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Wednesday, November 30

Toe Spirit. What? Let's hear it.

So, yeah.  My four day weekend went pretty well... until 12:45AM or so Monday morning.

This story starts with a woodpecker.

We had issues with a woodpecker making holes in the side of our house last year.  Our landlord bought the Pecker Wrecker 2000 to scare it away.  It makes woodpecker distress calls as well as the tweets, warbles, and caws made by hungry birds of prey.  It essentially worked, but we ended up with a giant hawk hanging out in our backyard.  Pretty to look at tho.

The woodpecker came back a couple months ago. We broke out the Pecker Wrecker 2000 again, but this time he has not been deterred.  The hawk is back again as well.  This big bird has a tendency to eat his other prey in the tall trees behind our house.  He's a picky eater tho, and tosses his scraps down to the ground below.

Sizemore likes to discover and then eat these nasty bits.

And so it came to be that Sizmore had a "bowel emergency" around 11:00PM from eating too many dead squirrel bits.  And then another one at 12:45AM.  Since he's got no eyes in his head part, he needs carried down the internal house stairs and the back deck stairs... which are not very well illuminated.

As I reached the deck stairs, he started really wiggling, I assume because his ass was going to explode.  Distracted, I didn't notice that I had one more stair to go when I thought I was on the sidewalk.  I came down with my weight on my big toe, and it folded nicely under our combined girthiness.

This is about 17 hours afterwards.

Mang.  I was really looking forward to the Faster Mustache/Loose Nuts: Wheels to the Farm race this weekend.

The last time this race happened was when I was suffering from some prolonged back issues that I was having a hard time finding relief from despite my best efforts to ignore them.  Still, I ended up doing rather well with a third overall.

Although my back kept me from putting in a solid effort in the first few heats, as the day dragged on, my old man legs came into play.  I felt like I coulda done so much better, but... meh.  Stupid back.

So glad I waited until a week or two later to find active, real solutions to my back problems.

This toe thing puts a kink in the plan for sure.  Even if I wanted to bail on going this weekend, I injured myself a day too late to cancel my Airbnb reservation.  I've got Friday scheduled off from work so we (Billy Nye and Chris "Ride" Daily) can hit some new singletrack at the Chicopee Woods Mountain Bike Park.  I'm not so sure how much I'll be able to do come in two more days.

Ummm... back to this past Monday morning.  After I folded my toe in half, I waited for Sizemore to blow ass, and then I carried him back up to our bed.  I got prone and stayed pissed off at my stupidity.  The pain was enough to keep me awake for awhile.  Back downstairs, grab an ice pack, situate myself... anger myself to sleep.

Wake up.  Still pissed at my stupidity.  Wait till the last minute to get ready for work, find out that my foot doesn't fit in my normal shoes very well.  Return to my bike room trying on shoes until I find the best fit and go to work late.  Spend the day hobbling about and bemoaning mine own dumbness.  Eventually figure out a strange hopping maneuver for dismounting my tarck bike.  Walk about gingerly.

Anyways, not sure how things are going to pan out for the WtF weekend.  Yesterday was better than Monday, but this morning is worse than last night.  No blerhg until I get back from Atlanta, as I will spend all my spare time between now and Friday spirit coaching my big toe.

Tuesday, November 29

Four days, three rides, one shirt.

I managed to get a ride in on each and every one of my (sorta) mountain bike cycle single speeds over the break.

Ride #1 was the annual ride somewhere in Charlotte before beginning the Thanksgivings with families and friends.  We had an incredible turnout at the Backyard Trails.  Ten to fifteen of us before it was all said and done.

photo cred: Jon Danger

photo cred: Jon Danger
One trick pony doing his one trick.

Hard to complain about standing in the woods, leaning against the Vertigo Meatplow V.7, and watching guys hit the jump lines on a 70° day in November.  I coulda stayed out there all day, but the family had a pressing dinner thing that afternoon with friends old and new.

One of our new friends.

Ride #2 was the somewhat annual Black Friday Cyclo Ross thing which has taken on so many different manifestations over the years.  I rode the fixed brakeless semi-plusser Misfit Meatplow V.5 to see how it would hold up to being ridden semi-off road.

Essentially, it didn't.  The 2.35 Ikon was too big and rubbed the stays.

