an hour and that locally, top pay in the industry is around $100 a day. Some companies, many offering a variety of delivery services in multiple cities, pay hourly wages, while others hire messengers as independent contractors or pay commission. Very few offer health benefits.
"When you average it all out, most guys are at around $9," she says, estimating that there are fifty to sixty full-time, mostly male riders split between eleven companies in metro Denver. "You work a nine-hour day, that's like $80 a day before taxes. Some people are working for a ridiculously little amount; it's definitely the working poor. A lot of people do make their livings off of it, but I think a lot of people who do it successfully have something else going on the side, or they learn to live within their means.
"I had money saved up but recently just ran out, so I sold my truck," she continues. "I'm actually weighing my options right now. I want to stay a bike messenger; we have a chance to throw nationals in 2009, then worlds in 2010, and I really want to go for it. But I'm probably going to have to work two jobs."
Anything will be easier than her last job. After growing up in Eugene, Oregon, and building the kind of profile necessary to make her an attractive collegiate candidate, Jaimie concluded that she didn't know what she wanted to do and didn't want to waste $120,000 finding out. So she researched the United States Naval Academy and liked what she saw, figuring she could go there for free and fashion herself into a sort of woman warrior, fearlessly traversing the globe.
Summer excursions at the academy — sailboating along the East Coast, hanging out on the Mediterranean — satiated her search for adventure, but once active duty began, the story began to shift. "It was kind of like Pinocchio," she says. "You know, when they go to that island, and it's all fun and games until everyone starts growing donkey ears?"
For Jaimie, the donkey ears sprouted when she found herself commanding 45 Marines in Kuwait who were ready to be shipped off to Iraq at any second. "It was total Lord of the Flies," she says. "Half of the guys liked me, half of them despised me. I was super touchy-feely, and the guy right under me was this really tough gangster guy from Chicago with gold teeth who was really mean, and we just had totally different styles. I tried to be people's friend, he tried to beat them up, and we totally clashed, and those 45 Marines just split down the middle, so there was a lot of tension."
Later, after sending an e-mail to a friend on a government computer about making out with an enlisted guy, Jaimie was shipped off to the middle of the desert to build wooden sidewalks and shade gazebos for smokers. "It's worse than killing someone on accident if you make out with an enlisted guy," she says.
In 2004, having served her time and in no hurry to return to duty, she moved to Denver because she had friends here and figured it would be a good place to pursue her lifetime hobby of mountain biking. Jaimie also enrolled at Denver Seminary to pursue a degree in Christian studies and applied for jobs at bike shops. Despite her experience training Marines who went to war, employers found her lack of cash-register experience unforgivable.
"I was like, 'Don't you think some of my skills are perhaps transferable?'" she says.
A fellow mountain-bike rider suggested that she give messenging a shot, and to Jaimie it seemed like the absolute perfect fit. She called Denver Boulder Couriers and told them she'd work for nothing all summer in order to become a messenger. Jaimie was quickly added to the roster.
"Coming from the military, there were some things that I was uniquely grateful for," she says. "Like the worst thing that can happen messenging is I get hurt or a package gets ruined. It's not like other people die because you're an idiot, or you destroy a whole country; the implications of mistakes at this job are so much less. I also like the level of interaction I have. I get to see people, talk to them, meet them, but it's also kind of solitary. You're alone a lot of the day and just get to think about whatever you want. After my experience in the military, that's definitely a luxury."
A seminary student/retired Marine is hardly the normal bike-messenger candidate, but as Jaimie points out, there really is no specific type. "It's a super-diverse group. I think that sometimes people have this one picture of bike messengers, but I'd just say the community is a lot more diverse than you would ever imagine. All different races, different experiences, backgrounds."
And though Jaimie initially raised eyebrows among the eclectic riders with her outdated spandex shorts and her love of The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power, a book by Travis Culley widely regarded in the scene as Wisconsin-level cheesy, she rose through the ranks to become one of a trio of messengers poised to guide and steer the new DPBMA.
Jaimie took the deliberately tongue-in-cheek title of Minister of Finance and Administration, while Rich Ryon, a messenger who films and edits short skate-video-esque clips at www.milehighmess.com, is Minister of Online Resources and Treasury, and Marcus Garcia is Prime Minister and Director of Operations.
