WAMU 88.5 : Metro Connection

Filed Under:

D.C. Gigs: Pedaling Around Town With A Bike Messenger

Play associated audio
Kate Schrock,29, has been a bike messenger off and on for the past 6 years.  When not delivering packages, she works at a local bike shop.
Marc Adams
Kate Schrock,29, has been a bike messenger off and on for the past 6 years. When not delivering packages, she works at a local bike shop.

It may not be the most lucrative job in the world, but it's something that after six years in the business, D.C. resident Kate Schrock has found difficult to leave. She spends her days doing exactly what she loves most. She's a bike messenger in the District.

"I like being a bike messenger mostly because you can do what you want, and you get paid to ride your bike," Schrock says.

As a D.C. bike messenger, Schrock rides throughout downtown picking up and dropping off everything from passport papers to classified legal documents. She races from office building to office building with the occasional stop at an embassy, all on her orange fixed-gear bike. Weaving between traffic and risking being hit is just part of the job.

"The car door is probably one of our most dangerous nemeses," she says. "Fortunately, I haven't had a 'dooring' in a long time. I tend to ride in the middle of the lane these days."

Bike messengers on the decline in D.C.

Worrying about the physical risks of riding has been largely replaced by anxiety over the economic risks. Business for bike messengers has slowly been drying up in D.C. over the past decade, in part because of the growing use of faster communication methods, such as electronic mail, and partly due to the ramped up security in the city after the September 11th attacks.

It's not necessarily the "glory days" as some long-time bike messengers remember. Years ago, bike messengers in the District were able to make $100 in a couple hours. Now, many are lucky to scratch up $75 after an entire day of work. For couriers like Schrock, it makes tax time all the more painful.

"The most challenging part [of the job] is taxes," she says. "The only reason I would ever stop doing this is because 33 percent taxes kind of sucks."

Schrock counts herself as one of the lucky ones though. She has a partner who is able to help provide for her financial needs, enabling her to continue riding. Schrock also works part-time at a local bike shop to supplement her income.

"I'm not necessarily the breadwinner in the family right now," Schrock admits.

Instant communication: A bike messenger's friend and foe

In a twist of irony, the thing that may be hurting business for bike messengers like Schrock - instant electronic communication - is also helping messengers respond to jobs they do get faster. Like many of her counterparts, Schrock carries an Android phone and is notified instantly on the device with all the details of a particular job when it is requested.

"It says where you're going, where the pick-up is, where the drop-off is, how long you have to get there, when it's ready, how many envelopes, if it needs a return," she rattles off. "It can have a lot of information, and sometimes it has nothing."

All the instant information makes Schrock fiercely efficient. There's never any time for extended chitchat with office people. She heads out of each building almost as fast as she heads in. It's a fast-paced life that for Schrock, has become in some ways addictive.

"Every year, I try and get out of it," she says. "And then I'll work in a bike shop for a year, and then I'll miss bike messengering and then I'll go back to that."

And as far as her future is concerned? That's anyone's guess.

"I don't know what I'll do," she says. "Right now, I'm trying to get a job as a substitute teacher or something. It's that time of year when taxes are starting to pile up, so I'm feeling bad about my job again."


[Music: "Working for the Weekend" by The Brown Derbies from We Deliver]

Photos: D.C. Gigs: Pedaling Around Town

NPR

'Swiss Army Man' Directors Explain The Symbolism Behind A Farting Corpse

The directors of Swiss Army Man — Daniel Kwan and Daniel Scheinert — talk to NPR's Kelly McEvers about what inspired them to make a movie about a flatulent corpse, and the deeper meaning behind it.
NPR

Can Arnold Schwarzenegger Persuade China To Eat Less Meat?

Like the U.S., China is battling obesity and climate change. So it's urging citizens to eat less meat — and spreading the word with public service ads featuring Hollywood stars.
NPR

Kansas Votes More Money For Public Schools To Avert Shutdown

Legislators, pressured by the state Supreme Court, passed a $38 million package for the state's underfunded schools. Justices had threatened to close all public schools in Kansas after this month.
NPR

Shock, Rage And Gallows Humor: A Brexit Backlash On Social Media

Young voters had overwhelmingly voted to remain in the European Union. Now there's a flood of anger from those who accuse older generations of choosing a future they don't want.

Leave a Comment

Help keep the conversation civil. Please refer to our Terms of Use and Code of Conduct before posting your comments.