Denver's Bike Messengers Are a Union Divided

Bike messengers ride fast and they ride alone, which is why an effort to organize them has hit the skids.

For Jaimie, the donkey ears sprouted when she found herself commanding 45 Marines in Kuwait who were ready to be shipped off to Iraq at any second. "It was total Lord of the Flies," she says. "Half of the guys liked me, half of them despised me. I was super touchy-feely, and the guy right under me was this really tough gangster guy from Chicago with gold teeth who was really mean, and we just had totally different styles. I tried to be people's friend, he tried to beat them up, and we totally clashed, and those 45 Marines just split down the middle, so there was a lot of tension."

Later, after sending an e-mail to a friend on a government computer about making out with an enlisted guy, Jaimie was shipped off to the middle of the desert to build wooden sidewalks and shade gazebos for smokers. "It's worse than killing someone on accident if you make out with an enlisted guy," she says.

In 2004, having served her time and in no hurry to return to duty, she moved to Denver because she had friends here and figured it would be a good place to pursue her lifetime hobby of mountain biking. Jaimie also enrolled at Denver Seminary to pursue a degree in Christian studies and applied for jobs at bike shops. Despite her experience training Marines who went to war, employers found her lack of cash-register experience unforgivable.

J-Bone changed the entire bike-messenging scene in Denver.
Anthony Camera
J-Bone changed the entire bike-messenging scene in Denver.

"I was like, 'Don't you think some of my skills are perhaps transferable?'" she says.

A fellow mountain-bike rider suggested that she give messenging a shot, and to Jaimie it seemed like the absolute perfect fit. She called Denver Boulder Couriers and told them she'd work for nothing all summer in order to become a messenger. Jaimie was quickly added to the roster.

"Coming from the military, there were some things that I was uniquely grateful for," she says. "Like the worst thing that can happen messenging is I get hurt or a package gets ruined. It's not like other people die because you're an idiot, or you destroy a whole country; the implications of mistakes at this job are so much less. I also like the level of interaction I have. I get to see people, talk to them, meet them, but it's also kind of solitary. You're alone a lot of the day and just get to think about whatever you want. After my experience in the military, that's definitely a luxury."

A seminary student/retired Marine is hardly the normal bike-messenger candidate, but as Jaimie points out, there really is no specific type. "It's a super-diverse group. I think that sometimes people have this one picture of bike messengers, but I'd just say the community is a lot more diverse than you would ever imagine. All different races, different experiences, backgrounds."

And though Jaimie initially raised eyebrows among the eclectic riders with her outdated spandex shorts and her love of The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power, a book by Travis Culley widely regarded in the scene as Wisconsin-level cheesy, she rose through the ranks to become one of a trio of messengers poised to guide and steer the new DPBMA.

Jaimie took the deliberately tongue-in-cheek title of Minister of Finance and Administration, while Rich Ryon, a messenger who films and edits short skate-video-esque clips at www.milehighmess.com, is Minister of Online Resources and Treasury, and Marcus Garcia is Prime Minister and Director of Operations.

This summer has been all about making the transition from old DPBMA to new as seamless as possible — and it hasn't always been easy. There were numerous closed-door meetings between older, veteran messengers and the newer crop — with whom Marcus, who has been a messenger for nineteen years, bridged the gap — discussing the logistics of further legitimizing the DPBMA, attracting more sponsors, working to set up a nonprofit, arranging an emergency health-care fund and establishing Denver as an attractive site for the national messenger competition, perhaps a world championship.

There were also some surreal moments, like a July race promoted by the Swobo bike company.

Whereas ten years ago bike messengers formed a subculture unto themselves — one looked poorly upon by mainstream America, when looked upon at all — the scene is now considered almost hip. Bike-messenger fashion has gone mainstream, and large companies have realized they can make a buck off it.

"That Swobo race was patterned after one of our alleycats," Marcus explains, referring to timed messenger races in which participants are given a delivery, make the drop and then sprint back to a home base for their next route. "That's nice that they have interest in our world — that's cool. But it was a really cheesy affair. It was them trying to legitimize their race through us."

The company donated $1,000 to the DPBMA for its efforts, but the experience left many of the messengers who participated, and bumped racing elbows with wannabes, feeling used. Marcus reports people clamoring to have their pictures taken with real messengers — no doubt, he half jokes, to add to their MySpace profiles.

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