2017 Markus Cook Award – Call for nominations

It’s time to call for nominations for this year’s Markus Cook Award for services to the international messenger community.

This will be the 20th year that the award is presented. It was started by Buffalo Bill in 1998, to remember Markus and to draw attention to messengers whose work benefits all of us. It was first awarded during the 1998 Cycle Messenger World Championships in Washington DC.

From the IFBMA’s Markus Cook Award page:

“The MCA for services to the International Messenger Community is not a prize for winning a race. At the time the Award was conceived, CMWC was beginning to be more about the racing than the happening. I [ Buffalo Bill] wanted to re-establish the spirit of the championships, to restate the reason that we all come to this event every year.

The MCA is a reflection of the axiom that everyone who comes to a CMWC is a winner, whether they race or not.

Markus himself was very much in love with the CMWC, and in many ways he was the unlikeliest bike racer imaginable. He was several other things, of course. Editor of Mercury Rising messenger zine, unofficial spokesperson of the SFBMA, leader of L Sid, and a friend to all. The enthusiasm of Markus brought CMWC and the international messenger community toSan Francisco, and it saddens many people to this day that he did not live to see it.

This award is for people that inspire and empower the wider messenger community, that put all of us before themselves.”

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Blazing Saddles

Here is another old article from 1992 about DC couriers. Yes they were already writing articles about the end of messengers in 1992. When I first read this in 1993 I didn’t know any messengers outside of my own city and I thought Scrooge and Su were awesome.  Scrooge would become one of my messenger heroes. He’s still awesome.

It’s was originally published in the New Republic and was republished in W. Hampton Sides’ book “Americana” in 2004.

Blazing Saddles

The decline and fall of bike messengers

By W. Hampton Sides (New Republic Vol. 207, New Republic,12-21-1992, pp 16.)

Tuesday through Friday nights, the bike messengers congregate at a Washington dive called Asylum for a little-known event, the “Courier Happy Hour.”At 6 p.m. they come skidding in from the streets, Lycra spider men with names like Beaver, Beetlejuice, and Bam Bam. Concrete cowboys with shaved legs and holstered Motorola radios, scabby knees and earrings, guys who look like some weird cross between Greg LeMond and Sid Vicious. Soon the place is reminiscent of the alien bar in Star Wars, all sorts of interesting-looking beasts and hard-shelled insects hobnobbing in the dim lounge, speaking a strange patois. “Made a major southwest slice, man. Cut a big hole in the traffic in front of this Murphy at Farragut and then I shredded ’em, man, had him eating my dust….”

The conversation often centers on perennial peeves — jaywalkers, elevators, security guards, cops, potholes, tourists, Capitol Hill metal detectors, suddenly opened car doors, or, most common of all, cabdrivers. “This cabbie’s cutting me off, so I kick in his fender. Then the prick flips me the bird. So at the light I take out my radio, ride up to his window, and bash him good across face, like this.”

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I’d Rather Be a Messenger

I began collecting and researching articles about bike messengers in 1993. One of the first articles I found on microfiche at the Toronto reference library was by Jack Kuglemass from 1981 in Natural History Magazine. 

The copy I was able to print out was of very poor quality so I was never able to transcribe it and put it up. I have been searching for it to be available publicly online for the last 20 years. It’s finally up.

I still think this is probably the best article ever written about bike messengers.

Kuglemass also appears in the National Geographic Explorer documentary on bike messengers entitled “Big City Bike Messengers”

I’d Rather Be a Messenger

New York City’s bicycle messengers prefer the independence
and excitement of dodging traffic to the routine of a nine-to-five job.

