One of the things I liked about the San Francisco bike messenger job ….. Most people in San Francisco experienced a limited sphere. But the bike messengers went everywhere. We delivered items to Herb Caen at 5th and Mission. Then we delivered graphic art from the San Francisco Chronicle to the Mitchell Brothers on O’Farrell St. Then we went to Melvin Belli’s law office near the Transamerican Pyramid to deliver legal briefs to Mayor Dianne Feinstein at City Hall. Then we picked up a mysterious 3 pound package from Planned Parenthood to be delivered to an un-named clinic south of Market. Then after a quick lunch at honorable Harvey Wu’s on 5th & Folsom it was back to the TV stations on Battery Street to pick up a package to deliver to the Hollywood actor Kevin Bacon who had a suite at the Fairmont Hotel atop Nob Hill (and I always hated that bitch of a hill but at least I was now 7 degrees from Kevin Bacon) …. And round and round we went.
I always felt the bike messengers were like the bloodstream of San Francisco. Coursing through the veins and making the connections with all the other organs.
I used to get a kick out of going to Bill Graham’s office on 11th Street and seeing all those original Fillmore posters on the wall and hearing Graham in the back office cursing and screaming at some poor slob on the telephone. Being a bike messenger was like continually walking in on somebody else’s movie . . . Then we’d deliver Graham’s package to the backstage of the Old Waldorf (was that Eddie Money hanging out there with that skanky rocknroll chick!).
Then I’d go by 11th Street a week later and notice that Bill Graham’s office had burned to the ground. One more mysterious arson fire. In fact, anything that happened in San Francisco, there was a good chance you’d be riding by while it happened. If there was a mass shooting at a One Market Plaza office, there’s a good chance you’d be riding by and see the building roped off, and SWAT teams entering, as a crowd of worried on-lookers gathered around outside.
Bike messengers got to see the entire spectrum of San Francisco. From the lowliest wharehouse jobs, to the CEO in his swanky office atop the Bank of America building. And everything in between. I remember one time delivering a package to the house of the cartoonist William Hamilton. If I remember right, Hamilton’s house was somewhere near Fisherman’s Wharf. Hamilton used to do these one-panel cartoons that lampooned the upper-class for the New Yorker magazine — which happened to be one of the most prestigious gigs for a freelance cartoonist. I was an aspiring cartoonist myself back then. So it was a thrill to see Hamilton there in his house, which I could tell also doubled as his art studio. It was like walking into the exact vision of my cherished, hoped-for future.
I used to hitch-hike home to Berkeley every night at the end of the working day. The 5th & Bryant Street offramp was right across the street from the Special T Messenger garage where I worked. And it was quicker (and cheaper) to just hitch-hike home rather than take BART. I remember one night I got picked up by this rich, hip lawyer in a brand new Mercedes Benz. He had the most incredible and expensive sound-system in his car. And he was blasting the Aerosmith album “Toys in the Attic” at top-volume. It was like recording studio-quality sound. He lit up a tai-stick joint and passed it to me. And it was just about the strongest weed I had ever smoked. Half-way across the Bay Bridge I was already starting to hallucinate, what with the combination of the weed and the Aerosmith. And I always remember something that lawyer told me, amidst our casual, stoned-out conversation. “Right now you’re getting paid to deliver packages for other people. But who knows, maybe some day you’ll be paying other people to send out your packages.”
Years later, when I was actually working full-time as a cartoonist and in fact sending my packages out there all across the world, I would often think back to that conversation. Life is so strange. Its kind of like a masquerade ball where we’re always trading costumres and trading roles. Kind of like the bike messenger job itself. Where you slip in and out of every scenario imaginable.