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MONDAY, AUGUST 7, 2000

 

small city

long life

 

Peek-a-boo, Iíve seen you. And youíve seen me as well.

No, really. I write this with justified confidence after being a bicycle messenger in San Francisco since the summer of ó are you ready for this? ó 1979. It is with a healthy sense of individual identity and awareness of my selfhood that I admit to you that, like the cable car driver with a bushy beard, suspenders and a beret or the North Beach cafť regular with an archaic vest and Sunday papers from both coasts in his clutches, I am a San Francisco archetype. Youíve seen me all right. My hair is a bit too long and my shorts are a bit too short; I ride a low-tech, basket-encumbered one speed, often with a gnashed grin on my face as I stand on my pedals for that extra bit of power.

Iíve seen you in your office, in elevators, smoking outside your building, walking on your break, getting a little sun and wind for lunch, waiting in line for food or caffeine, and heading home relieved after a long dayís work. Iíve rung my bell at you with any of a number of interpretations: Lookout! Hey, get out of my way, please! Hi, nice to see you again! Or most likely: Hi, you look like the lights are on and someone might be home!Ö I wonderÖ well, maybe weíll meet someday.

Perhaps we have met and become friendsÖ we saw each other at a bar or concert and recognized each other from downtown, or I handed you a package downtown and announced that I had seen you at our common, favorite hangout the night before. Maybe we havenít met and we still ascribe cartoon character features to each otherís non-workaday lives. You think I return to a gutter after work and sip cheap beer with others of my ilk till itís time to ride again; Iím convinced, as I see you clutching your cell phone, that you return to a home full of off-white walls in order to relive your workday in front of your computer screen. You wonder how I can be fulfilled by something as seemingly meaningless as riding a bike for a living; I suspect you actually think you lost a friend when Seinfeld signed off the air.

Weíre both wrong, of course. When Iím not wallowing in the endorphin rush of hills, miles, and increasingly challenging traffic, I read books, hone my skills in other languages, and pursue an advanced degree in clinical psychology, in order to make a living when pedaling is no longer an option. You, Iím sure, are also a full, diverse human being and have physical and intellectual pursuits which take you galaxies away from your day job.

In these increasingly generic times, as we see money and ambition dilute San Francisco and make it less unique and more umÖ erÖ American, I think that aging messengers like myself provide a pleasant link back to innocent days when choosing to ride a bike for money instead of succumbing to technopeasantry, was still a respectable decision. Iíve often, in talking about my years as a messenger, divided my colleagues into two categories; those who canít do anything else and those who canít do anything else. The delineation is often very subtle.

So next time I ring and waveÖ how about a smile back? After all, a smile is good for a mile and I still have many miles to ride!

Steel Monkey