It also provided way too much traction, and with the 38X18 gear, it wasn't very easy to get it to skid (kind of important for fixed brakeless off-roadering).  Also also... I dropped the chain once.  Not sure what's up with that.

Anyways...

This year (thanks to some planning on Chase's part), we rode from Bike Source to Olde Mecklenburg Brewery to the cross course at Renaissance Park back to Olde Meck to Queen City Cycles to Cordelia Park's renegade cross course to Birdsong Brewery...

and I think that's where the wheels fell off my bus.

Nick convinced me that it was better to skip the course at Veterans Park and head straight to Legion Brewing and at some point my plan to leave my lights at home to force me to come home before dark ended up working perfectly... and I wound up taking a "nap" somewhere around 8:00PM that pretty much ended my ability to get off the couch.

Ride #3.  Nick told me to call him at 7:45AM on Saturday to make sure he was moving.

No reply.

Our very loose plan to go to the mountains that was made during all the cyclo rossing was coming apart.  As it should have.  I sent a text to Nick and expected to fail bail on the entire ride, instead heading to Uwharrie alone... once the pounding in my head subsided.

Chase would not allow it and offered to scoop me up at the house.

The Stickel Meaplow V.6 came off the wall for something other than being worked on since coming home from Durango in August, and we hit Pisgah for my favorite seasonal loop.   Of course, we stopped at The Hub/Pisgah Tavern on our way out for a beer and food and to check out the Flat Brim Hat of the Month.

An entirely incredible four day weekend, that is until 12:40AM Sunday night (Monday morning for reals).

Monday, November 28

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Five

I don't think anyone ever expected the bike messenger business to do as well as it had.  As I mentioned before, there were only two companies when I started and about three guys on bikes delivering stuff.  At the height of it all, there were somewhere close to eighteen of us working for as many as five different services.  The company I worked for provided employment for four of us including the owner.  We were making decent money, I had a 401k and two weeks paid vacation, and life was better than I would have ever thought it would be... at least from a financial perspective, all the stress aside.

But then the global economy hit the floor like a turd dropped from the 60th floor of the Bank of America Corporate Center.  Charlotte is the second largest banking city in the US, so the recession hit the area pretty hard.  Slowly but surely, messengers left or were let go one by one.

photo cred: Big Worm
I think Little Mikey might have been one of the last City Sprint guys left uptown.  His departure marked the end of the era when you knew that if you hung out at the Corporate Center long enough, there would be someone to talk to.  Things got real lonely when he was no longer around.

Companies completely disappeared or at least no longer needed bike messengers.  Cut backs were made and as the dust continued to settle, Mercury Messengers once again became solely my boss and I.

And then it got even worse.

Things were too slow for even two of us, so my boss started letting me take one day off a week.  Unpaid.  My choice which day tho.

I kind of enjoyed those times, although the specter of possible unemployment always darkened my days.  I got in some extra rides, did trail work, piddled around the house... generally tried to keep myself busy or at least not crack the first beer before noon.  This was also when I bought my one and only carbon fiber road bike, because I figured if I was let go, I wouldn't want to spend the money on a new bike but would have loads of time to ride one.

As '11 approached, things were not getting any better.  There were no cranes looming in the sky, the very cranes that meant architecture firms and job trailers.  Loans and mortgages.  Money being spent on making more money.  My boss had to do something to keep things going.

He decided to pursue a career in the field of independent claims adjusting.  He'd need to go to school for some time, so I'd be running everything uptown.

Which... was kinda doomed from the first day we tried it.

Being short-handed once in awhile is okay.  Customers would tolerate it to some degree.

But on a day-to-day basis, it was never going to work.  Twice over the course of the first two days, I basically faced impossible delivery scenarios involving rush deliveries, three firms spread out over twenty blocks, and the courthouse closing at 5:00PM regardless of my situation.  Our biggest client that was used to me being pretty much dedicated to them for fourteen years did not like the idea of me not being able to keep up the level of service they'd grown accustomed to since '98.

They offered to hire me outright.

So my options were take the job or try to hold everything together on the daily, knowing that the doomsday scenario was going to keep coming up, meaning that I was facing a future of answering the phone and saying, "Ummmm, no.  I can't do that.  Sorry."

Letting clients down.  Not being able to do the one thing that we say we can.  Deliver.

That is until they stopped calling.  Which they would.

So, I took the job.

