It apparently snowed last night. You wouldn’t know it – it’s just wet and rainy now. Sort of feels like summer in San Francisco! I think I spent six months soaking wet, riding through puddles halfway up the bike rims. It was El Ninõ, and being a messenger in that kind of stuff makes you feel invincible, but soggy.
Of course, that was before unionization, so you had to ride or you had no money, no matter what got in your way. I got hit by six cars, and each and every time I got back up and kept delivering somebody’s divorce papers, or contracts, or whatever was so important it had to be there a.s.a.p.
I remember riding in an elevator with a woman, probably a few years older than me, maybe the same age, who can tell? Most of the suits ignored us, moved as far away as possible so as not to get the city streets and sweat on their thousand-dollar suits.
“I used to be like you,” she said, turning to talk to me.
“Really?” I asked, curious.
“Yeah, I was a messenger for a while, but now…” she looked down. You could tell she’d rather be huffing fumes up and down Market than sitting in some cush office.
“It’s the best job in the world,” I said, and I meant it. Of course, the unsaid sentiment was that it was also the worst, like living a manic-depressive episode ten hours a day.
At the time I was in a magazine which has since folded, called Women’s Sports & Fitness. They profiled different types of cyclists – I was, unceremoniously, the “urban” cyclist. I didn’t get paid, but who the hell knows who saw it and decided to get on a bike.
Or maybe just buy a good helmet.
When the journo interviewed me, I had just survived my second car-upon-person incident: I was flying down Polk Street, cruising between two lines of cars – parked to my right, waiting at a light to my left.
All of a sudden, I was at a dead stop, smashed between the door of a pickup truck and an SUV. My right shoulder was wrenched back, I was still clipped in the pedals, my face mashed up against the tinted glass of the SUV.
I was young, and accustomed to the hatred from California drivers who feel personally offended by the sight of any messenger who dares roll on merely two wheels.
“What the fuck?!” I screamed, dislodging myself, slowly, gingerly, from between the vehicles. The SUV pulled away, more interested in getting through the light than making sure the human scraped up against his $80,000 car was okay.
The driver of the truck locked his door, screamed a bit of profanity back at me, and walked into a bank.
“Fuck you too, you piece of shit! And watch out the next time you open your door, or you might be next!” I yelled at his back, anger and adrenaline pumping, making, really, no sense.
“Three-eighty-one?” crackled through my radio. “Three … eighty …. one?”
I adjusted my bag, grabbed the radio still – thankfully – attached to the strap, and hit the button. “Eighty-one,” I said, trying to sound calm.
“Good, you’re awake. Pick up at ….” I pulled a pad and pen from my pocket and started scribbling. Then I hopped on the bike, and kept going, pain searing my shoulder.
A few weeks later, hanging out at some dive bar or other in SOMA, my then-BF – another messenger – told my dispatcher what had happened.
“And you got everything delivered on time! You’re a trooper!” he said, raising his glass to me. I just drank mine – lifting my arm still hurt. I was proud then, and still am, that I was the only female on the long board, meaning I traversed all over the city, end-to-end and everywhere in and around, instead of the downtown messengers who spent most of their days on the Sharper Image wall. Over a decade on, I’ve still got a scar on my collarbone from the edge of the truck door, and pins and needles in my hands – thanks to that and a few other collisions.
Though ironically, it was the non-messenger hits that took the most out of me, especially the last – and ninth – one, though both eight and nine happened in West Philadelphia.
For my eighth life, I was cruising to a writing class at Temple. I’d just rounded the corner from my block and was slowly making my way along the right side of the street – red light blinking at my ass to warn other cars I was there in the dark – when a massive 1970s sedan rolled by. I didn’t hear it, didn’t see it, but I felt the edge of its hood as it rode up against me, like a metal shark slowly cruising by.
“What the?” was all I could get out, doing my best to balance against the beast, when the side-view mirror hit me, albeit in slow motion. I swerved, wobbled, leaned up against the trunk, and then it was gone. The loss of something to lean against sent me over, flat on my face. I looked up, started repeating the license plate number and dialed 911.
“I’m sorry, but unless there’s loss of life we really can’t do anything,” the dispatcher told me after I explained the debacle.
“Are you kidding me? This asshole just pushed me over, totally oblivious, and kept going! That’s hit and run!”
“Well, do you want to press charges? Are you hurt?”
“I’m fine,” I said, pissed.
“Are you sure? I can send an officer over, and EMT to make sure you’re okay.”
“No, I’m good.”
“You really should let someone make sure.”
“Fine,” I said, giving in.
So I dragged my bike and self over to the sidewalk and sat down. I called my roommate, also in the class, and told her I probably wouldn’t make it that night, sirens from a fire truck wailing in the distance as I described my latest debacle.
