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A history of bicycle messenger bags
6 June 2017 by Buffalo Bill

Just read this, written by my old friend, Rebecca Reilly

“In 2015, some jag-off stole my Cocotte. I was absolutely despondent. I barely cared about my $1,200 laptop even though I didn’t have the money to replace it. I didn’t care about the precious data on it. I didn’t even think about the tools, keys, and miscellaneous irreplaceable goodies hidden in its pockets.

My heart was broken that someone had stolen that dirty, stained, smelly, torn, 16-year old messenger bag that had never seen the inside of a washing machine. I won it in 1999 at the Toronto North American Championships, but more importantly it was the best damn bag I’d ever owned. Being pretty booby, finding a strap that worked with my frame was impossible. It was cushioned in all the right spots, held its form when you put it on a flat surface, was easy to sort envelopes and best of all, it could crunch neatly into low-profile bag, or expand to accommodate a case of beer, a 10-lb. bag of cat food and a 20 lb. of kitty litter. That bag earned me money in Washington, DC, New York City, and Toronto. She was there at the end of my messenger career and just by looking at her patches, I could go back in time to happy places and exciting friends. The “messenger” bag, in its current mass-produced incarnation, would disintegrate with the rigors of my old messenger life. Now it is an ubiquitous thing. So much so, in fact, the “messenger” in messenger bag is merely an identifier, and has little to do with its original purpose.

To many of us the former and current messengers, there is an important distinction that needs to be made. Messenger bags were designed with a purpose, and a culture in mind. The creation, evolution and spread of the messenger bag is two parts legend and one part verifiable facts. Much like the book I wrote, Nerves of Steel: Bike messengers in the United States, these important histories sometimes need to be captured without prejudice so the reader can sort through and find the consistencies in these oral traditions to determine the truth.”

Read the rest of the article here.

Rebecca Reilly: Nerves of Steel, Heart of Gold

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An Evening With Rebecca Reilly, Saturday 29th March, 7pm, Look Mum No Hands East, Mare Street
25 March 2014 by Buffalo Bill

Rebecca Reilly: Nerves of Steel, Heart of Gold
2 March 2014 by Emily Chappell

Rebecca at CMWC 2002

The legend of Rebecca Reilly has loomed large over my years as a courier. I’m perhaps more readily disposed than most to appoint heroes and role models – if I count up all the people who’ve inspired me over the years, it would stretch into the dozens, or perhaps even hundreds – but there’s always been something particularly compelling about Reilly. Perhaps it was her undisputed status as one of the pioneers of the courier scene. Perhaps it was her prominence as a woman in an industry still heavily dominated by men. Perhaps it was simply her elusiveness.

I discovered Rebecca through Bill’s admiring portrait of her on Moving Target, which perpetuates this sense of mystery: back in the hazy days of pre-internet rumour and hearsay, Bill hears of “a female messenger who was making a journey across the United States, visiting cities where there were messengers, living and working in each city in turn”, and sets out to find her, finally crossing paths at the San Francisco CMWC in 1996:

It was one of the meetings that Erik Zo, SF messenger bag maker, describes as the Great Dispatcher doing a good job. I hailed her, and she skidded to a stop. She knew who I was, too, somehow.

Rebecca comes across as a compelling personality (a mixture of vulnerability and bravadoquixotic, forever tilting at windmills, real or imagined), but what really captured my imagination was her role as a modern-day Columbus, voyaging out from the familiar world of Washington D.C., where she did her rookie year, to the unknown horizons of Chicago and San Francisco, never entirely sure whether she’d find messengers there, or how different they’d be from those she already knew.

She brought the international messenger community onto the streets of every city, large and small, she visited. She embodied the messenger community, she was its messenger.

Rebecca’s crowning achievement was her book Nerves Of Steel, probably the most complete account of the messenger world that will ever exist. Shortly after it was published, Bill’s article told me, 9/11 happened, and she joined the US Marine Corps, a decision he respected, but profoundly disagreed with.

And somehow, this added to the enigma of Rebecca Reilly. Most other long-time messengers stay close to the industry, even after they’ve escaped the clutches of the road. Some, like Bill, become controllers, or start their own courier companies. Others become mechanics, framebuilders or cycle trainers. But Rebecca, stepping from one close-knit world into another, very different one, seemed to have disappeared altogether. I googled her several times over the years, and found almost nothing beyond 2001. She seemed to have emerged from nowhere, burned brightly for a decade, and then faded back into obscurity, leaving only her book as legacy.

