work together, but individually
by Pamela Bryant,
Golden Gate [X]Press, May 22, 2008
The Financial District in San Francisco has a long history of
nine-to-fivers, who spend the majority of their shift outdoors, rain or
Bike messengers, otherwise known as couriers, make up this work force,
where a wardrobe of a suit and tie is optional.
With over 40 different courier companies located in San Francisco,
according to messengers.org, these cyclists have an unparalleled
occupation, which often times takes them outside the employment norm.
"It's a really unique profession," said Becky Balon, 23, a bike
messenger and co-owner of Cricket Courier.
"When I see someone on a bike, there are good chances that I know them
and that's a sense of community that is really hard to get in other
professions. You feel surrounded by a community all the time," she said.
Balon graduated with a bachelor's in English literature and Gender
Studies from New College of Florida. With thoughts of attending
graduate school, she decided to take some time off and became a courier
"I think that absolutely anybody can be a bike messenger. It's not that
hard," she said while laughing. " I don't think there needs to be all
this mystic around it. Everybody starts somewhere."
Aaron Schurer, 22, has been a messenger since 2005 and works for First
Legal Services. He got his start like others, due to his love for
"It's just kind of something I've had the desire to do because I enjoy
riding my bike," he said. "I ride a KHS Aero fixed gear track bike,
which is a typical San Francisco bike now."
Doing legal work has a different tone than regular couriering. It
involves trips to the courthouse to do filings or research for clients
(lawyers), and even goes as far as delivering serves to people.
"Sometimes that can be kind of weird," said Patrick Piccolo, 27, who
also works for First Legal. "I haven't had any problems here in the
city but definitely have served people that didn't want to be in
Piccolo and his fiancé Jennifer recently relocated from
Sacramento, where he first started working as a legal courier.
"I think it's great that he's able to work and workout at the same
time, but it's a little worrisome sometimes," Jennifer said.
"It's not sedentary, so your situation will change on a daily basis,"
Piccolo said, regarding the outdoor elements. "Honestly, I don't notice
too much of a difference, as far as the work is concerned."
One of the aspects Piccolo enjoys is the level of freedom being a
"I think that is one of the biggest appeals really, is that you can
have a job, be a functioning member of society, and still be an
individual, which is great," he said.
As with any unconventional group working amidst a corporate
environment, stereotypes are bound to develop.
"There's some truth behind any stereotype," Piccolo said. "There's
definitely an element of any group that's willing to risk their
security at their job and will drink and do drugs while they're
working, and not be as in control as the majority of the couriers out
there. [But] for instance, I don't drink or do drugs at all on work
time or my own time."
Piccolo acknowledged that most couriers are pretty professional when it
comes to their jobs, because they like their jobs and want to keep them.
"I think the persona of the scumbag messenger is pretty false, not that
there aren't some out there," he laughed.
Marvic Paulo, 27, a cinematography major at Academy of Art and part
time courier, agrees with Piccolo.
"There is a tendency for stereotypes to be more negative than they are
positive about messengers," he said. "I definitely make a conscious
effort to be extra nice and go out of my way sometimes to be polite and
just be courteous on a daily basis especially to people who I get the
impression they are putting me in a box immediately just based on my
Paulo left his retail job in search of more independent employment when
he came across being a courier. It incorporated his love for cycling
and being outdoors into one paid occupation.
"I had a really good experience thus far, so it's been really awesome,"
he said. "Messengers are really amazing people with really genuine
passions outside of work, outside of even cycling."
Bike messengers, given their atypical occupation, work all day
outdoors, all day on bikes, and all day with friends; and what better
stereotype than that.