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The Sky Is Falling

By Stephen Cummings

Life is good. I have not worked full time in over four years, my life consists of stringing gigs together that fit into my schedule as a full time amateur bike racer. I have done everything from cleaning out a hoarder’s house to wearing a hard hat like the people in the Honey Bunches of Oats commercial and handing out free samples. I pull it all off by living cheaply and having the ability to procure things (like 400 boxes of Honey Bunches of Oats) at cheap prices or free. I think most people plan on walking away from their jobs someday, but few can actually go through with it. I was forced to walk away.

On my last day of full time work, I had been earning a living as a bike messenger for about five years. The romance of the job was all but gone. The work had become routine. When each call was given, I had a good chance of correctly guessing where it was going once the pick up was announced. I could tell the dispatcher who signed for most packages without looking at the manifest.  I had all of the daily, weekly and monthly scheduled runs memorized. My dispatcher always described people in my position as, “being on the verge.” On the verge of what? Quitting? Killing a rude motorist? Fighting the boss? Freaking out on a client? Yes, all of them.  I ended each day by turning off my radio and riding home, rather than being dismissed or waiting until there were no calls coming in.

As a messenger, spring is the best time of the year. Most things about spring make a messenger happy for having put up with the frozen hell that is winter. In a deep freeze, Pittsburgh’s three rivers can be frozen solid. The city can be gray with ice and snow. Everything seems quieter. There are no pedestrians. The city itself seems to slow down when the temperature dips below 20°F for a week straight. As spring rolls in, messengers get to wear less clothing, worry less about changing flat tires outside in freezing temperatures, and business starts to pick up as tax season hits. Early spring marks the first days where bike commuters don’t have to ride home in the dark as well.

My last day was like any other sunny spring day. I was picking up a routine package, at a routine client. I got to cross the river to the north side of town, which meant more riding, and more money for me. The afternoon temperature had risen to the point where I took off my under layer shirt, exposing my pale arms for one of the first times of the year. Days like this made me appreciate my job, my health, and the fact that I was alive.