Acid Heroes

August 6, 2013

Bike Messenger Days

Filed under: Backwords from Ace — Ace Backwords @ 9:22 pm
Tags: , , ,

Was reading the cover story in the latest SF WEEKLY about the Critical Mass bicycle activists group, and was shocked to see a photo of Junior in the article, still working as a San Francisco bike messenger.  Junior was the number one gravy dog at Rocket Messenger Service back in 1977 when I was working there.    And he was considered an “old-timer” back then, having been a bike messenger since 1968.  Bike messenger is a young man’s game.  Its sort of like being a professional athlete and most messengers are in the 20s and only work at it for a couple years.  So Junior is an odd duck.  45 years at the game.

Seeing the photo of Junior was like seeing a character out of my dreams.  When I look back on my past, its like a barely-remembered movie that was starring some other guy playing me.

But I remember those Rocket Messenger days.  They had a garage on 5th and Folsom.  The dispatcher was this wise-ass little guy named Charlie who had a cute, little baby-face but a vicious tongue.  He could really slice you up if you screwed up.  This one hapless messenger,  Irving, was always taking the brunt of  Charlie’s rage.  And we’d all hear it over our walkie-talkies:  “Irving, you stupid weasel,  you are the WORST bike messenger in the HISTORY of bike messengering!”  I was always leery of Charlie because he could really screw you if you got on his bad side.   He’d send you peddling all the way up to the top of Nob Hill to get a 75 cent delivery.  Or if he liked you he’d send you on the “gravy runs.”  Messengers got paid by the delivery so the dispatcher could make or break you.  It was also the reason we rode around like mad men, running through red lights, going the wrong-way down one-way streets, running over pedestrians on the sidewalk, etc.

I did the bike messenger thing for 7 years.  Usually I’d work 3 or 4 months and save up enough money so  I could quit for 3 or 4 months and work on developing my cartooning career (so-called).  Finally, in 1984 I was able to quit for good and spent the next 10 years at my drawing table hacking out the comics.

In a way,  bike messengering was like the  ideal job of a 10 year old boy.   What kid wouldn’t want to get paid money to ride around on a bike all day and talk over a walkie-talkie.  And most of the messengers reminded me of big kids.  I remember this other guy that worked at Rocket, this guy named Crud, who was sort of a self-styled “colorful San Francisco bike messenger character.”  Crud really played up that angle. He wore a beanie with a propeller on it and did all kinds of reckless, Evil Knievel type stunts on his bike (like working a whole day  while tripping his mind out on acid).  Crud, like Junior, was another bona fide bike messenger legend.  He too had been at it since the ’60s.  By the time I met him his act had worn down, mostly from having broken just about every bone in his body during his messenger career.  Did I mention it was a dangerous job?  Blasting around for 10 hours a day amidst the murderous downtown traffic.

Yeah I remember those days.  I can still picture Charlie standing standing over the board, barking out instructions to all the messengers scattered all over the city.  Him and his assistant usually started drinking beer in the afternoon, and by quitting time he’d often be pretty buzzed.

I remember this one evening Charlie seemed even more drunk than usual.  He was standing outside the Rocket Messenger building on Folsom with his assistant and he seemed like he was going to start crying.  I wasn’t working there at the time, but I lived down the street on 2nd Street in this flophouse that was the last remnant of the old Skid Row ($17 a week rent if you can believe that).  So I just happened to be passing by.

“I suppose you heard what happened today,” said Charlie.

“No,” I said.

“This new girl, it was her first day on the job.  She was riding down Market Street alongside a Muni bus when she hit the side of the bus and fell underneath the bus.   The bus dragged her for about 5 blocks before they even knew she was under there.”

“Holy shit,” I said.  “What happened to her?”

“We’re gonna have to ship her back home to Kentucky in a box,” said Charlie.

So yeah, 45 years at the bike messenger game is quite something.




  1. Interesting!

    Comment by Pat Hartman — August 15, 2013 @ 7:22 pm | Reply

  2. There is a God!

    Comment by Head for the hills — March 31, 2014 @ 12:00 pm | Reply

  3. I did the bike messenger gig for a few years in the early 1980’s. My boyfriend “Rebel Rick” turned me on to it. I was only 16 when I got my first job was with Aero. Then, after I learned the main routes, I went to US Messenger, then partnered with J-Bone to help him run Mercury Messenger. I was the “dispatcher”. We lived at 705 Baker with Rick, Jason, Spaz, and another messenger (wish I could remember his name, cool dude). A very fun three years of my life. Met lots of good, cool peeps such as my roommates and others Crud and Junior. Had some great fun at “The Farm”. I miss those days, but I had to “grow up”. SMH. Guess I could have chosen to stay in the bike messenger life, but needed to go explore other avenues. Good memories.

    Comment by tricia — January 1, 2016 @ 7:08 am | Reply

    • I remember the cool logo J. Bone had for Mercury Messenger . . . Sometimes I wish I could go back in time and do those bike messenger years all over again. To be young and full of unbounded energy! I probably passed you peddling down the streets of San Francisco many times. Appreciate the comments.

      Comment by Ace Backwords — January 2, 2016 @ 8:23 pm | Reply

      • Very likely we crossed paths either on the streets or at The Wall or at Art’s (I think that was the name), on 6th St. (?) to get lunch and other groceries on credit. Oh yeah…and then there were those days of having lunch consisting of a hamburger and beer (for about $3 or $4) at Red’s Java House. Much fun. 🙂

        Comment by tricia — February 26, 2016 @ 7:06 am

      • The honorable Harvey Wu ran Harvey’s on 5th and Folsom. That was a major messenger hang-out. Harvey cashed our checks and gave us tabs. . . It all seems kind of like a weird dream now, looking back on it. . . There’s a cool Facebook group — “San Francisco Bike Messengers” — where you can find J. Bone and other blasts from the past.

        Comment by Ace Backwords — February 26, 2016 @ 8:10 pm

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