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]
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