Thursday, 7 April 2011

Once, Twice, Three Times a Rush: Manifest Density

While certain career choices involve following a proscribed path, others require that you make your own way and learn as you go along. For example, if you want to become a dentist, your path is clear: pass the dentisting high school equivalency test, establish proof of Serotta ownership, buy yourself a Dremel, and let the drilling commence. On the other hand, if you want to become a cat psychic, it is up to you to discover and nurture your inner power to swindle lonely single people out of their disposable income.

Like reading cats' minds, bicycle messengering is another superfluous vocation for which there is no set path--at least until last year, when Wesleyan University announced that it would be offering a BA in "Human-Powered Couriership." However, spending four years in a sheltered environment that allows you to carefully construct an identity before you field test it in a slightly larger sheltered environment such as Williamsburg, Brooklyn or Portland, OR can be a costly endeavor. So what do you do if you just want to "get right to it" like they did "back in the day" when Americans actually had moxie?

Well, you visit the website of the Travel Channel, of course, because with "Triple Rush" about to "drop" they're offering a Bike Messenger Gear Guide. I sure hope you've been saving those pennies, since you'll need a lot of stuff. For example, no messenger worth his or her "taint" goes to work without "padded leggins:"

Some bikers choose to wear padded leggins when then bike.

I don't know what "padded leggins" means, but it sounds like it should be the name of a cartoon leprechaun.

Unfortunately though there's no pot of gold at the end of your messenger career, just six figures in unpaid hospital bills you can start paying off in 30 years after you've finally paid off that college loan.

Regardless, you should also make sure your wardrobe incorporates a "pop of color," since your new career's "cool factor" rests entirely on the impression you make when you saunter into that modeling agency or design firm with their precious cargo.

You'll also need a soundtrack:

If it's a slow day at work, bring along some tunes. They always help the day to move along.

This is tremendously important, mostly because it will be a slow day at work since nobody really needs you. Really, the only thing keeping the messenger industry alive is that a few companies still think it's cooler to summon NYU grads clad in "padded leggins" of eye-popping color than to hit the "send" button on their email program. Also, you'll need a soundtrack for when you're riding, since--and this may come as a shock to you--cool music doesn't actually play while you're riding around New York City like it does in all those fixed-gear videos you've been watching.

But the most important accessory of all? Sunglasses:

Please. Don't forget your shades. The last thing you want is to get in an accident and blame it on the sun.

Yes, you'll need those just in case you're in exactly the right place and heading in exactly the right direction at exactly the right time for the sun to actually shine between two skyscrapers and into your eyes like in that map scene in the first Indiana Jones movie. (If this happens, start digging immediately, because you're standing on the Ark of the Covenant.)

Oddly though, while the Travel Channel recommends sunglasses for safety, it doesn't actually say anything about helmets--except that you should have a camera on yours, since as a 21st century urban cyclist you are nothing more than an organic media content farm. You might also think about buying "bike shoes:"

Some bike messengers choose to wear bike shoes, which helps them grip the pedals better.

That's pretty much the worst description of clipless pedals I've ever read.

But where you hang out while you're off the clock is just as important as the padding in your leggins, so I took the Travel Channel's advice:

See a listing of the Bike Messenger Hot Spots for a list of their hangout spots and favorite bike shops in New York City.

And checked out those "hangout spots:"

Apparently, when they're not working, bike messengers like to hang out at the Diesel for Hipsters Chrome store. By the way, further to yesterday's post in which I talked about people taking liberties with quotes, this testimonial makes me suspicious:

"I love (their) messenger bags and gear!"

– Jenessa, bike messenger from Breakaway

Without the parenthetical "their," this just says "I love messenger bags and gear!" We know this. Obviously she loves messenger bags and gear in general--that's why she decided to put her double major in Spanish and International Relations to work by becoming a messenger. It's like joining the army because you're really into what Best Made Co. is doing. But does she really love Chrome's messenger bags and gear specifically, or did they just slip that "(their)" in there gratuitously as the parentheses suggest? Or, when you're on a show like this, is everything you say just a big Mad Libs into which the producers slip brand names and products as needed?

Either way, "Triple Rush" promises to do to the image of New York City cyclists what Yakov Smirnoff did for the image of Russians:

Triple Rush - Danger from Triple Rush on Vimeo.

The above video adheres to the bicycle messenger video style manual, which mandates that any video must include messengers talking about how dangerous their job is while simultaneously including footage of them doing their job in the most idiotically dangerous way possible. Here's one genius riding right into a cab:

I'd like to see a video from the IBEW in which electricians talk about how dangerous their job is, intercut with footage of them randomly stabbing at wall outlets with forks.

