Messengers storm Garfield
New City Chicago, September 16, 2008
John Greenfield's blog
Sweaty and breathless, the bike messenger strides up to reception to
deliver a package and politely asks for his delivery manifest to be
marked. "Drop your bag, drop your bag," barks the staff members. "Sign
the log. Where's your ID? Security!"
It's not an uptight guard desk or mailroom in a Loop office building.
It's a checkpoint on the racecourse for the Eleventh Annual North
American Cycle Courier Championships held in Garfield Park. More than
200 messengers from as far away as San Francisco, Montreal and
Copenhagen have converged on the Windy City for a weekend of
competition, camaraderie and tomfoolery.
"It's great that we could finally bring this to the Midwest," says
co-organizer Augie Montes of the Chicago Couriers Union. At the end of
the weekend, New York's Kimberly Perfetto and Austin Horse will earn
bragging rights as the fastest female and male couriers on the
continent; at fifth place overall, Andrew Nordyke is the top Chicagoan.
In addition to the checkpoint race, the champs feature a bike polo
tournament, trick riding contests, a labor forum and the Messenger
Prom, which packs the Bottom Lounge with revelers wearing everything
from cocktail dresses and leisure suits to giant banana and Mr. Peanut
costumes. A prom king and queen are crowned with headgear fashioned
from bike chains and cogs.
The race, simulating a typical day of two-wheeled delivery work, has
participants picking up and dropping parcels at nine stations on a
city-sanctioned, car-free course throughout the lush West Side park. To
keep things realistic, this checkpoint, incorporates many of the
headaches and hassles local messengers face on a daily basis. There's
even a dude in a rooster suit "stealing" unlocked rides.
"It's almost like a real mailroom because there's so much confusion and
animosity," says veteran courier Brent Olds, sipping a PBR as Public
Enemy blares from the sound system of the Chicago Cuttin' Crew racing
team's school bus.
Nicole Brewer, an ex-messenger who's working the checkpoint, says
couriers here have more security hoops to jump through than anywhere
else in the nation: using loading-dock entrances to high-rises instead
of the front door; signing logs and leaving ID; and leaving their bags
with the building guards. "Chicago's all freaked out 'cause they think
a terrorist is gonna fly a plane into the Sears Tower," she says.
Couriers zoom around the park's curved roadways on single-speed,
fixed-gear bicycles, three-foot-long mailing tubes in their bags, their
bodies and bikes banked at steep angles for speed. Neighborhood folks
are barbecuing near the racecourse to sounds of Z. Z. Hill's "Down Home
Blues" and teenage girls saunter obliviously across the cyclists'
paths. "I like having all the racers out here," says Garfield Park
resident Joe Davis, 68, straddling a Trek. "It's good for people to see
this is a beautiful park and they don't have to be afraid to come out
to the West Side."