Only once did I strike gold – a short video of Rebecca in 1995, three years into her messenger career, talking us through the contents of her courier bag on a sunny San Francisco street corner. She’s young-looking, lithe and tanned, with a long sun-bleached braid and a bare midriff, and seems impossibly distant – two decades ago and thousands of miles away. And yet, somehow she’s also beguilingly familiar; instantly recognizable as one of us – the scruffy messenger bag with its faded badges; the earthy chuckle; the homemade bike-chain bracelet; the crumpled cycling cap; the lock tucked into her belt. If she turned up on The Corner next week, she’d fit right in. Her radio is bulkier than the ones we use today, but the banter over the airwaves is just the same.

image

And now I’m planning to write a book of my own. A few months ago, out of a mixture of deference and curiosity, I asked Bill if he knew where Rebecca was these days, and whether she’d mind me getting in touch. Not long after that, I found myself loitering anxiously outside a curry house on New York’s 1st Avenue, wondering how I’d recognize her when she turned up and whether she’d be the spiky, impetuous young messenger I knew from Nerves Of Steel, or the militant, muscle-bound patriot I feared the Marine Corps might have turned her into.

She was neither, as I quickly discovered. Someone yelled my name from across the street, and I looked up to see a large car heading straight for me, with a telltale bicycle strapped to the back, and an energetic blonde woman beaming at me from the driver’s seat.

“I’m going to go park – I’ll be right back!” she hollered, and disappeared round the corner onto 4th Street. Two minutes later she was back, weaving expertly and brakelessly through the traffic on her bike, and pulling up in front of me with a grin. “This is on me”, she announced, as she led me into the restaurant, sat down, and proceeded to spend the next three hours regaling me with gossip and legends from her courier years, tales from her time in the military, and everything she’d been up to since. Far from the superior, standoffish hero figure I’d somehow envisaged, she was friendly, frank, effervescently talkative, frequently obscene, and often laugh-out-loud funny.

image

“Ah, it’s like herpes – it keeps coming back”, she said of couriers’ tendency to ‘quit’ the job many times before they actually give up. I choked on a bit of papadam.

We found a lot of common ground, as women who had spent a certain number of years on the road, but it was hard for me to imagine just how different the courier world had looked for someone joining the industry twenty years ago, compared to the rambling international family I know today. In fact, back then, there was no courier world.

“Before I was travelling,” says Rebecca, “I only knew of two guys that travelled somewhere, in a year of messing in D.C. … and you know, they weren’t even real to us – they were like gods. So one guy, I actually talked to, and he had gone to Chicago … and said there were messengers there – and it was like: the world was flat until he got back from Chicago.”

But it wasn’t simply a compulsion to map uncharted territories that set Rebecca off on her decade-long odyssey across a continent. She was driven in part by an urge to honour the black Americans who had welcomed her wholeheartedly into their community, despite the endemic racism that meant they would never be welcomed by hers, and also spurred on by the nagging of her mother, who worried that she was jeopardizing any future career.

“I had a business bachelors, business administration, I was working on my French, and she was like ‘you could do marketing, and you’re chucking it all away, to go and gallivant…’ And I was like – I’m not being that knucklehead that, you know, bumps around in the fifties – Jack Kerouac – I’m not Jack Kerouac, I’m not just going around getting high and hanging out, OK, I’m gonna write a book. She’s like – what-ever.”

And Rebecca bursts into laughter, clearly harbouring not an ounce of bitterness about this maternal scepticism. (Her mother eventually wrote an Introduction to Nerves Of Steel.) It becomes more and more clear, during the course of our evening together, that her emotions are strong, but refreshingly simple. She speaks of her former courier colleagues with warmth and admiration; she is frank about her dislike of Travis Culley, a rival who won her enmity when he emailed her while they were writing their respective books, claimed to be a leader of the community she had helped to create, and demanded that she share her material with him. Rebecca doesn’t have time for hypocrisy or jealousy, and nor does she bother to hide or contain her anger at the way couriers were – and still are – treated by drivers, the police, and the very cities they work in.

