Thursday, January 29, 2009

Interview with Boots

Along time ago early on in my career as professional bike messenger in the QC a crazy fellow rolled up to me on his fixed geared machine(up until that day I had not really seen one) wanting to know why in the hell I had a bag on my back yet I was free wheeling(if you are out of the loop that means coasting). Enter into my life Chandler Snyder who turned out to be Boots before long. Back then Chandler had previously worked the streets of Denver Colorado and had come back home to Charlotte to get a job here working for Mercury Messengers as well as bust all of our balls and get us rolling the way we should. After his stint here and tolerating the stash as long as he could he moved back to the mile high shitty, got married, had a kid that smiles with his entire body and has recently started being a courier all over again. I had the chance a couple of years ago to do a 4 day road ride out in Colorado and Wyoming, on the way home from Denver I got stranded flying Non-Rev so Boots let me crash at his place and buy him dinner. Every time he comes back east to see his family he stops by to say hello. It is sort of top secret but I have just given you all clearance, Boots is on the way back to the Jar to help drive sales for one of the best local bike courier services in town. In this faltering economy the messenger which has been around for over 6,000 years or the time of the Greek Gods is about to flourish. I warn you all now his second coming is going to change all of your lives forever, get ready Boots is back and he has some major support.

here is a recent email interview I did with my friend Boots.
1. What is your favorite salsa?
Well William, I like that question, cause I need to know if you're referring to store bought or restaurant style. For store bought it has to be Religious Experience Medium! Its so yummy! Im not sure you have it out there, but it may make it down that way soon. Quite chunky and the medium would be considered Hot for your part of the country. As for restaurant, im pretty much a fan of most salsa that is served at any number of wonderful Mexican places we have in Denver. Im going to have to find some places in Charlotte after we move, because I've become a fan of Green Chili here. Gotta find a great place to have a "smothered green chili burrito"!
2. Tell us about your messengering career from rookie status to vet status back to rookie status all over again and in two major cities.
Hmmmm...its a bit strange to be talking about my "career". You know im not going to touch the "rookie" status "all over again" part of your question. Once you've earned your "stripes" you never go back to being a rookie. A seasoned vet in a new city is worth 5 rookies who grew up there any day of the week.
Now, my start. I moved to Denver on a whim after graduating from UNC-Wilmington in the 2000. An old college friend had moved out here a couple years before me and kept saying how awesome Colorado was and how there were bikes everywhere and no humidity. My parents bought a ticket for me as a graduation present. I came to Denver, and in the first week here I was humping packages for a local company named Speedy(aka "Bleedy" due to the size of the paychecks for the amount of work you do). It didn't go well. I quit after 2 weeks due to getting into it with my dispatcher because he thought my knowledge of the city sucked. The irony of that situation was that he was fired a week later for running off every new rider they hired, and had been for weeks.
I managed to meet a few heads and got in good enough with a group who worked for a company named Velocity couriers. This was in September of 2000. The company was pretty new, and was located inside a repro-graphics company's office downtown. The graphics company...CTS...had partly funded the start up costs and as part of the contract with Velocity, we had to do all their courier work...both car and bike work. I knew I wasn't in "Kansas anymore" on the first day when I walked in, and the now defunct owner Johnny Gaitan said its "work WHITTIE day"! Well, Johnny held up his end of that statement real quick. Myself and the other "white" guy, Winston, were somehow always doing the grunt share of CTS work, which for the most part were construction drawings that for the most part weighed anywhere from 10-40lbs! it wasn't uncommon to roll out the door with multiple rolls on my back. At that time in Denver, there were lots of messengers, over a 100 id have to say, and plenty of companies around. After proving myself through the winter, which was a pretty nasty one if memory serves, I started getting some gravy runs(runs that tended to be easier and paid a helluva lot more). Back then, you did have to prove yourself. There were always fair weather kids who thought being a messenger was cool, but didn't realize that it meant showing up no matter what the outside conditions were, and no matter what your internal conditions were from the night before. Yeah, we partied hard back then!
After working for Velocity for a while, I moved back over to Speedy, as my friend Byron who was a rider got bumped up to dispatcher. I got pretty sweet runs and got paid fairly well. Keep in mind that the amount of work out there was huge! An average day with Speedy, or with anyone at that time, was around 60-70 runs a day, and as far as I know I still have the second most tags on a day record at 89, right behind my buddy Winston who worked out a whopping 95 in a day. These were real runs, not the kind where you walk into a building and pick 20 tags from one company. These were one by one, from different companies around town.
I swapped around to a couple more companies, before in 2003, I moved back to Charlotte for a year after going through a divorce with my first wife. I ran into you guys back then. Ill let you give that story...I think your version will be better. Of course I will say that I thought I was rolling up on some kids from the country side when I met you in downtown Charlotte that day a the fountain by the library! I know you remember that!