This summer has been all about making the transition from old DPBMA to new as seamless as possible — and it hasn't always been easy. There were numerous closed-door meetings between older, veteran messengers and the newer crop — with whom Marcus, who has been a messenger for nineteen years, bridged the gap — discussing the logistics of further legitimizing the DPBMA, attracting more sponsors, working to set up a nonprofit, arranging an emergency health-care fund and establishing Denver as an attractive site for the national messenger competition, perhaps a world championship.
There were also some surreal moments, like a July race promoted by the Swobo bike company.
Whereas ten years ago bike messengers formed a subculture unto themselves — one looked poorly upon by mainstream America, when looked upon at all — the scene is now considered almost hip. Bike-messenger fashion has gone mainstream, and large companies have realized they can make a buck off it.
"That Swobo race was patterned after one of our alleycats," Marcus explains, referring to timed messenger races in which participants are given a delivery, make the drop and then sprint back to a home base for their next route. "That's nice that they have interest in our world — that's cool. But it was a really cheesy affair. It was them trying to legitimize their race through us."
The company donated $1,000 to the DPBMA for its efforts, but the experience left many of the messengers who participated, and bumped racing elbows with wannabes, feeling used. Marcus reports people clamoring to have their pictures taken with real messengers — no doubt, he half jokes, to add to their MySpace profiles.
Still, several days before the 2007 Road Rash Bash, the annual bike-messenger extravaganza founded by J-Bone, optimism is running high. Organizing the event for the first time, Marcus, Jaimie and Rich have busted their asses, trying to make it the best in Denver history.
Feet First, August 25, 2007
Beneath a giant white silo that spews the overpowering odor of hops into the air, a blur of bike messengers with FedEx tubes stuffed into their bags and backpacks zips by, sweating bullets on a sweltering Saturday afternoon in downtown Denver. The Road Rash Bash is in full swing, and everyone is in it to win it as they hurl their bikes down behind the Flying Dog Brewery, which is hosting the extravaganza, then sprint into the back warehouse for their next assignment.
One by one, the messengers trot through a line of cones to a table where Jaimie sits, confirming that each has hit his checkpoints. (Other monitors wait at various locations on the race route around town, checking riders in so no one skips a stop.) Marcus, seated at a table at the opposite end of the room, hands the messengers their next drop, and they hop back on their bikes and tear off into the city.
Beer flows freely from an endless supply of Flying Dog kegs, and several Bash sponsors hawk their wares — biker socks from Save Our Soles, clothes from local designers — in another room. Members of the Pitchfork Collective, who run the Open Door Cafe, an anarchist vegan kitchen in Denver, have prepared a breakfast to raise money for Food Not Bombs: breakfast burritos with green chile, biscuits and gravy, enchiladas. Everyone seems to be enjoying the food, dropping five-spots in the suggested donation bin while the chefs take turns leaping chairs and trash cans on skateboards and punk music ricochets off the walls.
Then there are the two drunken messengers with megaphones, barking shit-talk at everyone involved.
"Hey, why don't you go back to your cedar A-frame and take some more mushrooms, hippie?" Pete Jensen yells at racer Phillip Carlson of Denver Boulder Couriers, who sprints into the warehouse exhausted, but currently in first place and about to head out on his last run, a grueling crosstown trek from the warehouse at 24th and Blake streets to Second Avenue and Quebec Street. Carlson pays the comment no mind. First place — and the sick Cannondale Capo bike it entails — is one last haul away, and he's not about to slow down for verbal sparring. Close on his heels is Ross Miller of Quicksilver Express Couriers, who sprints out the door as well.
A crowd of twenty or so mills around inside the warehouse, drinking, smoking and chatting about the race, which has dragged into its third hour. Outside, about thirty more messengers do the same, finding shade wherever they can, casually busting tricks on their bikes. Everyone who's anyone in the bike-messenger scene is here, from newbies who have been in the game a few months to lifetime messengers. J-Bone peddles through on his BMX like some sort of diplomat, shaking hands and smiling an almost toothless grin. Rich Ryon quietly patrols the crowd as well, smoothing over the unseen edges intrinsic in any sort of major production, the ones that only get noticed when they're not addressed.
"Hey, Rich, did we fuck anything up?" Jensen yells through his megaphone from inside the warehouse, smiling down from an open loading door.