We speak at length about the constant frustration of other people’s road rage and dangerous driving – I’ve been a courier for five years now, and it still gets to me, no matter how firmly I tell myself to move on and leave it behind, because there are some battles you can never win, and there’s no sense in getting upset over something you can’t change. I half-hope that Rebecca, who has a decade or so on me, will be able to reassure me that it gets easier with time, but she is still palpably furious when recalling some of the aggression she faced on the road, and visibly proud of the times she stood up for herself.

When she joined the Marine Corps after 9/11, she was an instant hit at the recruiting office, having arrived on a bicycle, in a blizzard.

“They asked me if I’d ever been arrested for something and I said ‘yeah.’

‘What, pot?’

And I was like ‘no, I don’t smoke pot at all.’

‘Well what?’

‘Assault and battery.’

‘Really?’

‘Yeah’

‘Tony! Wilbur! Come over here, you gotta hear this story!’

So they all came up, I told them my story about the fight with the cabbie, how I put him in hospital, and they just thought that was the most wonderful thing. They’re like, ‘oh my god, you’re gonna make a great marine!’ And I thought, oh finally! Someone comes to kill me and I can kill ‘em back! That’s awesome!”

And she grins, with a childish delight that belies the violence she’s describing.

But the respect Rebecca had earned as one of the hardest and fastest couriers of her day – female or male – didn’t follow her into the military.

“Marines are like the last bastion of masculinity. A lot of guys get in because – well, they want to be a man. To have a woman do stuff as well as they do was like the biggest insult. They hated us.”

As a courier, Rebecca had argued that there shouldn’t be separate awards for females at messenger championships. As a marine, ever the idealist, she campaigned for women to be held to the same standards as men, arguing that as long as the bar was set lower for women, men would feel like they were being cheated. This didn’t make her many friends, and she ended up as unpopular with the female marines as she was with the men. Although military life gave her the chance to see the world, and to utilize her talent for languages (she has taught herself Chinese, and also speaks French, Korean and some Pashto), she was glad to get out in 2010.

“After a while, in the corps, I just put my personality in a box – ‘I’ll take this out when I get out’. And then I got out. It took a while for my personality to come out. It was so buried. You have to just live it.”

Her non-conformity surprises me – I’d assumed, since Rebecca joined the Corps immediately after 9/11, that she did so for patriotic reasons, wanting to defend the ‘American way of life’, and avenge the attacks. As it turns out, she signed up in 2002 because she had absolutely no other options.

The US courier industry shrank abruptly and alarmingly after the 9/11 attacks – first there was the anthrax scare, and then, possibly as a result, more and more communications went online. Rebecca was working in D.C. at the time, and her wages suddenly dropped from $600 a week (“which for then was pretty good”) to $120. She could no longer cover her basic living expenses, her book wasn’t selling, and she was sliding further and further into debt.

Rebecca’s characteristic brightness falters as she recalls her struggle to stay afloat.

“I actually became – uh – pretty, uh – honestly, I was pretty low. I was drinking all the time, getting in really violent arguments, and after a while I just stopped going out, would just sit home and drink until I fell asleep. I thought about killing myself … And here I was with a college education – I’d look at it, like, yeah, I have a college education, but I don’t have a wardrobe, I can’t even go for an interview. None of my skills are current. I’m kinda stuck! … So in a fit of desperation, whining about my life to my sister, who’d been in the air force, she said – well shit, just join the military! You know, because they’ll pay for your clothes, they’ll give you an education – you get the GI bill, you get out, you go back to school. I thought – that sounds pretty good. I could get food, get my teeth fixed. I hadn’t been to a dentist in more than fifteen years, I had no health insurance.”

And, for all its faults, the Marine Corps did sort her out.

“They saved me. As hard as it was – and I do have some pretty bad feelings about the whole experience – I’m not bitter about joining, it was my choice. I got a lot of really good training, I paid back all of my debt, I got to see the world, I got to do some incredible stuff. But they’re a bunch of assholes.”

Despite the hotheadedness and occasional violent outbursts of her youth, Rebecca is a committed Buddhist, and a strong believer in peace and justice. She lights up when she describes the humanitarian work the marines did in the aftermath of the 2004 Indian Ocean tsunami.

“I firmly believe, if you give people the mission to help, especially if it’s hard, and hardcore like that, they’ll be all over it. And that’s what the Marine Corps could do. Instead of killing people, they could be going in and shielding people. Because that’s dangerous too.”