In Jan of 2004 I moved back to the mile high shitty. After dealing with emotions and out of control ways of living from my divorce the previous year, I decided to give Denver a second shot. It was a different city to come back to, even just a year later. The effects of 9-11-01 were being fully felt in the courier world here. Most of the courts had gone to a mandatory "e-file" system, and increased security kept us out of some business we'd been doing work for for years. Companies were downsizing the courier numbers and some courier companies had folded. Humping for a living meant doing about 20-30 runs a day, and then were the "new kids on the block"...aka the Hipsters...aka the Pozengers. Now for those of you reading who ARE NOT messengers and ride around looking like you are, on your cool single speed, or fixy, with the bag, the pants rolled up, the super tight pants, which for some unknown reason to me is cool to have your junk stuffed up there like Silence of The Lambs guy, yes this is going to hurt a bit. If you want to be a courier...GET A JOB!!! Quit running red lights, yelling at cars, running from cops, riding on sidewalks...and my list could go on...why??? BECAUSE WE GET THE HEAT FOR IT!!!! Seriously, its happened 3 times in the past month here in Denver. Cops come up to us hanging out and start telling us about "one of your buddies on the whatever color bike that we're looking for him". We look at them and say "um, he's not a courier". The cop then looks at us and says, but he had "one of those bikes and a bag on"! So...if you want to emulate us, cool, but have a brain about it and realize that your actions DO HAVE consequences.
So, back to my "history". In 2005, I decided to try leaving the "brotherhood" that is messengering. I went to work for a couple of high end bike shops in the area and had a great time doing it. Unfortunately I always got itchy feet after a few months of doing this work. I missed being outside in all the madness that is couriering. So, when I was recently hit the string of bad luck that has helped turn my family's decision to move back east, I turned to the streets again. Currently Im working in Denver for peanuts a day. The company Im working for is quite corrupt from the top down, and I struggle daily to tell myself Im doing this out of good karma deposits that I will one day reap.
I think that is just about covers it. Its a brief history, and there's plenty of stuff to add but, i think more direct and pinpoint questioning on your part William will help bring that out.
3. Some people say being a bike messenger is one of the most rewarding jobs in the world, do you think so and why?
Yes/No! Hahahaha...how ya like me now?! I think its rewarding for the right person. Just like there are people suited to do every job out there, there are people who are suited to be messengers. In the true sense of the word, yes it can be rewarding as hell. I get to see the world move and change around me, from the weather and the physical world of nature, to the steel and man made environment that is created and destroyed daily, weekly, monthly, yearly....forever and ever. Watching the myriads of people, cars, cranes, animals, etc moving around and us moving in between them, at time seemingly like the speed of light, and at other times like the slow crawl of a tortoise racing its hare, its a rewarding job to be sure.
Then there's the physical aspect personally. I can feel when my body gets stale and rusty with non-use and slackness. So, knowing I will be going out in weather that others would cringe at...say -19 degrees F with 3 feet of snow on the ground, to 105 degrees watching my tires melt on the asphalt, is an experience I can never share with anyone else except my messenger brothers and sisters. Feeling my bike gain 10 extra pounds from snow and ice, and watching my body dissipate in the summer as I sweat all my extra weight off, are freeing and life giving experiences.
4. Have you ever ran into a car?
On other words...have you ever been fucked up by a car? Well, the simple answer is NO! The complex and "real" answer is YES!! hahaha. In my first 5 years of messengering I had a shattered Patella(knee cap) and now have 2 titanium screws in it. Had 2 broken wrists...actually have an old photo of me in a cast working....i had the caster at the hospital mold it so I could ride my fixy. Ive had 4 cracked ribs and a possible cracked collar bone.
All of those were done while avoiding being hit by the car. Id rather take a broken bone, than to lose my life....period.
I have been aimed at by cars, by buses, by taxis, had stuff thrown at me, been chased by police(which im 2-0 at so far), been chased by pedestrians, knocked off my bike by pedestrians, fallen in slush and snow and slid half a block, yelled at to get off the sidewalk, yelled at the get off the streets, spit on, laughed at, whistled at, and im sure other things I cant remember.
5. What about those Denver cops and Federal Marshalls, do they bust balls?
Denver Cops...fuckem! They stop us all that time. Back in the 90's J-Bone actually got cases taken to court and to the Mayor for harassment issues from the cops on messengers. He won...period. We get hassled for any number of offenses. Hell, we even get ticketed for riding on the sidewalk on the same block we're delivering to! Those cases have gotten laughed out of court by the judges lately....which is pretty sweet.
Federal Marshalls...gotta lovem! They are the coolest security type people out here. They know they have bigger fish to fry.
Bottom line either way is...you get back what you put out. If you go into a court house or get pulled by the cops and give them attitude, you're asking for trouble. You have to pick your battles and realize that to a certain extent you have to work within the system to buck the system.