"Not yet," Rich deadpans back.
That comes a few minutes later. In a bizarre scene that quickly unfolds inside the warehouse, some of the anarchist vegans from the Pitchfork Collective begin jawing with a megaphone-armed messenger who goes by the name of Boomer. Jensen is by his side with his own megaphone, and Marcus is in the middle, trying to keep the peace. But voices continue to rise, fingers continue to point, and for an uncomfortable moment, it appears that the quarrel may escalate to blows. Jaimie joins in the struggle, which proceeds unabated for several minutes before finally settling down. A few minutes later it comes out that one of the chefs had borrowed Boomer's megaphone. When he returned it, however, Boomer deemed it to be damaged and demanded that the Open Door Cafe pay for it. The chefs refused, claiming the damage was not of their doing, so Boomer reached into their donation bin and took all the cash. Drama ensued.
"I just told the guys not to worry about it," Jaimie says after the huddle dissipates. "We're giving them $100 to make this go away."
Skirmish settled, the Road Rash Bash rages on until the main race finally comes to a close with Carlson shuffling in victorious and thoroughly spent. Miller holds on to second place. "That was ceaselessly brutal," he says, changing out of his drenched clothes and into a fresh Road Rash Bash 2007 T-shirt.
Outside, the focus shifts to biker games, and first and foremost is Footdown, a tradition whereby a bunch of messengers ride in a circle, never putting their feet to the pavement, and try to knock each other off their bikes. About 25 riders take part in the game, but for the first minute or so, no contact is made; the participants merely eye one another, waiting for someone to make a move.
"Quit flirting!" someone yells.
"Hey, you faggots, hit somebody!" another bellows.
"You look like a bunch of retards!" J-Bone, who has somehow managed to get his hands on a megaphone, squeals.
Finally, the carnage begins. In a matter of minutes, about half the bikers have gone down, some hit by others, some drunkenly losing their balance and crashing over curbs — one, clad in shoulder pads, out to a blown tire. An old-timer who goes by the name of Little Joe is the last man biking.
Afterward, some of the Footdown participants light up smokes and critique the performance, waiting for the festivities to roll on. In about half an hour, messenger boxing will begin. It has nothing whatsoever to do with riding bikes. But if there is one thing a bunch of drunk messengers will always appreciate, it's watching their colleagues don helmets and boxing gloves and beat the shit out of each other. After this, there will be bands, five of them, and enough booze to kill a triceratops. The Road Rash Bash has been a success: the most sponsors ever, the best prizes yet, a large turnout of riders and friends there to party long into the night until Flying Dog Brewery kicks them the fuck out.
But even before that happens, it turns out the party is really over.
Open Road, September
"For the most the part, the U.S. District Court is Internet-driven," Marcus explains, sipping a beer and smoking a cigarette on the porch of his home in the Baker neighborhood after a long day on his bike. Tonight is the opening game of the NFL season, Colts vs. Saints, and a handful of messengers are en route to Marcus's house to watch the match-up. "But I had one today that was the ultimate fastest service possible. They needed this document hand-delivered today and were willing to pay whatever it took."
So Marcus picked up a package at a law firm and showed up at the courthouse, where all of the security guards know him from years of deliveries, and was quickly ushered in. The normal procedure for these deliveries is to drop the package off with the clerk who then routes it to the courtroom, but Marcus informed the clerk of the important nature of the package and was allowed to pass to the judge's chambers. The room was empty, however, because court was in session, so Marcus, in full, sweaty biker get-up, poked his head into the courtroom and was quickly recognized by a clerk.
"Obviously, I look messenger enough to where she told me to come in," he says. "I walk right into the middle of the hearing, and the judge shuts it down for a minute. And I roll up to the clerk's table, give up this document that I had, and everyone was all smiles. I had never seen so many people in pants and suits so happy to see me. I love experiences like that. When I was walking in there, I was blasting the Alkaholiks on my iPod, and I walk out of dude's hearing that's probably a multimillion-dollar affair and start my music back up and just roll out. That's some real messenger shit right there."
