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Yammer #16


Never saw perplexity
(never hoped to see it)
that wasn't more entangled by
my own attempts to free it.


Yini Yohans





I suppose no matter what you do for a living, you are forced to accept that certain colleagues will, for good or ill, somehow come to represent your vocation in the mindís eyes of the general public. All airline pilots are forced to imitate Chuck Yaegerís Texan drawl; all computer geeks channel microbits of Gates, Wozniak, and Jobs; and all lawyers are tainted by the brush dipped in the oily mixture of superstar lawyers like Mel Belli, F. Lee Bailey, and Johnnie Cochran. It is, nevertheless, annoying and ironic when bike messengers who have a vain self-image as the last of the rugged individualists cannot make a new friend or go to a party without being asked, upon disclosing our careers, "Oh, you mean likeÖ Ďthat guy.í"

When I started messengering in San Francisco, late in 1979, "that guy" was a fellow with the charmingly unsexy nickname, "Crud." To his credit, Crud was the real thing. Crud, a good-looking, healthy long-hair with a wolfy smile, wore a cap with a propeller, switched back and forth from streets to sidewalks at will, and perfected a howling scream which echoed throughout the canyons of the financial district. To this day, over twenty years later, some vestiges of Crudís sounds and couture still appear among the messenger hordes.

After Crud disappeared, his place was taken by a talented, stage-hungry musician named Marcus. Marcus was visible, articulate, charismatic, and ambitious. He wasnít, Iím sorry to say, that much of a messenger since he was often injured, notoriously lazy, and quite preoccupied with rehearsing and publicizing his string of bands. Marcus had the attention and phone numbers of local media types like Herb Caen who could always use a bit of messenger color on a slow news day. Marcus, almost single-handedly, created the after-work messenger scene and by doing so guaranteed constant audiences and venues for his musical pursuits. The scene flourishes to this day as more and more bars figure out a messenger-friendly gig attracts thirsty patrons. If that wasnít enough, Marcus also founded and produced a ízine called "Mercury Rising," which declared to the world at large that we had a happening sub-culture. The more he trumpeted our secrets, the more we could count on reading about ourselves in the mainstream dailies and weeklies of this town. Yippee, no? Marcus died young, the victim of an overdose. Not long after his death, the SF Weekly ran a cover story about him, his bands, and his life as a messenger. Death is a great career move in any field.

And then there was Puck. Oy. Puck was a messenger for milliseconds but set new records for "that guy." Puck got picked for the very popular MTV show "The Real World" and soon become a minor international star. I could explain my job anywhere on the globe now, from Los Angeles to Lisbon, and expect the same response: "Oh, like Puck?" Puckís contribution to the image of messengers as smelly, drug-addled, psychotic sociopaths made good old Crud seem like Martha Stewart.

Our leader nowadays, in the eyes of the SF public, is just that, a leader. Howie is a brilliant, diverse, soft-spoken, intelligent individual who should have been born in time for the epic union struggles of the early twentieth century. Hell, Howie should have been at Leninís side in 1917. Howie, like Marcus, is media-savvy. Year after year he leads the efforts to unionize messengers, form associations and old-fashioned guilds, and generally make a bunch of itinerant, anarchistic bikers act like shriners on parade. Donít get me wrong, I admire and love the guy. But do we really need a party leader when we are all party leaders at heart?

I once told a bartender downtown that I didnít like the messenger movie "Quicksilver" because I wished that Mickey Rourke or Matt Dillon had played the lead. "No way," she said and looked deep into my eyes. "Matt Dillon is way too cute to play a bike messenger." So much for popular images of bike messengers that day!

Steel Monkey (bjksf@wenet.net