Thursday, January 1, 2009
North American Cycle Courier Championships
by John Greenfield
[This piece also runs in this week's New City magazine, www.newcitychicago.com.]
Sweaty and breathless, the bike messenger strides up to the desk to deliver a package and politely asks for his manifest to be marked. “Drop your bag, drop your bag,” yell the staffers. “Sign the log. Where’s your ID? Security!”
It’s not an uptight mailroom in a Loop office building. It’s a checkpoint on the racecourse for the NACCC, the 11th Annual North American Cycle Courier Championships held in Garfield Park last weekend. Over 200 messengers from as far away as San Francisco, Montreal and Copenhagen have converged on the Windy City for a weekend of competition, camaraderie and tomfoolery.
“It’s great that we could finally bring this to the Midwest,” says co-organizer Augie Montes of the Chicago Couriers Union. At the end of the weekend New York’s Kimberly Perfetto and Austin Horse will earn bragging rights as the fastest couriers on the continent. At 5th place Andrew Nordyke is the top Chicagoan.
In addition to the checkpoint race, the champs include a bike polo tournament, trick riding contests, a labor forum and the Messenger Prom, which packs the Bottom Lounge with partiers wearing everything from cocktail dresses and leisure suits to giant banana and Mr. Peanut costumes. A prom king and queen are crowned with headgear fashioned from bike chains and cogs.
The race, simulating a typical day of two-wheeled delivery work, has participants picking up and dropping parcels at nine stations on a City-sanctioned, car-free course throughout the lush West Side park. To keep things realistic this checkpoint, sponsored by Chicago’s 4 Star Courier Collective and NYC’s Breakaway Courier, incorporates many of the headaches and hassles messengers face on a daily basis. There’s even a dude in a rooster suit “stealing” unlocked rides.
“It’s almost like a real mailroom because there’s so much confusion and animosity,” says veteran local courier Brent Olds, sipping a PBR as Public Enemy blares from the sound system of the Chicago Cuttin’ Crew racing team’s school bus. Sunshine glares off the gold dome of the park’s fieldhouse on this hot, gorgeous day.
Nicole Brewer, an ex-messenger who’s working the checkpoint, says Chi-Town couriers have more security hoops to jump through than anywhere else in the country: using alley entrances to buildings instead of the front door; signing building logs and leaving ID; and leaving their bags with building guards to prevent them from stealing fax machines. “Chicago’s all freaked out ‘cause they think a terrorist is gonna fly a plane into the Sears Tower,” she says.
Couriers zoom around the park’s curved roadways on single-speed, fixed-gear bicycles with three-foot-long mailing tubes in their bags, their bodies and bikes banked at steep angles for speed. Locals are barbecuing near the racecourse to sounds of Z. Z. Hill’s “Down Home Blues” and teenage girls saunter obliviously across the cyclists’ paths.
“I like having all the racers out here,” says Garfield Park resident Joe Davis, 68, straddling a Trek. “It’s good for people to see this is a beautiful park and they don’t have to be afraid to come out to the West Side.”