Towards the end of the evening, having listened to her stories for hours, I ask Rebecca if she has any regrets. This stops her in her tracks. “Wow. Huh. That’s a really good question.” And there’s a long pause while she wracks her brains, finally admitting that she perhaps could have messengered in more countries, especially France.

But in truth, regret doesn’t seem to be part of Rebecca’s emotional vocabulary. What comes across much more strongly is a sense of unapologetic pride – pride in the community she nurtured; pride in the book that took her a decade to write, and stands as the definitive record of the courier scene; pride in being one of the few women who thrived in a male-dominated industry, and who, in their visibility, showed the world that a strong woman could be a creature of beauty, rather than an object of revulsion.

“We were little specks in the universe, but we were noticeable. We had sex appeal. We were fast, we were bitchy, we raised hell. We got in fights – well, not all of us. Mostly me. But you know, we didn’t back down.”

I feel I have a lot to thank her for – but it would take too long to express my gratitude for the international courier scene, for changing the image of womankind, and for the way her life has directly inspired my own, so instead I thank her for the meal (for which she insists on paying), and for driving hundreds of miles to New York especially to meet me, and watch her as she rides off into the traffic, still smiling.

Rebecca will be speaking about her experiences at Look Mum No Hands, 125–127 Mare St, London E8 3RH on 28th March Saturday 29th March.

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International Courier Appreciation Day, 9th October (10-9 Day)
7 October 2013 by Papillon

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Bicycle Film Festival, London, October 3rd - 6th 2013
12 September 2013 by Buffalo Bill

This by email:

Cycling fans from around the UK and Europe will flock to London this October for the Bicycle Film Festival’s tenth season in London, celebrating the world’s best invention: the bicycle. The BFF is proud to be in its 10th year in the UK, as we continue to see cycling championed across the country and abroad.

Feature film highlights include MOONRIDER (Dir. Daniel Dencik) an honest and heart breaking picture of extreme and lonely life of a young championship rider, CICLO (Dir. Andrea Martinez Crowther) in which two brothers retrace their cross-continental bike journey 56 years later in an exploration of memory, the cycle of life and the steady passage of time and JANAPAR (Dir. James Newton and Tom Allen) a true story filmed over four years in thirty-two countries by one man on a bicycle.

BFF13 also showcases fabulous and emotive short films from around the world, including: RYOKOU (Dir. Davros) about the past and present of Australia’s fastest track cyclist Shane Perkins as he bares all in the sharing of his story during two racing seasons inside the Japanese Keirin and SOIGNEUR (Dir. Rih Van Der Linden) where twenty years after former Dutch cycling talent Simon van Beneden crashed in a junior race he returns to the scene of the accident.

The festival will also play host to a diverse programme of events including the annual bike polo tournament and a led road ride with starting at Athlon Sports both on Sunday October 6. The BFF will also partner with VeloJam, the all women’s track racing day at Herne Hill Velodrome on Saturday October 5. On Friday the 4th of October the BFF will be presenting in partnership with TfL its second Cycling Symposium, looking at the future of cycling in London with unique viewpoints from broad speakers.

From its roots in New York, the BFF is now a multi-faceted, global event that travels to over 25 cities each year, from London to Tokyo, Moscow to Mexico City. It was created in 2001 to encourage global participation and awareness of cycling and to help promote cycling across all forms. The festival celebrates the bicycle by joining many creative communities, including fashion, music and art, with the bicycling communities in a shared passion.

For full program details and the most up to date information on the festival please visit the website.

Tickets can be purchased online or through the Barbican box office. Find the Bicycle Film Festival on Facebook and Twitter.

Bicycle Film Festival, London, 4th - 7th October, 2012
Bicycle Film Festival 2011
Bikes rock & so does Overdrive - the Bicycle Film Festival 2011
Rider down, BFF *lleycat Friday 15th October
Bicycle Film Festival 2010, 14th - 17th October, Barbican
BFF London Bike Polo Tournament, 27th September
Reel Tour, 26th September
2009 Bicycle Film Festival, London, 23rd - 27th September
Little Jon makes Reuters headlines
Les Ninjas du Japon

Nelson Vails film seeks funding
15 August 2013 by Buffalo Bill

Nelson Vails is the fastest bicycle messenger that ever lived. A working New York bicycle messenger, he was a silver medallist in the Match Sprint at the 1984 Olympics, and went on to race kierin professionally in Japan. A documentary outliining his life is seeking additional funding. You can read more, and see a trailer on the Indiegogo page, Cheetah: The Nelson Vails Story.

