This piece was published by Mybikemagazine.com
I am a female bike messenger, I am one of those idiots on a bike that are just asking to be run over, but it doesn’t feel that way. I feel like a city goddess; wind always in my hair. I ride in the half-meter gap between a bus and a taxi, thinking about how beautiful the sun is on my face. I deliver packages, notes, legal documents, and magazine goodies across the city, which currently is Sydney, Australia. I talk to hundreds of people a day and I spend my entire workday on my pushbike. I walk swaying from the attachments I have on my body; bags and chains and locks and keys, I have my very favorite jean shorts on, thinning, ripped and misshapen. I am so often called ‘mate’, ‘man’, ‘dude’ by men who have missed my pigtails and ignored my short shorts, confident that no woman would dress that way, bulging and adorned in dark, worn clothing. It doesn’t bother me in the least, for a moment I enjoy the genderless-ness, until they see my soft, pink face, and the unnecessary apologies start. I don’t feel particularly feministic about it all, I just marvel about how comfortable and beautiful I feel in an un-pretty occupation.
When I first started couriering in London a few years ago it was as if my whole body was one big beating heart, I could feel the pulsing of my happiness in every cell of my body. I was free of any worries, any insecurity, I was home. When everyone else was grimacing I had a toothy smile through freezing rain, sloppy snow, blistering heat and wild winds.
I have a group of friends and a community that spreads cross country and continents, gathering in masses for competitions and friendship and I have an insight into the man built organism of a city, getting to know it like no one else. I have made deliveries to No.10 Downing St, high courts, carried checks for hundreds of thousands of dollars, and Chanel dress’s worth just as much. I see the reaction of breaking news ripple through a city, like one big gossiping school. The day Lee Rigby was murdered in South London, or the day of Margaret Thatchers funeral, I saw the blockages of streets, the mourners, the protesters and the parts of the city that the energy is seemed not to touch, or the people who didn’t care. I am seeing history from all angles, in motion and in reaction, in grief and in happiness.
The connection to the city I am in is deep, like I belong to a forest and the buskers have the forests songs. I am angry when I see someone disrespecting it by littering, or am encased by sadness when I watch the dirty seagull with a leg broken and bent the wrong way beg for food, seeing similarities in the homeless community asking for money with their ailments going untreated or with broken bones healed poorly. I am fighting a warrior fight against the negativity that comes from a city and I have a motherly tenderness towards the grand mass of cold concrete and glass; giving time to visitors and their need for direction, sharing a homemade muffin with the man who holds the sign that says ‘ I will work for food’ spending the 9 hours during the day yelling the same.
I see the city from all angles, from level 9 and 56, from north and south, from revolving and sunken, in light and in shadow. I experience the seasons in a unique way, feeling every day’s deliverance of weather, the wildness of a city and the reaction of its inhabitance bracing themselves for their waking hours. I watch the sleep morph into morning energy then turn in into lunchtime loudness then the still of afternoon and finally the desperation of the evening commute.
The weather makes our job difficult, if it was sunny and mild all the time it wouldn’t have the hardcore connotations behind the job, and this ‘hardcore’ factor is what creates the sub-culture. In London they talk of ‘winters’ instead of years. If you ask how long they have been doing it for, the reply would be “I’ve done 5 winters”. Coming out the other side of that hard season is like taking new breaths of life. I was riding down The Mall, with the Buckingham Palace ahead of me, the very wide road lined with Autumn trees and almost no cars in my vision. A previous wind had completely carpeted the long straight pavement I was riding on with fallen leaves. It was a pure moment; quiet and hushed, with the look of a scene untroubled. Another piece of wind swept through The Mall, the carpet of leaves were swept like the road was a treadmill, the millions of leaves moved as one, the world looked like it was being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner and me riding my bike against the movement, my eyes watering from the visual abstraction.
I am one of two female couriers in Sydney, I am bang up proud of it. Sometimes I think that this is the best time of my life. The freedom, the friendships, and I still have youth’s liquid recklessness in my veins but I have felt that recklessness ebbing away lately, I broke both my arms at the end of last year, I have been hit my cars and oblivious pedestrians, punched or spat in the face by angry men and I come off my bike in all kinds of stupid situations, and each time is getting scarier and sorer, I can feel myself riding slower and opting for a safety.
Ask any courier what they like best about the job and it is always the community and the freedom, we still have people to answer to and places to be but it is the freedom of expression and rejection of what is expected that makes the freedom run deep. Having a job that you love and being unencumbered in being an individual, that is the liberty. As for the community (the messfam they call themselves), it is unlike any other, once you break into it after a few months in the job it becomes a brotherhood, which includes the sisters but I liken it to a brotherhood because of its simplistic and masculine energy. Opening our houses to other city’s or countries couriers, caring for their illnesses and supporting their endeavors. Things like the messengers of the world raising money behind one retired courier’s back, who was losing his battle with cancer, and wished to visit his friends in South America before he died, the whole world in on the surprise. We have funds like the LCEF that raises money through races and calendars and clothing to cover costs of being off work if someone is injured on the job, and sharing candy greedily fisted out of the candy jars at receptions and smoothly passed to each other riding past. We love each other, even through the bickering.
There are such things as career courier’s, I’m not one of them, it is simply a bridge from my youth to my adulthood, one that has allowed me to forget past unhappiness and is leading me to a very strong and empowered future, because couriering has allowed me time to grow my creativity, my bravery and my endurance. I plan on cycling around the world with my courier partner next June, taking 2 to 3 years to circumnavigate, concentrating on getting to know the bigger forest that is this planet, something I would never thought I would be able to do without of first done this job.