Now I'm here in the present.  I've spent almost the last five years with my current employer, a ginormous law firm in one of the tall towers in uptown Charlotte.  It has been a good half decade to say the least.  I'm pretty thankful that I got this opportunity.  My employer treats me well, and I like what I do.  Sure, sometimes I'm doing the "other duties as assigned" that aren't quite in the wheelhouse of being a bike messenger, but at least I'm, in the words of Thomas the Tank, a "useful engine."

Still.

There are times when I can't imagine what job would have brought me as much satisfaction as the one I've held down for almost twenty years now.  It's been a long strange trip, and I don't know how else I would have gotten here except for the journey that I've been on for so long.

I'm not sure how long I'll continue to do this, but presently, I don't see me doing anything else as long as I can pedal a bike... which I plan on doing until I stop breathing.  It's a job that suits me more than teaching or managing or flying jet airplanes or running a smuggling operation. 

I really don't know how to end this tale.  I mean, I'm still doing the job every day, so it's not really over yet.   

I recently rode my bike with someone I'd never met before.  My friend Colin told me that the guy was an arborist.

I said, "You're an arborist?"

"No," he replied, "I make my living as an arborist, but that's not who I am."

Interesting. 

You see, I've never considered myself a "bike messenger" any more than I consider myself a "mountain biker" or "TV binge watcher" or "single speeder" or "beer drinker" or "Peanut M&M's enthusiast."  I'm just a guy doing something who might be doing something different if everything leading up to this moment right here right now would have seen me doing something other than delivering packages on a bike, riding a mountain bike, watching TV, eschewing gears, drinking beers, or eating Peanut M&M's.

Which if I could get paid to do any of those other things, that's what I'd probably be doing instead of delivering things on a bike.

Friday, November 25

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Four

Things were much different at Mercury Messengers than City Bike.   $6.25 an hour was replaced by commission.  More work = more money.  No more handoffs to cars. The giant radio was swapped for a phone and there was no office or place of refuge.  Just two guys with phones, bags, and bikes. The messenger business still wasn't terribly lucrative in Charlotte, and my boss still worked the lunch hours at a place called Food Doobies (they sold wraps, get it?).

My former boss, Holt Smith... or as anybody who did business with him called him, "such a nice guy."  Josh the Wonderboy called him "The Mustache" tho.

Being that this was my longest period of employment ever, a lot changed from '97 to '11.
The number of messengers ballooned up to somewhere around 16-18 before '08.  Big Worm and I brainstormed awhile back trying to remember all of those that have come and gone over the years (he's been up here since '97 almost the whole time).

Sixty seven people can lay claim to being messengers in Charlotte in the current generation not including the old timers in B&W photos and the way-more-than-I-can-count Jimmy John's guys.

There were as many as five companies... also at one point.  Not so much now.

I went from my Stumpjumper to a Supergo Access aluminum hard tail with a Manitou 3 that had holes drilled at the bottom of the lowers to allow the rain water to drain.  Eventually, my days were getting closer to fifty miles (including my eleven mile commute), so I bought an old DeBernardi that went from noodle bar geared form to single speed to fixed in '03.  Shortly after that, I bought The Fastest Bike in the World, my '92 Cannondale Track bike that I'm still riding today.

I can't even count the number of buildings that have been erected uptown in the past twenty years, many that are now part of our skyline as it can be seen from many miles away.  It's amazing.

Photo cred: James Willamor
That time when Josh the Wonderboy was in an ambulance and Big Worm got cuffed and stuffed for just trying to keep some continuity of operations going and me wondering if there was any conflict of interest in doing jobs for a company I didn't work for to help out my good friends during this time on inconvenience with 5:00PM deadlines fast approaching.

Most of those were the salad days.  The freedom to do whatever you wanted in between jobs, ride around, take a nap, sit on a park bench and try to solve the world's problems with the rotation of other messengers coming and going between jobs.

Leading into the summer of '08, things were just nuts.  I was busy from 8:00AM until sometimes after 5:00PM.  I'd be running from bike to building and back, busting my ass trying to keep up with the incoming landslide of work.  No time for real lunch breaks.  Just dive into a foodery somewhere, let the work pile up while I stood in line, roll back out with a slice of pizza or whatever.  I was pretty stressed out, sometimes punching elevator walls and such when the phone rang yet again to let me know how much further behind I was going to be.