London's Calling 2013, 6th - 8th September
5 July 2013 by Papillon

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Interesting times: A fond farewell to Ms Nhatt Attack
4 June 2013 by Emily Chappell

copyright: Selim Korycki 2013. All rights reserved

A couple of days ago Nhatt and I sat in the departures lounge at Heathrow, one of us savouring her final pint on British soil, and the other contemplating what felt very much like the end of an era.

When I limped back to the UK a few months ago after spending 18 months cycling across Asia, Nhatt was the one who met me at the airport and (with typical good humour) helped me haul two heavy bags and a bike box the size of a mattress back to Peckham, via public transport, during rush hour – so a few months later, when she packed up nine years of London life into a Pac, a Brompton bag and a Carradice, and discovered she’d need help carrying it all to the airport, it was obvious and inevitable that she’d turn to me, and, as we realized (her gleefully; me ruefully), impossible for me to refuse.

I’d heard of Nhatt long before I actually met her. Back in the summer of 2008, when I was procrastinating my MA thesis and wishing I was a cycle courier, I listened to her effervescent contribution to BBC Radio 4’s City Messengers, where she managed to distil her job’s peculiar mix of romance, suffering and humour, and started daydreaming even more frantically. A couple of months later I was on the road myself.

It still took me a long time to run into Nhatt in person, and by then I’d built up a formidable picture of her as the de facto princess of the courier scene, organizer of highly creative alleycats, up-and-coming cartoonist, contributor of witty articles to Moving Target, sought-after bike mechanic, and subject of the admiration and adulation of countless couriers, wannabes and civilians. I wasn’t even sure I wanted to meet her. She seemed a little intimidating.

copyright: Selim Korycki 2013. All rights reserved

Nevertheless, whenever I spotted a female courier, I wondered whether it might be her. Finally, after several months, I passed an unusually pretty girl on a cargo bike on Goodge Street, and she gave me a massive grin and said hello, and that was Nhatt, and that was that. She was nothing like the standoffish and superior queen bee I’d imagined. And this, I’ve realized, is the root of her charm. Despite her good looks and manifold talents and achievements, she’s never less than entirely approachable, and balances out her brilliance with a disarming air of goofiness. She seems genuinely not to have expected all the wonderful things that her hard work and talent have brought into her life, and retains a pervasive clumsiness – most recently witnessed when, on her last morning in London, in the throes of a wicked hangover, she first locked herself out of her flat (with all her bags still inside and only a few hours to get to the airport), and then realized she’d accidentally cut up her brand new bank card instead of the old one, meaning she’d spend her first few days in New York with no money at all.

I wished she’d just give up on this silly emigration plan and stay, but she sent a quick message to her friends in New York (in true Nhatt style, she spent three months couriering there back in 2007, and still counts many NYC messengers among her closest friends), and they assured her she’d be picked up from the airport and looked after when she arrived, so she downed the last inch of Doom Bar, picked up her dog-earred passport, gave me a quick hug and disappeared through the departure gate without a backward glance. The era ended.

we're sad you're leaving too, Nhatt! copyright: Selim Korycki 2013. All rights reserved.

It may seem indulgent, and even cliquey to devote an entire (and, knowing me, lengthy) Moving Target article to bemoaning the departure of a close friend (and perhaps it is), but Nhatt, for me, exemplifies many of the things that are wonderful about cycle couriers. She got a lot out of the courier community, and she put a lot back in. Talk to her – even after you’ve been friends for a few years – and you’ll be perpetually surprised by the amount she’d managed to cram into just three decades of life. She was homeschooled on top of a mountain in the Pacific North-West, went to university at 16, dropped out, ended up in London via Morocco and Spain, worked as a vegan chef, became a minor celebrity on the courier circuit, spannered in half the city’s bike shops, taught herself to draw on a whim and ended up with a postgraduate degree in illustration from the Prince’s Drawing School. I’m probably missing a few things out, and there are probably a few things she hasn’t even told me yet.

Nhatt’s an endearingly scatty interviewee. You sense that at least some of the time she’s making it up as she goes along, and several times during our conversation she says things like “the trio of my life has always been writing and art and food and bikes” (er, that’s four things, Nhatt). Speaking of her feelings about starting from scratch in Austin, Texas in a few months’ time, she admits “I’ve got this seesaw in my heart that’s 50% fear and 50% trepidation, and the other half is excitement and joy at just finally making the commitment to do what I want to do.” However broad her talents, maths certainly isn’t one of them.