Minister of Propaganda Steve Jacobs, an old-school rider and author of The Messenger Courier-Dispatch, a zine for Denver's professional bicycle community, is hanging out on Marcus's porch, and he nods his head in approval, as does Pete Jensen, the man with the megaphone from the Road Rash Bash. It's a scenario they know all too well and, encouraged to discuss the trade, other tales of "real messenger shit" begin to pour forth: riding through last winter's hellacious blizzards; convincing office workers to take packages after closing; sneaking through back doors and finding someone, anyone, to sign for a delivery; the asinine weather-speak with businesspeople in elevators; getting hit by cars, bikes, skateboards, scooters, buses. It's all part of the game. But for Marcus, bike messenging is also about the family.
"I know it sounds like a cliche story," says Marcus, 39, who was born in Denver and attended West High. "But bike messenging kind of saved my life. A lot of kids that I grew up with are in prison, dead. The fall that I started messenging, I got stabbed. It was just one of those weird things that happens that shouldn't have; I was hanging out with the wrong people, and that was really a turning point in my life because being a messenger gave me some semblance of normalcy. I had a job; I had some purpose. And I got hooked up with a lot of kids who weren't from my hood, a lot from different cities, different places. The scene was accepting in a way that maybe my neighborhood wasn't."
Marcus likes to say that the bike-messenging scene loves back those who truly love it, and from the start, he loved it with all of his heart. Always a fan of bikes and an avid rider, Marcus began messenging when he was eighteen, at the exact same time he enrolled at Metropolitan State College of Denver. But he soon realized that all he really wanted to do was ride his bike and get paid for it, and messenging provided that.
"School was never an avenue to make money or achieve status," he says. "I was more concerned with getting that in the messenger world. I found all the love that I needed in my own little circle, and it mattered more to me that I got it from those people than in the outside world."
And Marcus grew up in that little circle. When he was a rookie, J-Bone was the vet schooling him, buying 40s for the young rider and teaching him about life on a bike. He rode through the '80s making five bucks an hour and loving every second of it, hanging out at bars with older cats, learning the rules of the game. He rode out the fax-machine scare, then the e-mail scare — concerns that messengers would no longer be needed with such advances in technology — and experienced his most serious life lessons in the world of bike-messenging: seeing friends go through marriages, divorces, childbirth, abortions, drug addictions, alcoholism, suicides. For Marcus, bike messenging was the scene that cradled him into adulthood, so it's something he takes very seriously and treats with the utmost respect.
"J-Bone turning the DPBMA over to me — it wasn't him turning it over to Rich and Jaimie, it was him turning it over to me, and me bringing them into the fold," Marcus explains. "I wanted some new-school blood, but I was down with the scene before those two were ever even around. I think that sometimes with the old-school...older people, they paint themselves into a corner, and sometimes the old way is not necessarily the right way. Say you have a team and you bring in some new blood to try and win the playoffs — well, I wanted to do that. I wanted to be the guy to gel the new-school and the old-school messengers and really win the playoffs. But when Jaimie came back from worlds, I think she came back and thought that she was going to get this huge step-up in social status. I love Jaimie, I think she's a force of nature, but I don't care about winning races. I give props to people who have been messengers for fifteen years and never fucked up a package, never missed a drop, never called in sick. That's the shit I respect. I have respect for people who have hit that point where they look at their paycheck and look at their bills and realize it's not going to add up and just conclude, 'I just have to pound it out. I just have to ride harder. Quitting is not even an option.' Those are the true messengers."
Which is why he's wary of the scene's recent surge in popularity. "Now it's a much more trendy, fashionable thing to be a messenger, be associated with a messenger, look like a messenger," he says. "That wasn't always the way. When I started, a lot of the kids that rode were poor or really seriously into bikes, and it was usually born of necessity. It wasn't something that anyone wanted to do. Now there's a whole class of people that are getting into being a messenger not out of necessity, but because they think it's cool or glamorous or something. People that come and visit in our world and then leave — that bugs you out a little bit."
"Five, eight years ago, you would go down the street and see a bunch of messengers riding track bikes because messengers were the only people who rode them," adds Jacobs. "Now you see all these courier imposters riding track bikes, single-speeds, fixed gears. There's more of them now than there are of us."
And now that Jaimie Lusk has walked away from bike messenging, there's one less.
The day after the Road Rash Bash, Jaimie stopped messenging for good; she's since taken a job teaching math at Montebello High School. Her decision came at a moment during the Road Rash Bash that she found very telling. The Bash marked the last day in Denver for a messenger named Jonathan Tamesue, she explains, with whom Jaimie had grown quite close. After the awards ceremony, Tamesue, who was moving to Seattle, gave a going-away speech that Jaimie describes as a real tear-jerker.
