This River I
Step In Is Not The River I Stand In
By Joe Hendry
“Hey, there’s blood on this envelope!” said
Mary, the receptionist.
“Sorry about that, it’s mine,” I answered,
pointing to the blood dripping from the knuckles
on my right hand.
“But the cheque is here in plenty of time,
right?” I said, in a plea for some appreciation.
After all, I almost died getting that
multi-million-dollar cheque to Mary in less than
twenty minutes because she forgot to call it in
“Yes, plenty of time,” she said as she signed my
I didn’t blame Mary. It’s the nature of my job
as a bike messenger. My job is to deliver one
hundred percent on time, all of the time, with
no exceptions and no excuses. I never seek
appreciation but this one time I hoped for just
The delivery for Mary started back in the core
of the financial district. I picked up her
cheque at the TD Centre at King and Bay Streets.
It had just started raining. After making a
quick drop on Queen Street east of Jarvis
Street, I headed to her office in Leslieville.
As I rode across the Queen Street Bridge
over the Don River, I looked up to read the
words above the bridge as I often do as a
reminder. “This river I step in is not the river
I stand in.”
I could see the 501 streetcar ahead. 501 is the
designated route number for the Queen Streetcar.
Toronto’s streetcar system dates back to the
nineteenth century and it is concentrated in the
core of the city. It’s an old school system. The
streetcar tracks are usually in the middle lanes
of four lane roads, so the streetcars share the
road with cars and bicycles. The streetcars are
not tourist attractions. They are the major
surface transit service for some of the most
heavily used routes in the city. Toronto’s
streetcars have doors on one side and can only
be driven from one end so the streetcar is
required to do a loop to turn around at the end
of the line and passengers can only exit on one
The few cars around me began jockeying for
position to pass the streetcar before it reached
Broadview. The stretch of Queen Street east of
Broadview could be very slow for motorists if
they were stuck behind a streetcar. Although the
street is two lanes in each direction one lane
is usually occupied by parked cars so there is
scant opportunity to pass the streetcar after
I watched as a black convertible sports car
accelerated into the inside lane in an attempt
to fly by the streetcar only to hit its brakes
because an upcoming parked car blocked its path
to open road. The driver failed one more attempt
at passing before settling in behind the
I rode faster to catch the sports car. I
looked over as I passed it to see that the
driver was a middle-aged man with thinning light
brown hair and a slight build. He was smoking a
cigarette and had the window rolled down about
halfway. I could see the gold ring on his middle
finger as he flicked the ashes from his
cigarette out of the window. The ring had what
looked like a lightning bolt made of
diamond-like chips in the middle of it.
The light ahead at Broadview turned to red
and I pulled to a stop in front of the sports
car that had moved to the inside lane. I waited
behind the streetcar's rear doors as the
streetcar stopped to let passengers on and off.
The driver of the sports car started
honking his horn. I looked back and he was
flailing his arms, pointing and yelling at me to
move. I pointed at the streetcar doors, shook my
head and turned forward again. He honked his
horn longer and louder. I could still hear him
yelling. I couldn’t understand what he was
saying so I just ignored him and continued to
wait behind the doors.
Then I felt it.
He pushed his car slowly forward bumping me. It
was just a little bump, a warning shot to tell
me to move - or else.
I didn’t move. Instead, I turned around and
yelled at the driver.
"What is wrong with you? Don’t you see the
streetcar’s doors? Don’t you see people getting
on and off,” I screamed.
When the streetcar started moving, I stayed in
the middle of the lane and proceeded to adjust
my front brake to make the sports car wait. As
expected, the driver honked his horn non-stop.
After a few seconds I started moving slowly. I
would let him pass as I would be much safer
behind his car rather than in front of it.
As he passed, he veered his car toward me
forcing me in toward the curb in an attempt to
run me off the road. I smashed my hand against
his car as if to push it away. I was really just
trying to let him know how close he was to me
but of course he already knew. He was
deliberately trying to knock me off my bike. He
quickly turned in toward the curb again, bumping
my bike and almost knocking me to the ground.
He rolled the passenger’s side window down and
screamed, “You hit my car. You hit my car.
You’ll pay for that. I’m going to kill you!”
He was completely out of control. I accelerated,
pumping my legs as fast as they would move. My
heart was racing. This was no longer a threat.