7 comments:

GenghisKhan said...

Hey, enjoyed the interview. As a US of A west coast-ish single speed mountain biker, the inner workings and experiences of the fixie messenger world are relatively unknown to me--thanks for sharing.

GenghisKhan said...

Question for Billy or Boots--why can't one messenger with a free wheel ride? Is there an actual performance benefit to riding fixed, or is it more of a cultural/preference issue?

Peace!

Boots said...

Genghis...its not a rule that you ride a fixy, its more of a utilitarian thing, well was. Its definitely more of a "status" thing now. But more to the point, fixies are cheap, easy to keep up, less stuff to worry about, and the anti-theft factor is there too...ever seen a guy try to steal a fixy and ride downhill at heavy cross traffic? I have...hahaha! I currently dont have a fixy and ride my cross bike...check it on my blog.

Billy said...

GK-
of course someone or anyone for that matter can be a courier whilst rolling along coasting, no problem there that is how I started. The thing is the parts just start falling away the more you do this type of job. So over time one deduces that the parts need to go away. Simple and perfectly organic to the job is what I say but that is based on over a decade of experience. For shits and giggles go ask a Pozenger the same question, you may get a laugh.

GenghisKhan said...

Boots--I had forgotten that fixie frees up the need for rear brakes (and for some front!), thus increasing the simplicity, as you pointed out. And, I like the idea of a bike thief (curse 'em all!) windmilling down a steep street--handn't thought of the security angle.

Billy--You confirmed what Boots said on the simplicity and neither I nor Google know what a "Pozenger" is, but I'm guessin' it ain't good!

Peace!

Billy said...

GK-
See if google, blackle or wikipedia for that matter has it listed as posenger or perhpas fauxzenger. It is a gereral annoyance that crops up from time to time only temporarily in cities that have real messengers. I guess maybe even towns that do not have any messengers at all may once in awhile get infested with this ellusive bunch of bag wearing look alikes. One day soon I will post one of the funniest Pozenger stories ever....

GenghisKhan said...

"Posenger" worked--thanks for the tip. And, I loves me funny poser stories--do tell, do tell!