Thursday, May 17, 2012

Shooting the Messenger: Another Day, Another Documentary

It's a hot day, and you are walking down a stretch of lonely road.  All of a sudden you hear from behind you the shrill scream of turbines--it's as though you're being strafed by a fighter plane.  You hardly have time to turn around before you see a streak of yellow in your peripheral vision and feel a blast of heat that singes off your arm hairs:


And then, as suddenly as he appeared, he is gone.

So who is this rider?  Well, he is the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret.  And where is he?  Well, he transcends both time and space, so really he's wherever you want him to be.  That's why he's featured in nearly every cycling-themed advertisement in the world.  For example, in this particular ad, which was forwarded to me by a reader,

the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret just happens to be in Scotland:


Interestingly, the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret looks slightly different in each incarnation.  For example, since this ad invites you to "explore Scotland at your leisure for the day," and the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork Bret's riding style is anything but leisurely, they've removed the "speed blur" to create the illusion of placidity.

It's a shame they didn't also put him in a kilt.

Speaking of icons, few cyclists are more iconic than bike messengers, which is why there are so many documentaries about them.  In fact, messenger documentaries and actual messengers have officially reached a ratio of three-to-one, which is why it's perfectly normal to see a working bike messenger being followed by three separate film crews at one time.  Recently, I received an email from a filmmaker informing me of his own documentary project, which he believed would be "right in your wheelhouse."  It's called...I don't know, but it's called something I'm sure.  Here's the description:

"The bicycle messenger has been a fixture of the Washington DC landscape for decades. This mini-documentary explores a handful of the present day road warriors as they battle traffic and technology in pursuit of a fair wage and a freewheeling style of life."

And here's the video:





The film opens by inviting us to ponder a series of questions, these being:

"What is the meaning of life?  What is success measured by?  What makes people happy?  Yes, it's the American dream to own a house, but do we need to own a house?  How much money do we need to live and be comfortable?  Are the messengers any more or less happy than the person in a McMansion in Potomac?"

Obviously, the answers to these questions are easy, and here they are:

1) 42;
2) Centimeters;
3) Bubble baths, cute ducklings, comfortable pants, stuff like that;
4) Depends;
5) Exactly $642,918;
6) They're more happy, because when they get sick of being messengers they just move back in to their parents' McMansions in Potomac.

Done, and done.

Nevertheless, the film insists on continuing, and by way of answering the same questions we just dispensed with so easily, one bike messenger offers this bit of insight instead:

"[Unintelligible unintelligible untinelligible] Wheee!!!"

Then he gives us the finger:

Well said.

It's at this point that the film establishes the irreverent, non-conformist spirit of bicycle messengers, a group of people who are not afraid to sneak a puff of the "Wednesday Weed:"


Do that sneaky "I'm giving you the finger while pretending to scratch my temple" thing;


Or even give you two fingers at one time:


In other words, lots of things that you used to consider edgy in the 9th grade.

This doesn't mean the film doesn't contain any surprises, and I was amazed to see a cameo from Fred Armisen:


If you like him in "Portlandia" you're going to love him in this messenger documentary, because he's totally hysterical.

Next, the film explores the nature of freedom:

"Stressful up there.  You can see it in some of those attorneys' faces.  I couldn't imagine being one.  I mean, they're all business, compared to me and my friends we're a lot more laid back.  I mean, we're always on the street, so..."


You're no doubt shocked to learn that the bike messenger who looks like he misread the directions on his My First Dreadlocks™ Home Kit can't imagine being a high-powered Washington, DC attorney, but hard-hitting revelations like this are exactly the reason why we can never have enough bike messenger documentaries.

Then he expresses his enthusiasm for "cigarettes and Mountain Dew"


Nothing says "anti-establishment" like giving what little money you have to Big Tobacco and PepsiCo.

Of course, being older and more experienced, Fred Armisen has a far more pragmatic approach to life.  Nevertheless, all is not well in his world:

"The main thing for couriers that want to be couriers and love the lifestyle and love being a courier is that they're struggling to make enough money to continue living that way.  So it's causing a lot of stress that we aren't earning money anymore.  A lot of that has to do with computers, and that's just really killing the courier income.  The worst enemy of a bike messenger is the computer, because it takes away our work."


