Bike messengers are like the firemen of San Francisco. Not because they are buff or rescue kittens from trees, but because they are universally thought to be hot stuff.
They embody pretty much everything that is adored by San Franciscans: incredible fitness, bike riding prowess, facial hair, Chrome messenger bags, antidisestablishmentarianism, and a certain aura of dirtier than you but still better-than-youness that is fairly irresistible.
If you’ve ever seen them lounging on the steps around One Post, smoking and playing slap/tickle with one another while pointedly ignoring the worker bees milling around them you know exactly what I mean.
The bike messenging field is an interesting one in that it seems to attract people who dislike corporate America, but who want to run errands for it during regular business hours. It is this strange symbiotic relationship which makes bike messengers such confusing and mysterious creatures, not dissimilar to the fish that clean the skins of sharks.
Being a bike messenger, like tight-rope walking or driving in cars with high school boys, is basically the act of studied nonchalance in the face of imminent death. Only once have I seen a bike messenger get really excited about something and that was when a car knocked him down on Market Street.
He dragged his bike through the intersection, bellowing all the while, and finally came to a stop in front of the offending vehicle which was conveniently trapped in the middle of a crosswalk. He planted himself against its grill and began furiously typing on his cell phone.
It was unclear who he would be texting at this juncture (are you there God? It’s me Jerry) but perhaps it’s a testament to our dependence on social networking, that even getting hit by a car and then holding it hostage in a busy intersection isn’t complete without a live tweet from the event.
Like most other people in the Financial District, bike messengers wear a black uniform. But unlike most other people it usually consists of cutoff shorts, Vans or fancy bike shoes, a lower leg tattoo, and a helmet, or more likely a bandanna, which in laboratory crash tests has been found to be 1/100th as effective as a helmet, but 200 times more attractive.
This distinction is obviously not lost on your average messenger, which is why when debating life over lays he/she tends to reach for the bandanna. As a classmate of mine once said about the difference between novels and short stories, “The one that gets me off in half the time is the one I go for every time,” which judging by the total unpopularity of short stories is clearly not a sentiment shared by many Americans, but perhaps one that bike messengers can relate to.