By PAT CHRISTIAN
There's a million stories in the naked city,
none so raw as those of bicycle messengers, today's urban Pony Express
Snow fell last week in downtown Salt
Bundled-up pedestrians braved slippery streets, careful not to fall
on their butts.
Car radios and heaters blasted inside vehicles as downtown
motorists negotiated heavy traffic.
Dressed nearly like an Olympic cross country skier, Mia
Johnson busted out the door of Legal Messenger Inc. at 17 E. 400 South
as if he were the messenger from hell. LMI is one of three bike
services in the city.
Seconds later, bike messenger Eric Thomas flew out the
door on the heels of Mia on a separate but parallel run.
With imagination, it looked like Butch and Sundance had
just robbed a bank and ridden out of town with a fleet posse after
Pedals flying, Mia took the sidewalk shortcut to the
then disappeared up Main Street, passing a UTA Trax train like it was a
Eric took to the street right away and caught up with
Mia as they turned onto Main.
In only a few sweeps of a second hand on a watch, Mia
skidded to a stop in front of a towering skyscraper, locked his bike
hurried to an upstairs office where he grabbed a legal document and
Eric was off to some other destination.
Back in the blazing saddle, Mia sprinted down Main at
He jumped curbs, Trax tracks, wove in and out of metro
traffic and into slippery dark allies. Soon Mia had the documents back
Here, from "deliverance central," Adam Davis, another
LMI messenger, relayed the document to Third District Court, and click
went the court time stamp on it.
Eric rode familiar streets today.
"It's my last day. I'm going to school in Logan," he said.
"I've been working here exactly two years today. I worked a year before
that for another messenger service in town."
He said his father told him to be especially careful on
his last day. "I'm going to miss it a lot. And when I come back into
I plan to ride through some downtown traffic just for the fun of
It's an asphalt jungle in downtown Salt Lake. Messengers'
powerful lungs suck up tons of downtown smog spewed by tight, angry
But there's something about the downtown that gets into
It's especially a concrete jungle complete with "tigers"
when city buses crowd bike messengers and dirty brown snow makes
city streets slippery as snot for LMI messengers like Mia, Eric, Adam
Adam Compton, Justin Hyde, Tyler Hansen, Jay Boyd and Jason
Now running LMI and doing most of the dispatching, Jason
doesn't ride much anymore and it shows a bit.
"Last winter when I was a full time messenger, I weighed
178 pounds, but I weigh 190 now."
But don't challenge Jason to a bike sprint. He can still
beat the pants off most cyclists, especially through heavy traffic
there is the exciting threat of being crushed to death.
"I still occasionally will take a run, and I ride all
the time on the weekend just for fun," he says.
Answering the phone, he clenched it between his ear and
shoulder while writing down dispatch information.
"Yeah. Uh huh. I can have a rider up there in three
"To Third District Court? Sure, no problem."
Hanging up, he remarked that his riders are mostly
friends he sweet talked into messenger mayhem and deliverance --
from a plethora of more boring jobs.
Each rider gets paid by the document or package they
It's just about half what LMI makes.
And each rider is an independent contractor who has to
pay to fix their own broken bodies after inevitable crashes.
These street gods -- following such mythical messenger
predecessors as Mercury in Rome, Quetzalcoatl in ancient America or
in Greece -- don't wear helmets.
But wait, didn't Mercury wear a winged helmet? Or was
that broad brimmed hat just a petasos?
"I wear a helmet on the weekend when I bike for fun. But
the traffic in the city can't really get going real fast," Jason says,
not really doing a good job trying to justify the kamikaze
"It drives me crazy," his fiancee, Julia Peterson, says
about messengers not wearing helmets.
She met Jason at a club and didn't even know at the time
what a bike messenger was.
"Now my driving habits have changed because I'm afraid
I might run over one of his friends."
The lion's share of LMI's delivery business comes from
attorneys who always seem to be in a race to get a legal brief time
at one of the city's court buildings, Jason says.
"I remember one run to federal court when I had a huge
legal file box in my shoulder bag, one of those cardboard tubes through
the strap, and I was also balancing another file box on my handlebar,"
He delivered that time without getting tagged by hectic
traffic or busted by the bicycle cops for jumping curbs or sidewalk
or blowing through red lights. Time is money they say. Citations are an
But he said he still remembers at least one of his failed
"I got hit by a car on West Temple when a 'blind' lady
decided to pull into a parking place in front of me."
"I did about eight hundred dollars damage when I hit her
Suburban, and what I remember is landing on her hood, looking lamely at
her for a moment and then crashing to the street."
Each delivery is worth money to a rider. And when Jason
realized he could stand up and that his damaged bike could still be
he tried to negotiate with the motorist to finish his deliveries before
returning to wrap up the details of the crash.
"She wouldn't go for it and I had to stay there. I ended
up calling the dispatcher for another rider to come and make my
Mia said he'd been working in a Salt Lake restaurant
becoming a bike courier.
"I saw Jason messengering and thought it was cool."
He said riding downtown is a lot like mountain biking
a technical trail, "except some of the obstacles are moving and seem to
be trying to hit you," Mia said.
"You have to plan your strategy."
Most runs are downtown. A few longer runs are made by
a rider on a motorcycle or in a car.
But Adam remembers a particular biking run from
central" to Bountiful and Farmington.
"I got on the bus with my bike in Salt Lake and got off
in Bountiful to deliver to court there.
"I had planned on continuing on the bus to court in
but a look at the schedule told me I wouldn't get the legal document to
court in time, but could make if I rode real fast on my bike."
Halfway there, he encountered a rider on a road bike who
was dressed like a racer and they ended up more or less racing,
"Finally we got to the outskirts of Farmington and into
heavy traffic and as I entered an intersection, I was hit by a car and
sprawled out on the road."
Surviving the collision, Adam got up and limped on,
at the court at the last second.
A version of this this Story
appeared in The