Sure, you may fire up your Dell without even thinking about it, but every time you do another person loses his or her inalienable right to ride a bike all day long.  Sure, thousands if not millions of people are employed because of computers, and scores of Nigerian spammers have been able to rescue themselves and their families from the jaws of poverty, but we really should go back to paper so that a handful of people can retain their untenable lifestyle.  Either that, or we should take an ailing urban area such as Detroit and turn it into a national park where all these endangered bike messengers can run free.

It's at this point in any messenger documentary where we learn about the "golden age," when email didn't exist and mighty herds of messengers roamed free like buffalo:

"The was the time before the computer, before the use of the fax machine.  There was no such thing as email at that time.  And so messengers were the way that lawyers were able to get documents around town...there were hundreds, maybe a thousand messengers."


Incidentally, messengers are still really angry about fax machines, even though the fax machine is probably the one piece of office equipment that's actually more obsolete than bike messengers.

Anyway, thanks to computers and email and carrier pigeons and smoke signals and all the rest of it, the messengers' numbers are dwindling.  Indeed, they've fallen upon hard times, and many now can only afford to drink two beers at once instead of the once-typical four:


This is a great tragedy, for no messenger should be forced to go thirsty.  Beerlessness is an even greater threat to the messenger than the computer, and in extreme cases of prolonged sobriety some messengers have even gone so far as to stop messengering and get actual jobs.

Unfortunately, it isn't long after this that the filmmakers begin running out of material, and they soon become so desperate that they give us a detailed look at Fred Armisen's phone:

  "I put plastic over this so it doesn't scratch the glass, and a string so I don't leave it in a building."


Fascinating stuff.  And it doesn't stop there:

"And the reason the string is this long is because I can't focus on it here, my eyes are so bad I have to hold it out here to read it:"


If you've ever listened to an elderly person describe how difficult it can be to operate a modern remote control or open a bag of potato chips, this is marginally more interesting than learning about how Fred Armisen protects his phone and copes with his farsightedness.

Still, you've got to feel for Fred, for as they say, "Youth is wasted on the young."  Mountain Dew guy is a perfect example of this, for he clearly takes his body for granted:

"You don't need to be in that great shape as long as you can ride a bike."


Right.  You're never going to beat the computers with that attitude.

He's also complacent, and despite the fact that messengers are now an endangered species he's making no plans for the future:

"I think they're always going to need couriers because we can do stuff faster than the mail can:"


Right.  If the US Postal Service isn't going away then clearly messengers aren't either.  Of course, this reasoning fails to take into account the fact that the US Postal Service is going away:


Bragging that you're faster than the Postal Service is like bragging that your pulse-dial telephone is faster than a rotary.

Still, he's probably right that they'll be around much longer than the Postal Service, because whatever happens messengers will always have much more elaborate tattoos than postal workers:


That's a whole armful of job security.

134 comments:

Hophead said...

Nonplussed

theEel said...

WEED!

Kenny Banya said...

sprint

Captain Hardbread said...

damn penguins

Anonymous said...

Je suis quatre

Billy said...

5th!

Anonymous said...

Podium and read it too.

leroy said...

My dog was going to ride lead out for me today, but at the last minute he made a rude gesture with his paw and bolted.

Anonymous said...

dude

leroy said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
mikeweb said...

No lead out.

Billy said...

My job killing computer isn't fast enough for me to count properly. Bret's EM flux capacitor fields are interfering with my ability to take jobs away from couriers by typing.

RANTWICK said...

Snob! Snob! I finally got FREE STUFF because of my blog! Not like the free stuff you get, but still!!

I had to comment here because I knew you would be really super happy for me since we are extremely good close friends.

Anonymous said...

13?

cycle

Kenny Banya said...

"Nothing says "anti-establishment" like giving what little money you have to Big Tobacco and PepsiCo."
Gold Snobby, GOLD!

McFly said...

lolololololololololololololololololololololololololololololol(labors over line)

bikesgonewild said...

...'somebody' musta spilled their extra strength beef & black current drink in their lap this morning, thus postponing the post 'til now...

Douche'bag Breath Jones said...

camel toe ergo panties

Gaffer Smythe said...

Props & LOL for the Hitchhiker's Guide reference.

Chip O'Leany said...

Eating pussy.

RANTWICK said...

