Stop! Ask is a Mission Loc@l feature that does exactly what it says: when something looks particularly interesting, we stop and ask, “What the heck is going on?”
It was a sunny day and I was enjoying a sandwich while chatting with a friend on the bench outside Rhea’s. Joey overheard us mention the Tenderloin and immediately interjected with some anecdotes of sketchiness he’d seen there. He was wearing aerodynamic bike gear, had some eye-catching tattoos and a big bag with a clipboard and satellite phone attached. I’d seen groups of people with the bikes, bags and satellite phones before, but wasn’t sure what they did. I was intrigued and decided to do a Stop. Ask! with him.
Mission Loc@l: What are you doing in the Mission today?
Joey: I’m delivering things. I’m a bike messenger for TCB Courier.
ML: Oh, OK, I’ve always wondered what bike messengers do. You deliver things like legal forms, right?
Joey: No, not so much, that aspect of bike messaging is dying out due to the whole Internet and e-mail thing. Now we deliver anything that I can fit on my bike. Mostly we deliver food from restaurants to customers. But we get requests for many things, like cigarettes, condoms and booze. I’ve gotten a request to deliver fine liquor to a penthouse before.
ML: What’s the job like?
Joey: Hectic. Sometimes I’ll get calls from three different places in three different directions. I’ll have to tell one I’ll be there in five, the other 10 and the last 15. Then I go zigzag through town. The two tools I use the most are my iPhone and map; it makes things easier, especially since I’ve only been here a month.
ML: Hold on, you’ve only been here a month? How’d that happen?
Joey: Well, bike messengers have a countrywide network. So if you’re from Florida and visiting Minneapolis or San Francisco or wherever for a month, you can find a temporary job. That’s how I got this job. I was living in Florida and heard that they needed somebody out here, so I jumped on it.
ML: I had no idea the bike messaging network was so big!
Joey: Yeah, it’s big and still growing. We’re getting new people at TCB all the time. We have a 24-hour hotline that people constantly call.
ML: Would you recommend the job?
Joey: It’s a lot of fun and a lot of freedom. The community’s great and there aren’t really bosses; we make decisions as a team. You do have to deal with cheap tippers and miserable weather, but if you don’t mind, it’s great.
ML: What do you think about the bike messenger reality TV show thing?
Joey: I think it’s great that there is once again enough interest in messenger culture for it to be viable on TV and even film. My concern would be in the way we are portrayed on the show, and how accurate the show would be at capturing the work we actually do. But TV is TV. Not real life.
ML: What if I want to be a bike messenger in real life? Do I need to be a fast, expert biker?
Joey: It helps to be able to go fast, but it’s more important to deliver things efficiently and safely. (The satellite phone attached to his bag starts to ring. He answers and takes an order down.) OK, well I got to go do this delivery, sorry to cut it short.
ML: No worries, I understand — business is business.