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Life on the road

The Daily Texan - October 20, 2004

By Jennifer Jansons

Traveling in the right-hand, northbound lane on Lavaca Street, Joshua Cates makes his way to 400 W. 15th St. on a tattered, fixed-gear bicycle to pick up a package. Out of mere frustration, the guy behind honks his horn and roars past, narrowly missing Cates' handlebar.
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A few hours later, the traffic on Congress Avenue becomes so thick the surrounding cars absent-mindedly merge into his lane, giving him no choice but to forge his own lanes, squeezing between cars out of concern for his personal safety.

This is just an average day.

"Being a messenger is like having a really cool blue-collar job. That's what it is," Cates said. "You work really hard, you're up early in the morning, and you stay until the sun starts going down. You don't answer to anybody, except the dispatcher, and as long as I keep everything coming in on time, they're happy. It's physically demanding, and it hurts sometimes. It's great."

Bicycle messengers, common to the downtown Austin area and many big cities, are a group drivers love to hate.

Cates, a courier for Capital Courier Inc., said his aggressive navigating through traffic "leaves him with a feeling of control."

"I definitely ride like that when it's not necessary, part of it's habit," Cates said. "There are a lot of times when you are about to get run down, and you're not doing anything wrong."

Cates started working as a bicycle messenger in early July and is the only rider for his company. Other companies in Austin hire several messengers, Cates said.

Four delivery companies hire cyclists to deliver in the downtown area. These include Capital Courier Inc., Blast! Express, Magic Couriers and Courier Depot.

Averaging 15-to-20 "runs" a day and getting paid by the run, Cates has a demanding workweek.

He starts his day by riding downtown at 7:30 a.m. for breakfast. He starts peddling for nine hours, often averaging 20-to-30 miles a day.

Most of his trips are back-and-forth trips between 811 Barton Springs Rd. and 400 W. 15th St., the locations of two buildings with which Capital Courier does much of its business.

Cates stops by those buildings every day, but he couldn't say their names. Couriers go by the numbers when referring to Austin


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