And then, as suddenly as he appeared, he is gone.
So who is this rider? Well, he is
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:
3) Bubble baths, cute ducklings, comfortable pants, stuff like that;
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:
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.