She came to London “because, like everything in my life, I think I just want to be taken seriously.” And then she bursts into laughter. “I still haven’t been taken seriously by anybody yet, but I’m still hoping that, some day, somebody somewhere will take me seriously!” She continues: “There’s this big movement in the Pacific Northwest – in fact, everywhere in the States – where people are really DIY, which is great, except for – I didn’t want to just do it myself, I wanted to be part of something that was bigger, like I wanted to do …oh god … well, I don’t remember what I wanted to do at that point, but whatever it was I wanted to do it and have it be more …accepted? And less just taken as somebody’s little project. I wanted to make whatever it was a real living thing. … I wanted to come and work with bike recycling projects because there was more government funding and more actual bike shops and things that would take me on seriously, instead of a load of people who would build bikes in their basement and have a bicycle kitchen, you know. I felt like I wanted to do something that was proper.”

Does the courier scene take people seriously? I don’t know. We discussed how surprisingly welcoming it is, and how, despite both being quite far from the courier archetype in various ways, we’ve both found a sense of family and community among our workmates. “I don’t have a lot of family”, notes Nhatt, “I’ve always felt like I need to be somewhere where I was surrounded by people who just accepted me and were welcoming, and that’s one of the things that the courier scene does really well, is that it picks up waifs and strays like me and makes them feel less waifey or strayey.”

I agree. I’ve always been surprised that I was so easily accepted by couriers, because there’s so many boxes I don’t tick – I don’t do alleycats, I don’t live in a squat, I don’t have tattoos, I sound like I went to fucking Eton.

“But that’s the thing!” Nhatt interjects. “There’s so many couriers that are like you as well – they came from very good backgrounds –” I raise an eyebrow. “– well, you know, who are extremely well educated…” I do the eyebrow thing again, but she’s in full flow. “I think I’m more typical of what you think of as ‘a courier’, but I’ve never found a typical courier really. Maybe in the summer, eighteen-year-old boys, but that’s only in the summer – they never last. Or when they do last, then they become more interesting.”

And the job does have a way of making people more interesting, whether or not they were to start with. I’ve had similar conversations with a variety of couriers and exengers lately, many of whom have a significant hobby or skill or career outside of the circuit, and most of whom credit the job with giving them time and space to develop this (post-work exhaustion notwithstanding). Nhatt is definitely one of them.

“It gave me the time to think about what I wanted to do. When I was doing food, which is what I was doing before that, and even working in bike shops, you’re concentrating too much on what you’re doing. But because of the economic crash, and because riding is much more of a feeling and much less of a headspace, it gave me a chance to really figure out what it is I want to do.”

And what she wants to do, it turns out, is illustration.

“The art is completely my focus, and I don’t make any art with bicycles at all. Bikes are more just a part of who I am, and art is something I make, and maybe that whole sense of self-awareness that you have when you’re on a bike, and that whole feeling that you have for how you relate to the world when you’re cycling has something to do with how I create the work that I make, but I don’t draw bicycles. I don’t have any interest in them aesthetically in that kind of way.”

Bicycles, it turns out, are not so much an objective interest, as quite literally (and figuratively), what gave Nhatt her phenomenal mobility, and informed the way she looked at the world. She didn’t even learn to cycle until she was in her late teens (“I rode horses on the mountain”), and then a Seattle friend armtwisted her into taking a mechanics course, wanting women to outnumber the men in her classes.

“And I fell in love with the fact that it enabled me to really truly understand something, for the first time. To be able to really get that when you pull on this lever, this cable does this, and to be able to fix something that you could do just with thought process, just by taking time out and looking and observing. And all of my artwork – and most of my food work, and everything – is based on tasting and thinking and observation, and for that they’re very similar to how I work with bicycles. … I don’t know how that fits into courier work at all, besides the fact that it gave me something to be part of.”

“I think it feeds a lot of different parts of us though,” I respond, “I mean, for me it’s the physical aspect, the social aspect, the capability that you feel, and so many things, and maybe it’s not just that it fulfils one part of what you need, but many?”