But it's not just the danger--it's also the fact that nobody respects them or realizes how important they are:

Oh, man, there are so many obstacles when you're a bike messenger. Like, the guy glued to his cellphone just walking out in front of you, the woman who sees you but she's like, "I'm gonna cross against the light anyways," or you've got the cabbie who's, like, trying to kill you, like run you down, then you've got, like, someone just opening their door, like, wide in the middle of the street...

I wish people would pay more attention too, but in New York City those aren't "obstacles," they're real life--and real life doesn't stop and get out of your way just because you have an envelope to deliver. Unless you're driving an ambulance and someone's bleeding to death in the back of it, it's your job to look out for everybody else. And yes, this does involve stopping for self-involved douchebags on cellphones on occasion.

None of this is to say that riding in New York City isn't full of danger, but messengers should not have the monopoly on bragging about it. Actually, these days in New York City the most daring and defiant type of cycling is the simple act of commuting:

Maybe the Travel Channel should make a show about that.

Meanwhile, in Copenhagen, a reader informs me that the smugness is so highly refined that people actually move sofas with their "bake feets:"

As P.J. O'Rourke said in his Wall Street Journal editorial, "The bicycle is the only method of conveyance worse than feet. You can walk up three flights of stairs carrying one end of a sofa. Try that on a bicycle." It's heartening to see someone actually taking him up on the challenge, and perhaps as an encore he can also manage to insert the sofa into O'Rourke's anal cavity.

I'm not sure the Travel Channel would air that, but it would make a great pay-per-view special.

Speaking of "bake feets," I'm not sure what the opposite of one would be, but a road bike with aerobars would certainly be a good candidate. This is just the sort of bike the time-traveling t-shirt-wearing retro-Fred from the planet Tridork rides, and an astude reader recently spotted both his bike and his helmet in the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel:

This led the reader to conclude that the items had been stolen, and a closer inspection reveals that it certainly is the same bike and the same helmet:

For one fleeting moment, I experienced a flicker of hope when I thought, "Perhaps the retro-Fred has temporarily exchanged his t-shirt and half-shorts for a business suit." Alas, I was merely deluding myself. Just look at the lithe, limber grace with which the retro-Fred drapes himself over the aerobars. He and the bike are as one, and there's just no way he could feign suit guy's awkwardness and discomfort. It would be like asking Teddy Pendergrass to sing off-key in a shrill and nasal voice--he couldn't do it no matter how hard he tried.

Plus, suit guy doesn't have a "soul patch."

Anyway, now that suit guy is in possession of the retro-Fred bike I wonder if he will become as ubiquitous as its erstwhile owner. He's certainly available:

Then again, he does face some stiff competition, most notably from this guy:

The website describes this image in a rather stilted fashion:

An African American biker guy riding his classic street bike with a focused look of concentration on his face.

Wow. I would have described this a bit differently, probably along the lines of: "A young man riding a bicycle with a schmatta on his head bursts forth from a mystical orange background in surreal fashion, his lips pursed as though he's drinking from the magical juice box of Jesus."

Also, he's clearly well-versed in the art of the "doucheclamation point:"

As ridiculous as some of these poses are, none of them rivals the introduction to this write-up of a $360 cycling dress shirt which was forwarded to me by yet another reader:

It's always hilarious to see the makeshift ways businessmen who bike to work stash their stuff. Take my dad. He hooks a shopping bag around his handle bars, which looks only slightly less ridiculous than what he used to do: carry a mini backpack. To give you a proper visual: My father is 6-foot-5 and could easily be mistaken for a grizzly bear.

This made me really angry. Here's a businessman who actually rides his bicycle to work and who foregoes all the expensive panniers and handmade bags and artisanal racks everybody thinks you need to commute by bike these days. Instead, he simply uses a shopping bag, or a simple backpack. He's a practical man, a hardworking man, a frugal man. A man who always supported his daughter, and who provided for her instead of buying more canvas luggage for his Rivendell. So how does this daughter repay him? She becomes a snotty design editor and says he looks like a freakish grizzly bear in a review of an overpriced cycling shirt.

And what's so ridiculous about a backpack anyway? How is it worse than riding around in a dress shirt with pockets on the back with a bunch of crap sticking out of them? How do you even tuck it in?

I bet it's even better in the office.

"Hey, Walter, do you have that brief for me?"

"Sure, here it is, it's in the back pocket of my dress shirt...whoops, looks like it got a little lower back sweat on it."

Then again, this could be the perfect shirt for commuting in New York City, since you can actually access your pockets while you're handcuffed.


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