"I looked around the room, and there were a handful of people listening and welling up, and the rest of the people were just hammered, not paying attention, breaking things, trashing things, being total idiots," she recalls. "And I looked at that and realized that when you get all the messengers in one room, you kind of think, 'Why am I putting so much effort into this?'"
Throughout the Bash, Jaimie says, she felt like she was babysitting, from the situation with the anarchist chefs to trying to corral drunken nonsense to making sure the race ran smoothly.
"I'm a hopeless idealist," she continues. "And I wish I would learn my lesson sometime, but I never do. When I came back from worlds, I was so pumped about what I could do in Denver, about putting on the biggest event in Denver's history, to make it go to that next level. But I just saw my whole vision crumble that day. Marcus and I don't have any hard feelings, but he was trashed by noon, and I really think he thinks his job was to do that — but it left me and Rich running ragged, and I was having to be pretty bossy and bitchy. I don't like fighting with people, but in this scene I seem to have gotten pretty good at it."
That tension boiled over into a shouting match between Marcus and Jaimie at the Bash. It took place behind closed doors, but the damage was done. Jaimie walked away feeling like her efforts weren't worth her time, while Marcus walked away feeling like he was foolish for trying to incorporate any new blood. For his part, Rich Ryon took a leave of absence from the messenging game to spend more time pursuing a career in engineering.
"I was in a room with eight kegs of beer, tons of bands, tons of bike messengers and their friends and families. I know what to do in that situation," Marcus says. "That situation is my home. I was seeing friends that I hadn't seen in five, six years and I thought it was more important for me to holler at my boy and meet his twenty-year-old daughter who I remember when she was a baby than to tell the bands to get off in ten minutes. I wasn't thinking about nitpicking and micro-managing."
Not many bike messengers are.
"And that's the heart of why things happened the way they did over the summer," Jacobs says. "The great thing that I love about this scene is that I have never liked any organizations. But for some reason, with the bike messengers, I don't have any problems with it. And that's the greatest thing. Here we are with all these 'dysfunctionals,' as some people call us, and we're trying to do the right thing. But it's a bit harder with us because the bulk of messengers are pretty anti-establishment by nature."
"Organizing any group like that is going to be hard," Marcus adds, continuing Jacobs's thought. "I think where I fucked up is that from the beginning I was like, "This isn't my thing; it's our thing. I would say that repeatedly. But what I should have said is, 'This is my thing.' There was a point where I should have said, 'This is what you're going to do; this is what you're not going to do.' But I'm not good with the whole boss thing. I try to be this person of the people when I should have done a better job at keeping some of the people in check. I needed to be a stronger leader, and now I know that."
The experiences of this summer have left everyone feeling tired, so for now, Marcus, with his hand more firmly grasping the reins of the DPBMA, is going to take things slow. There's a race coming up around Halloween — the third annual Messenger Massacre, which he helped create — and Nationals in 2009 is still a realistic goal. Maybe. For now, Marcus is just happy to be riding, to be on his front porch waiting for the pizza man to arrive and the game to start, surrounded by his "family."
He knows that there are people waiting in the wings who could one day take on leadership roles. A group of young kids has been hanging around the scene lately; the messengers jokingly call them Team 8th Grade. They're posers, wannabes, but in one of them, a student from Denver School of the Arts, Marcus sees real potential. The kid contacted him the other day about writing his senior project on bike messengers. He says he wants to be a messenger when he grows up, and that notion makes Marcus chuckle. Marcus says he would never recommend that someone become a bike messenger, but rather that he pursue some other, easier lifestyle. Still, he knows that if it's meant to be, the kid will find his way into the scene. Because for people like Marcus and the messengers gathered on his porch, it's the only life they could ever imagine.
"When I have a good day or a bad day, the beauty at the center of my world is still going out and rolling," he says. "I complain about it sometimes, I fight it, but I tell you, if I have to go three days without riding, I get all squirrelly. I need to go roll and drop some tags. Riding to the park, going along the path, going to Lookout Mountain — it's not the same thing. Give me, like, forty runs to do and keep me occupied. I'm like a machine, and that's what I do. It's all I know, man.