He wasn't bluffing. He was trying to hit me. His
car was the perfect weapon. It threatened me and
protected him. It would enable him to explain
away any harm to me as an unfortunate accident.
I would be collateral damage from the accepted
belief that drivers cannot be expected to
control their vehicle’s every movement.
I heard his car screaming behind me. The loud
engine roar was quickly coming closer and
closer, chasing me. The air filled with the
smell of rotten eggs. I looked around for an
escape. I stood up on my pedals and turned my
front wheel toward the curb. I pulled on the
handlebars to lift my front wheel up over the
curb and then I quickly bunny hopped the curb by
pulling up with my legs clipped into the pedals
to lift my back wheel up and over.
Just before I made it over the curb, the sports
car clipped my back wheel sending my bike into a
spin. Time stood still as everything around me
moved in slow motion. I was facing south but
moving east. As I fell from the bike, I reached
out with my hands to absorb the impact, ripping
skin from the knuckles of my right hand. I
crashed to the ground and my body scraped and
rolled along the wet pavement. I lay there
motionless, in shock, as I listened to the sound
of the sports car racing away.
After a few seconds I got up and inspected my
bike. The back wheel was slightly bent but I
could still ride it. I opened my messenger bag
to check that nothing had fallen out. I saw
Mary’s cheque and I remembered it was a
super-hot rush, so I quickly got back on my bike
and sped off to make the delivery on time.
But Mary would know none of this. I didn’t have
time to explain how the blood got on her
My two-way radio had shut off as a result of my
fall. I asked Mary if I could use her phone.
“You know the rules, only employees, clients and
customers can use the phone.”
And what am I? I said.
“Come on, you’re a messenger”, she said as if
the question was ridiculous.
So, I limped out of her office into the wet
streets while working to fix my radio.
The rain was getting heavier, and the winds were
picking up, so I headed back to the downtown
core to take advantage of the bad weather. It
means a lot of work for messengers.
On high wind days like this, the wind swirls
along Bay Street creating a “wind tunnel” in the
concrete canyons between the office towers. The
wind tunnel occurs when the wind is funnelled
among the skyscrapers. The faster moving wind at
the top of the buildings is pushed down to the
streets below. The congestion of multiple
buildings concentrates the wind flows causing
the downwash to double or triple the wind speed
by the time it hits the street. Once in a while
the wind will be so intense that it literally
blows people over.
One of the worst spots in the city for
downwashed winds is in front of Commerce Court
West at the Bay Street entrance just south of
King Street. On days when Toronto is blasted by
severe freezing rain and high-speed winds, the
interlocking bricks on the pedestrian areas
become as slippery as ice and the security
guards are forced to tie yellow rope along the
railings of the steps to help pedestrians walk
on the dangerously slippery surface.
The office workers in their business suits
resemble penguins as they waddle along the
pavement determined to keep their balance while
the security guards, clad in matching yellow
jackets, act as rescuers to those hapless
pedestrians who slip on the walkways and roll
down the road, like human tumbleweeds. The
rescuers hold onto the rope, form a human chain
and stretch out their hands to grab the fallen
suits before they are blown into Bay Street.
The voice of my dispatcher burst over my two-way
“One-twelve what’s your twenty?” said George.
“I’m standing by, watching the entertainment at
Commie Court West. The rescuers are out today,
and the penguins are marching,” I said.
“Great, I need a superhero for one of the seven
sisters at CCW. It’s only going up to 390 Bay
but it’s super-hot and some suit’s job is riding
on it,” said George.
“Ten-Four, I’m walking in as we speak,” I said.
I rode the elevator up to the thirty-eighth
floor. I arrived at reception and the client was
still filling out the waybill for the delivery.
He was a typical Bay Street suit, a middle-aged
man of slight build and a few inches shorter
than me. I could see the thinning light brown
hair on the top of his head. His red power tie
was tied in a tight Windsor knot around his neck
and his black shoes were newly polished.
“You’re already here, good. These are very
important contract papers. They need to be
delivered right away. In fact, we only have
about fifteen minutes. They must be there by
four o’clock,” he said.
“You will have to wait a few minutes while I
finish up,” he said.
“Can I quickly use one of your bathrooms? I
asked the receptionist.
