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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.

"Quit flirting!" someone yells.

"Hey, you faggots, hit somebody!" another bellows.

"You look like a bunch of retards!" J-Bone, who has somehow managed to get his hands on a megaphone, squeals.

Finally, the carnage begins. In a matter of minutes, about half the bikers have gone down, some hit by others, some drunkenly losing their balance and crashing over curbs — one, clad in shoulder pads, out to a blown tire. An old-timer who goes by the name of Little Joe is the last man biking.

Afterward, some of the Footdown participants light up smokes and critique the performance, waiting for the festivities to roll on. In about half an hour, messenger boxing will begin. It has nothing whatsoever to do with riding bikes. But if there is one thing a bunch of drunk messengers will always appreciate, it's watching their colleagues don helmets and boxing gloves and beat the shit out of each other. After this, there will be bands, five of them, and enough booze to kill a triceratops. The Road Rash Bash has been a success: the most sponsors ever, the best prizes yet, a large turnout of riders and friends there to party long into the night until Flying Dog Brewery kicks them the fuck out.

But even before that happens, it turns out the party is really over.


Open Road, September

"For the most the part, the U.S. District Court is Internet-driven," Marcus explains, sipping a beer and smoking a cigarette on the porch of his home in the Baker neighborhood after a long day on his bike. Tonight is the opening game of the NFL season, Colts vs. Saints, and a handful of messengers are en route to Marcus's house to watch the match-up. "But I had one today that was the ultimate fastest service possible. They needed this document hand-delivered today and were willing to pay whatever it took."

So Marcus picked up a package at a law firm and showed up at the courthouse, where all of the security guards know him from years of deliveries, and was quickly ushered in. The normal procedure for these deliveries is to drop the package off with the clerk who then routes it to the courtroom, but Marcus informed the clerk of the important nature of the package and was allowed to pass to the judge's chambers. The room was empty, however, because court was in session, so Marcus, in full, sweaty biker get-up, poked his head into the courtroom and was quickly recognized by a clerk.

"Obviously, I look messenger enough to where she told me to come in," he says. "I walk right into the middle of the hearing, and the judge shuts it down for a minute. And I roll up to the clerk's table, give up this document that I had, and everyone was all smiles. I had never seen so many people in pants and suits so happy to see me. I love experiences like that. When I was walking in there, I was blasting the Alkaholiks on my iPod, and I walk out of dude's hearing that's probably a multimillion-dollar affair and start my music back up and just roll out. That's some real messenger shit right there."

Minister of Propaganda Steve Jacobs, an old-school rider and author of The Messenger Courier-Dispatch, a zine for Denver's professional bicycle community, is hanging out on Marcus's porch, and he nods his head in approval, as does Pete Jensen, the man with the megaphone from the Road Rash Bash. It's a scenario they know all too well and, encouraged to discuss the trade, other tales of "real messenger shit" begin to pour forth: riding through last winter's hellacious blizzards; convincing office workers to take packages after closing; sneaking through back doors and finding someone, anyone, to sign for a delivery; the asinine weather-speak with businesspeople in elevators; getting hit by cars, bikes, skateboards, scooters, buses. It's all part of the game. But for Marcus, bike messenging is also about the family.

"I know it sounds like a cliche story," says Marcus, 39, who was born in Denver and attended West High. "But bike messenging kind of saved my life. A lot of kids that I grew up with are in prison, dead. The fall that I started messenging, I got stabbed. It was just one of those weird things that happens that shouldn't have; I was hanging out with the wrong people, and that was really a turning point in my life because being a messenger gave me some semblance of normalcy. I had a job; I had some purpose. And I got hooked up with a lot of kids who weren't from my hood, a lot from different cities, different places. The scene was accepting in a way that maybe my neighborhood wasn't."

Marcus likes to say that the bike-messenging scene loves back those who truly love it, and from the start, he loved it with all of his heart. Always a fan of bikes and an avid rider, Marcus began messenging when he was eighteen, at the exact same time he enrolled at Metropolitan State College of Denver. But he soon realized that all he really wanted to do was ride his bike and get paid for it, and messenging provided that.

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