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Tour de Cleveland

Cleveland Plain Dealer, July 22, 2007

Dave Schalmo, 27, is a member of Cleveland's dedicated -- and often fearless -- corps of bike messengers. For almost 10 hours a day, Schalmo pedals around downtown, picking up packages, dropping off envelopes and dodging cars and trucks. He gets paid by the delivery and won't say how much he makes, only that "none of us are super rich." Nursing a cold drink after a recent shift, Schalmo answered a few questions from PDQ's John Campanelli.

In the age of e-mail, PDF documents and high-speed Internet, why do people still need bike messengers?

Because you can't fax a contract. You can't fax a court file. It has to go there. It's cheaper to send me than it is to kick somebody out of office for an hour.

Do you know what you're delivering?

No, not ever. More so than that, I don't care.

How many miles a day do you ride?

I probably put in no more than 40, because it's all stop and go. There's no real long hauls.

How much water do you drink on a summer day?

I hit every single drinking fountain I see.

How much beer do you drink after a shift on a summer day?

I plead the Fifth.

Ever get traffic tickets?

In the past, yes. . . . Red lights.

What are your work clothes?

Whatever T-shirt is clean. Whatever shorts are clean. Or, if it's the winter, 94 layers -- hopefully, most of which are clean.

How fast can you fix a flat?

I've done it in under four minutes. I think the best I ever did was with a CO2 inflater and steel-core tire levers -- I think I did one in two, flat. But I haven't NASCAR'd a tire in forever, it's just not worth it.

How often do you get flat tires?

I probably get a flat every two weeks.

Biggest hazard of the job?

People e-mailing on their BlackBerry or people text-messaging while driving. . . . It's a two-ton car. Look up, there's a lot of stuff going on.

Biggest thing you've had to deliver?

A 65-pound box.

Why don't you wear a helmet?

I'm going to start, actually. There are a couple of guys recently who got dinged up pretty good, and I think it's just something that has to be done.

How do you keep your bike from getting stolen?

I have a bike lock called the Master Lock Street Cuffs. It looks like a gigantic set of handcuffs. If you can break through them, you can have my bike.

How often do you crash?

I would say once every three weeks. You hit a bad rut in the road or if it's raining, what looks like flat ground is actually a gigantic chuckhole.

Busiest time of the year?

Tax week is all kinds of wrong.

Biggest misconception about bike messengers?

I think people think we're really angry.

Most surprising thing about Cleveland you've learned from this job? I used to not like this city. When I was younger, I hated it. . . . You show up every day, you see all the businesses and you realize it's not that bad. In fact, it's kind of fun and quirky and strange and altogether very interesting.

How long is the typical career of a bike messenger?

The old New York joke is that most couriers last until their second paycheck. . . . I think it's two or three years. It gets blindingly repetitive.

Do you get doughnuts or other food at offices?

Rarely. . . . If you catch catering people on the elevator after something's over, you can raid it.

How do your legs feel?

Bad. Near the end of a week, my knees sound like a popcorn machine. But it's part of the job.

How does it make you feel to see all these people carrying messenger bags?

It used to bug me a lot. But you know what? I can't fault the bag companies for making really good bags. It's like faulting the whole world for buying a shockingly reliable car when you were the first guy who bought it.

How often do you get tipped?

Rarely. It's always appreciated, but I don't expect it.

Best thing about the job?

I get to be outside all day. I get to see people for a couple of minutes. It's not that I don't like people, but I don't have to deal with them. I like my boss, but we're not in the same room all day.

Do you guys ever race?

We do. We have them reasonably often downtown, mostly alley-cat-style racing. No cordoned-off streets, no permits pulled, completely illegal. But they're fun.

How would you do in the Tour de France?

Oh, I'd fail miserably. Are you kidding?




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