Premium Rush sounds like a great movie. Itís got action, adventure, and lots of bicycles. So why havenít I, a guy who likes movies with action, adventure, and lots of bicycles, gone to see it?
Maybe itís because Iím still traumatized from my brief career as a bicycle messenger.
Iíd always wanted to be a bicycle messenger. Riding around town and living the dream sounded pretty good. Or so I thought, until I spoke with Jack Tigh Dennerlein of the Harvard School of Public Health.
Jack is an avid cyclist, who also happens to be an expert on workplace safety. Putting his passion and his profession together led him to study urban bicycle messengers in 2002.
What he found was sobering: the injury rates for urban bicycle messengers rivaled those of professional football players. Thatís not surprising when you consider that their daily routine is, according to Jack, one of ďDodging cars and pedestrians in a high-risk environment.Ē
A lot has changed since Jack did his study: the mean streets of Boston are not as mean as they used to be, thanks to a huge uptick in activism and urban planning. I guess that made me think I could live the dream, if only for an afternoon.
Thatís why last fall, I called Gregory Letarte, the owner and co-founder of Fly Over the City, and asked him if I could join him for a delivery. Gregory was game; if anyone could give me a feel for what itís really like to be a bicycle messenger, it would be Gregory.
Gregory and I met up in Government Center. Before heading, we chatted about riding in the winter, best cheap eats, and bicycle safety. When it came to safety, Gregory did not mince words: ďIíve had a few accidents, but all of them could have been avoided if Iíd been more cautious. They werenít 100% my fault, but a big piece was.Ē
Okay, Iíll state the obvious: messengers donít have a reputation for riding safely. They are known to run red lights, salmon (ride the wrong way up one way streets), and weave in and out of traffic. I wonít defend that behavior, but then neither did Gregory.
ďRiding like that is just plain wrong.Ē
And with that, we headed out.
So about our ride: Gregory had planned to take me from downtown Boston all the way to Chelsea. Fortunately, somebody else had grabbed the package that we were going to deliver. To whomever cut in line and saved me from getting in even more over my head than I already was, I offer my eternal thanks.
Gregory and I ended up shepherding a package from Government Center to a high rise near the waterfront. This I could do. Sure it was rush hour traffic, but how bad could it be? After all, we were only riding seven blocks. Besides, I was an experienced urban cyclist. This would be fun.
Let me start by saying that Iím still not sure where we rode, but thatís only because I was so terrified that I canít remember much of what happened between Government Center and the waterfront.
I do recall feeling like Iíd been teleported into the video game Frogger as I dodged potholes, buses, trucks, irate taxi drivers and jay-walking pedestrians. I managed to avoid getting hit, but only because I followed Gregoryís lead.
Okay, I admit it was intense. And maybe even a little fun. For a moment, I thought I could see my adrenaline coursing through my veins. But would I do it again? In a word: No. A manís got to know his limitations, and Gregory certainly helped me know mine.
After my one short ride I was done living the dream. Jack was right: avoiding cars and trucks seemed easier than avoiding a Jerod Mayo tackle.
From now on Iíll leave the job of delivering small packages to experts like Gregory. In the meantime, Iíll try to work through my fears so that I can find a way to see the best (the only?) Hollywood bicycle movie of the year.
Jonathan Simmons is a psychologist and an avid cyclist. His book, ďHere For the RideĒ will be published later this year.