But the stress of the day always ended, and I got to leave at 5:something.  I never had to take my work home with me (technically).  I was also making more money than I ever would have had I gone into teaching (like I was supposed to).  That money came at the cost of my happiness sometimes tho, as I never got into this job to hate life for nine hours a day, which at that point, I often times did.  I kept waiting for something to change...

and then it did.

The economic bubble burst and Banktown, USA was hit super hard.  If I really wanted change, I was about to get it.

Thursday, November 24

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Three

I got to spend a few unemployed weeks of that summer with The Boy before he had to head off to kindergarten.  It was actually pretty dope, mostly because we had moved to an apartment closer to town with an Olympic-sized swimming pool.  So I kicked it until he got on the big yellow bus, and then I went on my quest to find a "real job"... which was always sorta the plan once we no longer had a preschooler.

I decided to look for employment that required a college degree... because I had one that was being wasted.  Pretty sure I only filled out one application, assistant manager of the circulation department at the Charlotte Mecklenburg Public Library: Main Branch.  You know, the one right uptown.

I bought an ill-fitting suit, interviewed rather well, got the job, went out and bought some more adult looking clothes, and started being a normal person... who still commuted to work by bike because we only had the one car, and I couldn't fathom the idea of being in a car every day.

I pretended the job was a good fit for two and a half months. I would occasionally see some of the other messengers come in to use the internet or as they rode by the front door, me trapped at the circulation desk or in my cubicle.  Terrible.  It was like being in a cage but worse.  Retail hours.  

I'd had my fill of middle management about seventy some days in.  There were people above and below me that pushed me to my mental limits as far as tolerating my fellow human.  I was going insane.  Ties, dress shoes, pants... shaving almost daily.  Lazy subordinates.  Long-winded and perhaps bat shit crazy boss.  Stupid bullshit.

So I made a couple phone calls while I was at the library working on a Sunday evening and found out that the guy that my old boss had predicted would fail in the messenger game had managed to secure as a client...

you guessed it.

The biggest law firm in Charlotte.  City Bike's old client (also my current employer).

He needed someone with experience to step in and be dedicated to just making them happy.  I wanted to be that guy.

Problem being, there was nobody to quit directly to on a Sunday.  I came in the next day and gave my two weeks notice to my manager who then wanted to argue about when my two weeks would end.

As if this very type of conversation we were having wasn't part of the reason I needed to quit.

And so it was that I found myself back to making a living on a bike in late December '97 working for Mercury Messengers.

My first really big bag, a Timbuk2 Tag Junkie.  Big enough to swallow a file box, a 75lb case of NCR paper or a small child.

When it started to wear out, I called Timbuk2 and inquired into their "lifetime guarantee."

"... but do you feel like you got a lifetime's worth of use out of it?"

"Ummmmm... I'm still alive, so no."

I wanted to buy another one, but they told me that it wasn't a big seller, so they discontinued their absolute biggest bag ever. 

"Only bike messengers were buying them, and they're only about 1% of our consumers."

Et tu, Timbuk2.  Et tu?

Wednesday, November 23

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part Two

I showed up for my first day of work on my Specialized Stumpjumper hard tail mountain bike, where I was to be trained by the most senior messenger at City Bike, Kevin.  I tailed him for a few days, and there were moments where I felt like maybe he was either trying to drop me or at least serve me with a wake up call regarding the whole "riding around in the big city" thing.  The only specific thing that I can remember vividly was accidentally jumping into the swirly doors with him... and I mean "with him."  An awkward moment with a stranger, but a lesson in keeping my head out of my ass for sure.

The look on his face tho...  Sorry, Kevin.

Two days of training later, and I showed up at work to hear the news.  Kevin just up and quit.  No more training for me.  I was on the job officially.

Mmmm... okay.

I still didn't know north from south or east from west.  All I had was a printed out map of the Center City that the Chamber of Commerce gave out for free.  We were required to wear all black, all the time.  Fortunately, I had a black helmet.  Unfortunately, I had no black shorts.  I was handed some denim cargo shorts with a built-in chamois.... used by a previous messenger. I was issued a bag and a giant radio that had to be picked up and dropped off every day at the main office.  The strangest thing being that we had to have our gear on us and be uptown fourteen blocks away to start our day on time... and we couldn't leave uptown and head back to the office until it was time to leave.  Essentially, we were adding 50-60 minutes to our work week... unpaid.  Once again, I was a grown ass adult, and I chose to do this.

