Frantic, but fun
By Pat Christian
How do you photograph gonzo bicycle messengers
on downtown metropolitan streets?
Riding with them crossed my mind. I do ride.
But I knew there wasn't a chance under a
I could keep up.
These urban cowboys can sprint to 30 mph in
On a good day, I'm wrenching my gut to sprint to
That's how I found myself sitting in the back of my SUV
on the lowered tailgate, the flopping rear window thrashing my head as
I tried to grab a few acceptable photographs for my bicycle messenger
I almost fell out the back when Julia Peterson, the
of a bike messenger whom I had enlisted to drive, pulled out of an
over an unexpected bump.
"Sorry, sorry. I forgot about the bump," she said.
"It's OK. I'm still with you," I comforted her.
This was actually working. I could get some shots off,
and shooting was exciting -- not as exciting as the messengers weaving
through traffic, jumping obstacles and short cutting sidewalks, but
THE BIKE messengers could always get hit by a car,
fall and see
the underside of a city bus, up close and personal. I'd have a
photograph. I, on the other hand, could fall out the back of my vehicle
and see the underside of that city bus. That always makes work less
In the back of my mind a thought revolved like clean
in a hot drier. I could hear it and it sounded something like, "I bet
cops won't think this is too cool, even if I'm a journalist chasing a
Born in San Francisco, bike messengers had sort of been
my urban anti-heroes in my rebel days -- which may or may not have
I'd seen them at downtown diners looking and smoking like
the messenger of cancer himself -- Mr. Marlboro Man -- just come off a
dusty cattle drive.
But boy could they ride with that
"Outta my way, you motorist" attitude. Then they'd climb California
with 50 pounds in their bag like that street was flat instead of a gut
busting bicycle Mt. Everest.
LATER, NOW living in Utah and having mountain biked
Slick Rock trial, I was on holiday in the city by the bay.
I got on the subway with my mountain bike and got off
on Market Street.
Traffic, one-way streets and tricky downtown intersections
threatened. There were pedestrians to dodge and weave through, some
with attitude enough to throw me down and beat me to a pulp.
I loved it.
It was crazy, but it was way more fun than any Moab trail.
I ventured into the business district. I found them. They
were everywhere, darting like individuals in a school of
I tried to follow a few of the bike couriers. It was
but it was fun trying.
I arrived on California Street. I looked up. A cable car
was halfway up the hill.
I went for it, found a low gear, stood up and climbed.
I was holding my own.
A cable car passed me and I could feel the envy of the
tourists as they watched me climb into the sun.
version of this column appeared in The