What's the difference between a Mansion and a McMansion? Is a McMansion the "fast food" of home building? Is that why?

JB said...

I suddenly want to call Geico for an insurance quote.

Esteemed Commenter DaddoOne said...

Sorry, if you can't remember your phone, you canon the my Latex Salesman.

Try "Messengering" instead. A proud tradition of being "Faster Than The Mail"

wishiwasmerckx said...

The Scottish countryside behind Bret looks alarmingly like high desert scrubland in New Mexico. I guess people visit for the Haggis, not the scenery.

Anonymous said...

That messenger looks like Lenny Kravitz and Jake Guyllentionethall had a bastard love spawn. An ugly, dirty Bastard Love Spawn.

wishiwasmerckx said...

...and that bike messenger is clearly a Neanderthal. They have not all died out, and the Anthropology Department at American University should get all over this!

SaddleAmericana said...

42. True.

COMMENT SUBMITTED BY FAX said...

This mini-documentary explores a handful of the present day road warriors as they battle traffic and technology in pursuit of a fair wage and a freewheeling style of life.

Freewheels are for woosies. Phfffft!

Anonymous said...

Bret cannae be here; that's a somewhere-else road because the arrow is on the wrong, yes wrong, side of it.

hey nonny mouse

bret said...

uh like uh everytime like a bell rings, no a fax like rings, a messenger gets his like bell, no its like his weed, no wings. get it? it's all about like freedom man,and the like postal is like so the man man. and if i had a ciggy like everytime some bell rang i'd be like so good man.

leroy said...

My dog just showed up.

I asked him what happened to the lead out he promised and he gave me a song and dance about time travel and a small Scottish village that only appears for one day every 100 years.

I'm not buying it.

I've seen Brigadoon. And my dog is no Gene Kelly. Or Bret.

recumbent conspiracy theorist said...

I can't believe Quicksilver is 26 years old. (Sigh) They just don't make messenger movies like they used to.

mikeweb said...

I believe a McMansion is a mansion built in Ireland. The MacMansion being the Scottish equivalent.

o-J said...

OK, top 35? There must be some residual glory here, though lacking in plussitude

Jed said...

today's post was SUCH an emotional roller coaster. I watched the video before I read the commentary. Before I knew it, I was practicing my bouncing middle fingers and eyeing my geared bike, struggling to imagine how I could convert it to fixed. The thought of "eating what I want" put the final nail in the coffin. I'm going to be a bike messenger! Well didn't the wildcat swagger up and piss on my old timey parade. My wife (the one who stresses me out) thanks you).
BTW, as a DC native, I feel you should have at least woven in some acknowledgement of Chuck Brown's passing.

Ludd Lite said...

smoking hot today

when you mock the downtrodden, mind, you work for the oppressor

tee hee

Anonymous said...

I don't need no effin leadout...37!

Anonymous said...

Haha, 42, great work Snob.

Anonymous said...

I want to be the 42nd commentator.

Anonymous said...

I feel it...

Anonymous said...

Imp...

Anonymous said...

probababilty!!

Anonymous said...

Whoa, feeling woosie now.

Anonymous said...

See ya!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

I am Blog Drafter!

Anonymous said...

Top 40 probably still!!!
Wooo
RYDER in pink.

Anonymous said...

No podium hogging here.

Marcel Da Chump said...

Documentary scene circa 1988:

From his living room, bike messenger (MDC) calls dispatcher: "checking in"..."stand by"

Bike messenger does a bong hit.

30 minutes later his beeper beeps.

Bike messenger wakes up.

Anonymous said...

What type of a "real job" does being a messenger qualify.

Under the relevant business experience section:
Riding bikes
delivering packages
hanging out

Not hating on messengers, but it has got to be a difficult thing to break out of, given that students from top school are fighting for unpaid internships.

Buffalo Bill said...

In spite of the slightly negative review, I am still more interested in seeing this than lining up at the local multiplex to see avengers.

Where is this wheelhouse theater and what time is it showing?

Anonymous said...

Snob, dude, have you been talking to my wife?
I am having trouble opening those damn potato chip bags. She thinks I am whining - but I'm losing my fucking ability to feed myself POTATO CHIPS!
What's to become of me?
She told you to mock me, didn't she? Admit it. I don't believe in coincidences, you two are in cahoots.

bikesgonewild said...