There were only two bike messenger companies in town back in '96, City Bike and Mercury Messengers... which was really just one guy, Holt.  He had an incredible red mullet that hung out the back of his Shoei helmet and a certain bow-legged way of pedaling his bike about town.  My boss at the time told me that guy wasn't gonna make it in this "conservative corporate world."

To put it bluntly, the job sucked at least a little bit.  I was too poor to buy proper gear, and I was starting right at the sharp end of winter.  Yeth, a Charlotte winter as opposed to all those other winters of my life in Ohio, but staying inside was not an option as it was in the "just kill me" state.  I stuck it out through that winter and made it to the blessed spring and then on to summer.

That's the first time it all fell apart.

My boss had a disagreement with someone higher up at our largest client.  They didn't like that, so they decided to drop us.  Strangely enough, they would end up being my employer a whole bunch of years later and still currently.

Anyways, things didn't go so well after that.  They were a huge part of our business.  When they dropped us, you could hear the air coming out of our tires.  There were only two bike messengers working by that point (and a couple car drivers), and it got to where one of us was sent home halfway through each day.  We would take turns taking the financial punch in the wallet.

That doesn't work out so well when you're sometimes paying for daycare.

So as much sense as it never made for me to take the job, it made all the sense in the world for me to quit.

And I did so in August '97.

Still not a period correct image, but I'm not finding a lot of time to sift through the past right now.  I should have planned this whole thing better.. or at all.  But I didn't.

Tuesday, November 22

Twenty Years Behind Bars: Part One

Well, shit.

I almost forgot.  Twenty years ago this week, I started my first bike messenger job.  

Twenty years.

Because of that, I'm going to take awhile to blerhg about this topic rather than cramming it into one long unreadable post.

So you'll get many shorter unreadable posts.   You're welcome.  This should last awhile and it probably won't matter as they post over the long holiday weekend when you have better things to do than read blerhg.

The Pie and I decided two decades ago to leave our home state of Ohio in the rear view mirror.  She accepted a job as a traveling nurse, and after having Tacoma, Washington and a couple of other neat places dangled in front of us, we ended up in Charlotte, North Carolina.  We were just going to play it loose and travel wherever until we either found a place we liked or The Boy needed to start school.  I figured I wouldn't bother to look for a job because the assignments could be as short as three months.  I would just take care of our four year old at home and be patient. 

That lasted about a month. 

I got bored.  Really bored.  I'd found some nearby trails (the mostly now defunct ones at UNCC) that I could ride to from the apartment, but I hadn't really met anyone to ride with to keep me company.  I felt like I needed something more to fill the day.  Besides... much guilt.  I felt incredibly lazy.  

It was time to get a job, regardless of how long I might be able to stick with it.  Keep in mind, this was back when you looked for a job in "the paper."  The internet was just for porn back then.

I went to an interview with, I still can't believe it, The Sierra Club.  As soon as the interviewer said the phrase "door to door," I wanted to walk out. The only thing I hate more than a stranger knocking on my door is being the stranger knocking on the door. 

Dammit. 

A couple weeks later, I saw a help wanted ad for a bike messenger. I can hardly remember the interview, and I really doubt the college degree on my résumé helped much, but I walked out with the job.  Zero knowledge of downtown Charlotte, but I owned a bike and must have came across as smarter than totally stupid.  

$6.25 an hour.   I made more slinging produce and videos after graduating college to help The Pie finish up her schoolings.

When I look back, I can't believe that I even took the job. We lived thirteen miles away from the center of the city, and we were sharing a car.  The Boy would need to go to daycare some of the time, which would really eat into that humble paycheck.  If I didn't need to drop him off on the way, the car was left at home, and I faced what I would consider one of the worst commute routes in Charlotte (at a time long before bike racks on city buses). There really wasn't much of a reason for me to take the job.   The little financial gain and added hassle to our life was kinda stupid in retrospect.

But I was bored, so...

I took the job.

This picture is not period correct at all, but it's all I had down here in the bike room that I could get my hands on.  It was taken after an 11 mile commute home in the freezing rain... in the dark.  Good times in shitty gear.

Mebbe I'll find some better images.  Mebbe not.