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Tuesday, April 16, 2024
The Eagle

Bike messengers misunderstood

It is 30 degrees, sunny, cold and blustery. It is the kind of day where the leaves that remain on the trees are torn from their branches, and people hide under their overcoats and earmuffs. For D.C.'s bike messengers the wind and cold weather are quite fitting considering the way they see themselves perceived around the city.

Along K-street in D.C.'s business district workers flock from the Farragut North Metro Station to their warm offices to spend the remainder of the day. They might make another trip outdoors to grab some lunch at one of the express marts before rushing back to their offices.

Sitting in the shadow of the statue of the 19th Century navy hero John Farragut, D.C.'s bike messengers make their office at the Farragut Square Park. They sit along the benches as passerbys gawk confusedly at the loud, raucous, and seemingly belligerent banter that goes on between the assembled mass of messengers.

"We the pimpdaddies because we work in the city that makes the laws," says Wingmaster, a 17-year veteran who serves as an independent contractor for Bega Bike Services.

The messengers are a ragtag bunch to be sure. Their ensembles mirror the remnants of charity clothing drive with stained windbreakers, oversized coats and greasy dreadlocks, however, they roam through the halls of Congress and the other corridors of power in Washington, D.C. Bikes are the fastest way to get around the District and companies use bike messengers to get important documents across town that must be delivered as soon possible.

In 1999, 411 professional bicycle couriers delivered over 3 million packages to D.C. businesses. Combined the couriers rode over 5 million miles in the downtown area, according to Shawn Bega, president of the D.C. Bike Courier Association.

Ian Miller, a Capitol Hill journalist and former bike messenger in Pittsburgh, Pa., tested this theory and found a bike ride between his home in Adam's Morgan to the Rayburn House Office Building was 17 minutes shorter than driving. The entire trek took Ian 19 and a half minutes to complete the 4.1 miles.

These four hundred and eleven bicycle couriers rode over 5 million miles in downtown Washington, D.C. last year.

Of course 4.1 miles is small change compared to what most couriers travel in one day. Wingmaster and his partner Rico (their street names), who also rides for Bega, say they ride 35 to 50 miles around the city everyday from Capitol Hill to K-Street.

In their travels couriers must look for hazards such as traffic and pedestrians, which they consider to be more problematic for D.C.'s traffic patterns than themselves.

"People complain about bike messengers," Ricothings warmer in the wintertime. Their one drawback to the city is the metal detectors.

"If you walk into a building and put your bag on the metal detector and the police see a bowl in there, the police will be like ?_~you're under arrest for paraphernalia,'" Wingmaster said. "And then they are going to search, and you had better hope that you don't have any weed in there."

Stories like Wingmaster's don't really help the bike messengers' public appearance. The messengers say they know people think that they are drug addicts, alcoholics, arrogant, and ignorant. In fact, when approached the messengers show supreme caution, refusing to shake hands and figuring any sort of inquisitor must be police.

While Wingmaster is talking, Rico slips into his bag and pulls out a whiskey bottle tucked away in a wrinkled, brown paper bag. It is 11:00 a.m., and they have already started drinking for the day.

The other riders begin to crowd around and listen to Wingmaster, who one rider considers the sensei of D.C. bike messaging. Others chime in with their stories about lawyers or other clients before riding off for their next delivery.

Messengers can make up to $4 commission from a delivery, which pressures them to deliver as many packages as possible in a day because most of the riders do this as a fulltime profession, Wingmaster says.

Those that don't are what Wingmaster considers the prima donna bike racers, who work in the winter to stay in shape and leave in the spring for the racing circuits.

"There is one right there," Wingmaster barks out, pointing at a tidy messenger in a leotard speed suit. The messenger ignores Wingmaster, and stands patiently waiting for his next page.

Section 202 host Gabrielle and friends go over some sports that aren’t in the sports media spotlight often, and review some sports based on their difficulty to play. 

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