...leroy...if your dog had been smart, he coulda used 'boony doon' rather than 'brigadoon' as an excuse...

...tour of california just went up up & over boony doon road on tuesday...

Anonymous said...

Snob, did you struggle with the plural of hair? I know I do.
Is it hair or hairs? You chose hairs.
"I like the way my hairs look today.
"I like the way my arm hair looks today."

The English language is full of surprises. Full Stop!

grog said...

Instead of typing a message here, I'm sending a smoke signal.
Read it and weep.

g-roc said...

Yacht Snob (formerly Shed Snob, formerly Bike Snob), I'm confused, he says this is right in your wheelhouse, but where are the boats? Or was he making an extremely obscure joke that he was "Just Kidding"? Or maybe you're living on a boat now. My head hurts.

g-roc said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I was a bike messenger. For many years in NYC in the 90's back when Eben was rocking out to NIrvana. We wore uniforms. Nobody thought we were cool. Wrong decade to be a courier in I guess... non-plussitude indeed

bikesgonewild said...

...wishiwasmerckx...i had the same kinda thought but i believe the ability to ride a bicycle is what allowed 'neanderthal man' to evolve into 'cro-magnon' status...

...in the background, i could faintly hear the music that guy listens to on his walkman when he does have work - "Flintstones. Meet the Flintstones.
They're the modern stone age family.
From the town of Bedrock,
They're a page right out of histoy"
...

Old Phart said...

Anon 2:24

Just give it up and use scissors. You'll get used to it, and have plenty of chips to eat. Really, it's not so bad, as long as you don't fergit where you put the scissors.

Comment Depleted said...

This author was deleted by the comment police. Nothing to see here. Move along.

Anonymous said...

Scissors. Potato Chip bags.
Capitulation.
What's next?
Velcro shoes.
Three different prescription glasses.
Rollator.

Mobility Assist Snob NYC here I come...

bikesgonewild said...

..."...is this being beamed live around the world ???..."...

...uhhh, well, no...not really...it'll likely be viewed by no more than a small select group of cyclists who may try & sue to get their 8 minutes & 42 seconds back...

...in fact, i'm dealing with my attorney over the internet about my wasted time...you think i want paperwork this important handled by guys who think "...cigarettes & mountain dew..." & drinking 2 beers at once is what freedom is all about ???...

...you're crazier than i thought...

...just sayin'...

Dr. Von Hellsdouche' said...

Check out snobbie's neck in yeaterday's posting shirt tag photo.

There are two distinct fang marks in snobbies neck. The mark of the vam-peer???

Stay Tuned

Third Bong from the Stone said...

4/20 + 4/20 = 8/20

which is twice 4/20

DUDE!

McFly said...

I am still trying to get over that Spy Eyewear commercial where Matthew Busche backflips his cross bike. If Bret backflips a cross bike I will be impressed, especially if it's squeakin' like most tri bikes are. For one split second the bike becomes silent because the load had been taken off the drivetrain as he elegantly rotates back down to mother earth.

Author deleted said...

This author has been deleted by the comment.

Bruce Veteran said...

I'm over it.

Anonymous said...

Casey Stoner just announced his retirement from Moto GP. Well what's the point when Bret is faster on his retro cycle

Anonymous said...

Bret has definitely not been here recently - we haven't had clear blue skies for years

Jolly Olde England said...

Stop calling my crisps "chips," you breakaway heathen...

crosspalms said...

Please tell the guy in the red sweatshirt with the white eagle on it to give Dr. Andrew Weil's beard back. He can't go on PBS without it.

wishiwasmerckx said...

BGW, I am thinking more along Fontechevade, no?

Anonymous said...

Cigs, Dew, blow and smack. Supporting the mindless slaughter of peoples. Great.

J. Dahmer Sky Pilot said...

I found the vietnamese dry, stringy, with just the slightest hint of ginger, thai chilis, and tumeric.

Brother said...

As a viewee of this blog you may have noticed that many of the usual commenteratti have not been posting. The reason for this sharp downturn in the number of commentators is that these people have been sent to FEMA reeducation camps.


So not to worry. They will return in the near future more content, fulfullied, satisified and totally totally correct at all times.

Anonymous said...

Attaboy for dragging "The Hitchhiker's Guide" off the beach.