As I told her I was okay, I noticed the sirens getting louder. And louder. A massive ladder truck roared up to me, sirens full-blast, lights flashing, half a dozen firemen suited up and ready for action.
“Oh god,” I said. “I gotta’ let you go.”
I stood up and walked over to the truck, peering to try and talk to one of the firefighters.
“Where’s the accident?” one of them asked.
“Um, that would be me,” I said, face as red as the truck.
Suddenly, a pair of EMTs burst from the truck and started checking me for breaks, cuts, bruises, taking vitals, asking if anything hurt.
In a different situation it would’ve been hot, but at that moment, I found myself praying that no one actually set anything on fire while I was taking up a very large, expensive fire truck’s time.
And, praying no one saw me, because someone always does. My life is a bit like the Truman Show – no matter what happens, there’s always someone around to see it.
Like the night I drank too much hard cider and, walking home in the Lower Haight at 2 a.m., suddenly projectile vomited on someone’s garage door.
“Don’t worry,” my roommate Kelly said, rubbing my back. “It’s the middle of the night, no one’s around. No one saw you.”
And I believed it until work on Monday, when I headed to the production room to drop off screen separations for some rock’n’roll t-shirt or other.
“Hey, you doin’ okay?” the production manager asked me.
“Whadya’ mean?” I asked, knowing already what he meant.
“You looked pretty rough there Saturday night on Fillmore!”
Needless to say, the entire neighborhood saw me and my fire truck that night in Philly. So I limped back to my house and went to bed. And I lived to ride another day, when a grey VW Golf swerved out of its parking spot on the Penn campus and into my bike lane. I tried to go around it, but it clipped me, sending me, myself and my bike face-first into the pavement, a twisted mess of flesh and metal.
I extricated myself and walked up to the stunned driver. “Do you see these lines here?” I said, pointing to the bike lane.
He nodded, eyes wide.
“This is a bike lane. You are a car. Next time you decide to pull out of your parking spot, asshole, look for bikes, okay? Ever hear of vehicular manslaughter? Yeah, a car’s no joke, dick. Pay attention!”
See, when I’m in pain I get angry. Dunno why, I just do. Maybe it’s an old Viking remedy, who the hell knows! Needless to say, I limped with as much poise as my 35-year-old bones could muster, got back on my bike and continued on my way to Utrecht for a new sketchbook.
I wandered the aisles, picking up a few pens, pencils, some paper, some paint, eventually paying and walking back to my bike, locked up to a parking meter. I turned the key, tossed the lock in my back pocket, hopped on the bike and …. couldn’t bend my leg.
“Oh shit.” I felt it, realized it had ballooned to about three times its size. “Gross.”
So I did my best to pedal home with one leg, dragged myself up to my third-floor bedroom, yanked off my jeans and realized I was a bloody mess. Except all the blood was under the skin, in the form of a massive, full-thigh hematoma.
I’ve since gotten several – mostly on my ass – from roller derby. But at that point, this huge, purple and yellow, swollen and painful blood-filled bruise was new to me.
In fact, my entire frontside was bruised and covered in scrapes. My hands were cut up, my chin nicked, elbows raw, stomach sore, knee out of joint and wobbly, the whole nine yards. So I took a shower and dragged myself to bed, hoping the next day would be better.
You ever do that? I have, a few times, and guess what: it’s always worse.
Like the time I landed on my elbow in derby, and asked everyone what it looked like after I pulled my elbow pads off after practice. I should’ve known by their bulging eyes and gasps, but I decided to go home and deal with it in the morning. Of course, when I woke up and lifted my arm in the bathroom mirror and bone jutted out at me, I probably should’ve gone to the ER right then and there. But no, I went to work, where a co-worker convinced me to call my doc.
Good thing, too – I’d waited too long for stitches, and if the antibiotics, ointment and bandages didn’t work, he told me, I might lose my arm.
Oh no no no! “Sold my soul for rock’n’roll” is poetic … “Lost my arm to roller derby” is so not. This was not good, and I couldn’t find a decent way to redeem myself for losing a freakin’ arm to poor balance. Thankfully it was the right arm, I thought to myself, or I’d really be screwed. (Being a southpaw and all…)
And, like the elbow incident, after the ninth and – so far – last crash of my long and illustrious nine lives, I took a bunch of NSAIDs and went to work … where I proudly displayed my war wounds to the middle-aged ladies who thought I was just the wildest and craziest thing they’d ever encountered.
Of course, they didn’t have to watch me drag my sorry ass up two flights of stairs every day, or lose sleep from the pain.
Little did they know I’m just a bit clumsy, I suppose, and actually the most anti-social person I know…