“Yeah,” muses Nhatt, “and all this kind of feeds into that whole desperate need to be taken seriously, you know, how you have to take a female bike messenger seriously, right? You know anybody who is happy to put nine hours a day on a bike you take seriously, right?”

copyright: Selim Korycki 2013. All rights reserved

We’ve talked about this before. Nhatt was the one who picked me up and put me back together (over pints of cider in Wapping) when I lost my nerve after being threatened and stalked by two drivers in as many days, and realized just how unavoidably visible one is as a female courier. And she was the one who pointed out to me that, although we have to put up with a great deal of sexism from postroom guys and bikeshop guys and cabbies and people on the internet, and sometimes even our own controllers, there’s remarkably little of it among couriers themselves.

“They treat you like a courier” she emphasizes. “I mean obviously (this is not going to make me very popular, but) with any of the male couriers, it doesn’t apply to any woman who isn’t a courier – you know, it’s not that people don’t still occasionally have sexist views, but at some point you transcend gender to be just a courier.”

She’s right. I’ve often felt uncomfortable sitting around with gangs of male couriers and listening to their appraisals of passing buttocks and bosoms, but I’ve never felt any fear that that gaze might be turned on me. (Please don’t tell me if I’m wrong.) Sometimes I miss my femininity a bit, but most of the time it’s a relief to be able to put it aside for once, and be recognized for one’s talent on a bicycle (or with a spanner or a pen), rather than how sexy one is or isn’t.

That said, there’s a lot to be said for the encouragement and support we female couriers have given each other down the years. Nhatt’s chirpy American tones on the radio partially inspired me to become a courier myself – as did Chandra, who flagged me down on Euston Road that summer and handed me a flyer for an alleycat I’d be too shy to attend. Chandra, I’ve since discovered, joined the gang in a similar way to me, after watching couriers (including Nhatt) enviously from the wrong side of a reception. Somehow, now we’re all part of each other’s heritage. Nhatt is gratified by this.

“And now you’ve inspired me to leave the country and leave everything I care about and go and be an artist in the desert…”

I apologize and we laugh, and remember our pact to meet up and do the Race Across America together, as a two-woman team, when we’re in our sixties. Who knows what we’ll each have done by then? I recall an evening we spent drinking cocktails on Goodge Street two years ago, shortly before I set off to try and cycle round the world, and at a point when Nhatt was between jobs, and wondering whether she should just give up on it all and go and do something else entirely, and actually rather enjoying the uncertainty of it all – and I’m reminded of the famous curse, ‘may you live in interesting times’. Is that what it’s all about, I wonder? Nhatt considers this carefully.

“I don’t believe in down time, or as I was saying earlier, I don’t believe in happiness either – well, I don’t believe in the importance of happiness – I definitely believe in being happy as an emotion. If I could make every minute count for something then I would. Like you said, I’ve done so many different things and I’ve been to so many different places and so many wonderful people have passed through my life and I just want to keep that going because I think I really thrive on that.”

As I type this it’s Saturday and, two days into her new life in the US, Nhatt is fighting jetlag (and possibly another hangover) and working on a seitan stall in a New York food market. After that she’ll be joining RAAM as an onboard mechanic, and then moving to Austin, where she doesn’t really know what’ll become of her (or whether she’ll be able to find the Turkish coffee that she became addicted to living on Green Lanes).

“I’ve made all these rules and these plans and you know, I want to go and I want to be single and I want to do my thing and I want to work really hard on my art and I want to meet lots of other people who are going to take me seriously as an artist. But I could show up and who-knows-what will happen.”

Interesting times indeed. And I’m sure we’ll all wish Nhatt well in her quest to find someone who’ll take her seriously. (Let’s not tell her that everyone already does.)

*

You can see Nhatt’s art here, read her short stories here.

Nhatt wrote & drew the following for Moving Target:

Female Bicycle Messengers – a user’s guide
Being Good
An American in Paris
Nhatt Attack’s Top 5 moments of 2008

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Bike raffle in aid of LCEF
12 April 2013 by Buffalo Bill

Apollo Gerolymbos has built two bikes to be raffled off in aid of the London Courier Emergency Fund. To buy a ticket, click here.

To see the specs, click here.

To read the interview from which the accompanying picture is taken on cyclelove, click here.

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Donkey Derby, Friday 5th April, Horseshoe, Clerkenwell Close.
2 April 2013 by Papillon

The rebirth of roller-racing, and a short history of Rollapaluza.

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