“I’m sorry. The bathrooms are only for
employees, customers and clients”, she said.
As I stood waiting, I looked around the office
at almost entirely white men in similar suits
and power ties. All of them had the same
haircut. Conservative, short and straight. You
know, the one every guy had in old high school
yearbooks from the 1950’s. The one all of the
Agent Smiths have in the Matrix.
As I reached for the manila envelope, I banged
the knuckles of my right hand on the edge of the
“Damn!” I yelled.
“Sorry about that. Some guy ran me off the road
this morning and I banged up my hand pretty
bad,” I said.
The Bay Street suit reappeared with his
envelope. I grabbed the envelope from his hand,
and I froze. I couldn’t believe it. It was the
ring. The Bay Street suit had the same lightning
bolt ring on his finger as the sports car
driver. It was him!
I looked directly at him and said, “Nice ring.”
He looked back uncomfortably. I was sure he
“Don’t worry I’ll give this all the attention it
deserves,” I said.
“Umm, ok but make it fast” he responded.
I turned and walked to the elevator and looked
for his name on the waybill. There it is, Matt
Bolton. As I waited for the elevator, I thought
about how I could get my revenge. I could lose
his envelope or just deliver his contract late
and cost him a lot of money, maybe even his job.
When I was a rookie on the road, one of the vets
told me the true story of nineteen-year-old
Toronto bike messenger, Robbie Thompson. In
1938, Robbie fell from his bike into the path of
a streetcar on Queen Street West. His legs were
almost severed at the thighs and he lay there
slowly bleeding to death. Before he lost
consciousness Robbie pulled three telegrams from
his pocket and made bystanders promise that his
telegrams would be delivered safely. I would
ensure Bolton’s contracts were delivered safely
and on time too. That’s what Robbie would do.
Just as the elevator arrived, I heard someone
“Wait, Wait.” It was Bolton.
“I changed my mind. I’m going to deliver it
myself,” he said.
I could see the recognition in his face as his
eyes struggled to avoid my gaze. He knew who I
was. I was quite happy to give the envelope back
to him, but I was disturbed that he thought I
would do anything less than my job.
“Here you go. Good luck”, I said.
I got on the elevator smiling. There was no way
he could make it in time. He couldn’t take his
sports car. It would take too long to go down to
the parking garage. Traffic was a mess and there
was nowhere to park anyway. He would have to
walk. Actually, he would have to have to run
most of the way to make it there on time.
I stood inside the lobby of Commerce Court West
for a few moments before heading back outside.
While I was waiting Bolton came barrelling out
of one of the elevators with the envelope in his
hand. He rushed through the revolving door and
Bolton only took a few steps before the wind hit
him. He lost his footing and slipped on the icy
pavement. He rolled and tumbled as the wind
pushed him along the slippery interlocking
bricks. The rescuers were ready. They stretched
out, grabbed him and helped him to his feet.
Bolton held on to the rope as the rescuers
helped him back inside where he sat down.
Moments later, Bolton quickly jumped up.
“I’m ok. I’m fine. I’ve got to go. I’m in a
hurry. Where’s my envelope? Those are very
important papers, he said”
Bolton and his rescuers looked around. The
envelope was gone. It was blown away by the wind
when he fell.
Bolton didn't notice me standing off to the
side. “I better get out of here. I don’t want to
be blamed for any of this,” I thought to myself.
I would go to my dispatch office and explain
everything to George in person.
I unlocked my bike, pedalled across the street
and rode south on Bay Street toward Wellington
Street. I stopped at the red light at the
corner. I stood there waiting and I saw a manila
envelope, blowing in the wind near the entrance
of the Royal Bank Plaza.
I quickly rode towards it. I rolled my front
wheel over the envelope to keep it from blowing
away and then I jumped off my bike and picked it
up from the ground next to a garbage can. It was
Bolton’s contracts. I looked at my watch. It was
3:53pm. Seven minutes until four.
I looked at the garbage can, and I looked again
at Bolton’s envelope. I looked up Bay Street and
I could see another messenger struggling against
the wind and the rain, heading toward Old City
Hall. I stuffed the envelope in my bag, hopped
back on my bike and sped up Bay Street towards
Queen Street to deliver Bolton’s contracts on