Anonymous said...

Hair?

One hair, two hairs. "My hair" as a collective what's-on-my-head thing.

As you say, English language.....

Potato chips? Crisps!

Journey of the Sorcerer.

hey nonny mouse

APPLESANDDEATH said...

So, I was a DC messenger the summer after college. It was one of three jobs that I had working my ass off to move out of my parents house and start my new life. I couldn't imagine still being a messenger but it was one of the most fun jobs ever. Also, being a techy the entire time I was like 'why don't people just email this shit? Wheeee I'm getting paid to ride a bike!'

Half-rack Hamm's said...

B E E R L E S S N E S S

mikeweb said...

I had a Wildcat Rock Machine sighting in Prospect park tonight!!

Um, the bicycle, not the blogulator.

The King of Park Slope said...

Do these messanger fellows have jobs and homes ... I really don't understand any of this.

Rollie said...

That old "one sentence as its own paragraph" thing is classic. It's like a journalistic rimshot.

Or maybe I need a rum shot.

McFly said...

Vegan or not Dave Z is one cool mofo. He needs to bring the ironic moustache back, though.

Wendy Reneé said...

after the laughter


comes tears

Anonymous said...

whoo hoo hoo

FINGER!

getsum

Anonymous said...

Bike massengills are retarded.
They think they're so cool and edgy.
Cool is Web 2.0 not 19th century delivery methods.
Edgy is a Cat5 crit not whatever they think makes them edgy ( pot?)

Unless I'm wrong and they are cool in an ironic anachronistic Brooks Saddle sort of way.

ce said...

Crazycat Crazy Machine

NEW YORK
LOS ANGELES
LONDON
BRINDISI

Anonymous said...

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clarification said...

arright okay,

PANTIES!

life said...

oh yeah,

forty toooooooo!

Ellen Degenerate said...

I used to ride dykes for money. What's the bigOHHHHHHHHHHH bikesssssssss, my bad.

Jimbo said...

I guess Colby assumed a major media player like yourself would own a house just for his wheels.

Rodney Dangerfield said...

Did I mention that I broke up with Melissa, that cross-eyed chic? She was seeing someone on the side.

bikesgonewild said...

...wishiwasmerckx...a fresh baguette, a bottle of local chardonnay & a round of ripe, 'aged in a cave' fontechevade...

...no one does goat cheese like the french, non ???...

Anonymous said...

Crosspalms @4:48 -- Good Weil beard sighting. The beard can be sent do Dr. Andrew Weil in his Redoubt of Quackery at the University of Arizona.

The messengers seem to define "freedom" in the same way as the callow narrator of Zappa's "Teenage Wind": "Free is when you don't have to pay for nothing or do nothing!"

Dude in red sweatshirt said...

"Talk to the hand."

leroy said...

Lantern Rouge lead out.

98....

leroy said...

99...

(My dog promised to work with me, don't know where he went though.)

McFly said...

100!!!!!!!

Anonymous said...

Callow.

Nice! I've found my word of the day.

Reggie said...

That documentary was in your wheelhouse, and you then proceeded to (choose your favorite sports anology) : hit a home run / slam dunk / bowl 300 / hit a hole in one / triple word score the word "quiz" / pitch a perfect game / win the green, polka dot, and yellow jerseys simultaneously.

Anonymous said...

Dude,

NPR has a piece on Grant Peterson. Hopefully that makes it into today's blog.

I will pass on the wool chamois, thankyouverymuch.

http://www.npr.org/blogs/thetwo-way/2012/05/18/152945439/bike-to-work-day-your-photos-and-riding-advice-from-grant-petersen

Anonymous said...

Last!

Robert said...

This was great, so much for my respect for bike courier, gone with my respect for everything else you cover in this blog.

NYCmessenger said...

I worked with these guys for a year and a half while I was a messenger in DC. They go hard, and that's fine. While this is your blog, and I can assure you they probably don't care, I do feel the need to defend them in the sense that they're most likely both better cyclists and people than the judging author of this post.

I'm a messenger in New York now, but these guys are still family to me. Perhaps, get to know them, and then judge them? Maybe not at all?

Regards.

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Courier Express Limited said...

A good story about the life of cyclists and bike messengers. Thanks for sharing this documentary to the public.

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