By Jack M. Kugelmass

Natural History, August 1981

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I’m speeding across town, weaving in and out of traffic. I’ve already done sixteen runs. Good messengers do twenty-five, but I’ll settle for twenty. I’m tired, and it’s late. But I’m trying for that magic number. So I pedal harder. I’m pushing, trying to reach the front of the line of traffic. As I move up to take the lead, I no longer feel tired. My mind is working fast, checking out openings. I hug the curb, keeping clear of the traffic. But I’m riding too close to construction debris: there are mounds of dry cement powder on the road. Before I realize what’s happening, the hike skids out of control. I pump the brakes but still can’t keep my balance. I can feel myself going down. The impact on the cold pavement overwhelms me. I remember there is a truck behind me, but my body won’t move. My head can turn, so I twist it backward and stare helplessly at the driver seated high above me. I feel like a conquered gladiator. The driver motions to me to lie still, not to move until I’m ready. The shock passes. I pick myself up unsteadily and walk my bicycle over to the curb. Still shaken, I get back on and begin to ride, a little slower, a little less arrogant, no longer trying for that magic number.”

So ended my first week as a bicycle messenger. I took the job in order to study bicycle messengers, but after a day or two I had become more concerned with magic numbers than with researching the story. Although it made me hesitant to continue riding, the accident on the cement powder put me back on the right path: I began to concentrate on meeting and arranging interviews with other messengers. I also began to understand the attractions of “messengering” as a way of life, particularly the romance of danger.

The 600 bicycle messengers who ply New York City’s Borough of Manhattan are a diverse group of people. They cross over class, ethnic, and racial lines, and although a small minority, there are women riders too. But all share a kinship with the heroes of the Wild West. They are romantic adventurers who prefer the exhilaration of danger to civilization’s deadening routine.

The streets of Manhattan are a frontier, a no man’s land. In the main business districts, they interrupt the flow of civilized behavior, contrasting with the sterile, almost hermetically sealed world of high-rise offices. If there are laws regulating New York City traffic, they are barely enforced. Bicycle messengers are fast and contemptuous of the rules. They intimidate pedestrians and alarm the drivers of other vehicles competing with them for space on the road. Messengers sometimes wear outlandish clothes that go well beyond what is functional attire for riding in town. Some wear gas masks to filter out particles of dirt from automobile exhaust fumes. Others wear special racing gloves from which their knuckles protrude in a vaguely menacing way. And they all have one identifying mark—an oversized bag slung behind their backs.

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Toronto bike messenger killed. Messengers to hold vigil.

Mike Rankin

Mike Rankin

Toronto bike messenger Mike Rankin, 56 was killed after being struck by a taxi on Wednesday November 7. Rankin, who was wearing a helmet, suffered sever head injuries when he was hit at the intersection of Richmond Street and University Avenue by a taxi driver who said he was clearing the light. Rankin worked for Zap/Cys Courier house (#62)

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“Clearing the light” is a term often used to describe a driver who upon seeing his light turn to yellow he puts his foot on the gas to speed through the intersection as the light turns to red. It’s also sometimes referred to as running a red light.

Most bike messengers are killed by large vehicles in the downtown core. It’s quite rare for a bike messenger to be killed by a car as speeds in the core are often slower. In this case Rankin’s helmet was destroyed by the car upon impact.

Toronto messengers are holding a memorial ride today (Friday November 9) at 5pm at the corner of Richmond St and University Avenue.

Choking us to death. Is science finally catching up?

Twelve years ago Toronto bike messengers warned of the dangers of smog to our health in “Choking us to death: The Air Pollution Crisis and Its Effects on Bicycle Couriers.”

Couriers pointed to a unique vulnerability due to exposure to both the ground-level ozone and particulate matter present in smog and to exposure to peek levels of pollution together with long-term exposure to non peak levels.

“Bicycle couriers work all day, year round in the midst of smog. Our lungs have minimal opportunity to recover from the effects of polluted air. We are chronically exposed to high doses of dangerously polluted air for long term, extended periods of time.”

The athletic nature of the profession requires messengers to “spend more time outdoors, breathe faster and engage in vigorous physical activity.”

This danger to couriers is exacerbated by the location of the athletic activity which means that a bike courier’s “lungs are not more than about 10 feet from an exhaust pipe for most of the day.”

Since the release of “Choking us to death,” many studies have confirmed couriers’ concerns.

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