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."


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."


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.


Anonymous said...

Great read.....

Ari said...

You should become a writer. Your story is very interesting an entertaining to read. I hope you write some more. Ari

Anonymous said...

Ari - He kinda is a writer, no? There is definitely some income (even if "only" sponsorship) that comes and keeps coming as a result of his writing about bikes and stuff...

Anonymous said...

So you sold out and went to work for the man?

Not very enduro

Montana said...

I'm glad somebody still writes good stories on the internet

Anonymous said...

good on you for getting on full time with a law firm, they are always busy and recession proof. Lets just hope that a certain new president doesn't really mess things up, but if he does I suspect the law firms will still be busy...
you're lucky, I've changed jobs 6 times in my career and well over 10 times if I include the other jobs I've had (from building houses, to moving companies, to government, to retail, to lifeguarding etc...).

Gotta love your job, that's what you do for 10 hours a day (if include transportation time at 2 hours a day for most).
Gotta love your wife as well, that's where the rest of the time is spent I suspect plus biking :)
(for me its job + biking, been through too many wives... no more of that for me... I'll go broke and I'll be homeless if I do that again, they say the 3rd one destroys yah completely... if job changes, if timed right, yah can make some money in buyouts... many years back I timed my job transition just in time, the current job was giving out pink slips and I had a job lined up, I luckily got a pink slip then started my new job the next day... nice pay cheque into the bank... can time the market... )

Gregg said...

I read all yer stuff. For realz. But this one is especially nice. Well done. Next time you're in Tahoe.... the beers (at least the first few) are on me. Buck can help you get a hold of me.


Tony Boughman said...

This series is the best thing you ever wrote. A page turner (scroller) thank you!