pay tribute with 'ghost bike'
Death of one of their own shows group's tight bond
Chicago Sun-Times , August 19, 2007
By Mark Brown
Ryan Boudreau was a bike messenger, and a good one by all accounts, a
young man of 27 who was respected by his peers for being quick on a
bike and loved for being even quicker with a smile.
Bike messengers, though, don't get much respect in our society, a
problem the messengers have solved by creating a little society unto
On Friday evening, about 100 members of their distinctive tribe rode
their bikes to the corner of 18th and Clark to mark the spot where
Boudreau was killed Monday in a collision with a truck.
They chained a "ghost bike" -- stripped down and painted white -- to a
light pole to create a makeshift memorial, then lit candles and shed
tears, which were wiped away with tattooed arms.
Aloud, they shared memories of their friend. Silently, they shared the
knowledge of the danger of their job -- racing through city traffic to
make both a delivery and a living.
Earlier, I spoke with many of them about their work as they gathered at
Cal's Liquors, a dive bar at Wells and Van Buren that is a favorite
hangout, before they made the ride to the accident scene.
Boudreau was a regular here, stopping by during the day to buy a
Gatorade to drink with his lunch or making the after-work scene to get
a beer and swap stories with other messengers.
"How many runs did you make today?" is a common greeting, owing to the
fact that most bike messengers are paid by commission -- usually half
the delivery charge. That means they are rewarded for going fast and
taking chances, which is part of what makes them the bane of
pedestrians in the Loop. Most American drivers, of course, treat all
bicyclists with contempt, the messengers perhaps bearing the brunt of
An average messenger will make 25 runs in a day and make maybe $300 a
week. Ride fast and a little crazy, and they might do 40 runs and make
up to $600.
"Ryan was a fast biker. The faster he was, the more runs he made, the
more money he made. There's a reason we ride the way we do," said Lumes
Glenn, 53, a messenger for more than 12 years.
Police said Boudreau was riding in the oncoming lane when he was
struck. The truck driver was not ticketed.
A dispatcher for Boudreau's employer, Dynamex, said Boudreau was
running a personal errand at the time he was killed, but messengers
said that shouldn't distract from the fact he was hustling so he could
get back to work.
So why do they do it?
"They all love it. Everyone wants to try it. You can ride a bike and
make money," said Gina Depcik, 55, known around town as the "bike
"But they don't know the companies treat them like meat," said Depcik,
who formed her bond with messengers while working out of a pizza truck.
By the time they fully appreciate the poor work conditions -- no
benefits and often no workers compensation coverage in an accident --
many are already hooked.
"It becomes this bond," Depcik said. The bond is partly us vs. them --
them being the messenger companies, motorists, pedestrians and maybe
even society as a whole. They know everyone looks down on them, and
they revel in it.
"We're misfits," said Theo Forand, 26, who has been doing this for six
years while in slow pursuit of a college degree. "We're a collection of
people who didn't fit in, and we each fit in together."
"One time a guy yelled, 'Get a real job.' I don't think it gets much
more real than this," said Joe Norton, 35, who looks like he could have
played tight end for the Bears but says he's actually a musician.
'It takes a certain kind of person'
They also enjoy the physical activity, being outside and the relative
freedom that comes with it.
"It takes a certain kind of person to be a bike messenger," Lumes said.
"You know, can't everybody do this."
Boudreau's death has become a rallying point for the Chicago Couriers
Union, which is trying to raise money for his two young children --
ages 3 and 5.
Boudreau, a messenger for about two years, was a proud member of the
tribe and always ready to lend a helping hand, said his friends. But he
also was apparently aware of the limitations.
Julie Schabel, 19, said Boudreau showed her the ropes, both on the job
and off, persuading her to stay in college at the School of the Art
"You don't want to be a bike messenger when you're 27 like me," he told
He won't get a chance to be a bike messenger at 28.