Depanneur – Bailing you out of a pinch



170812 Montreal 1.jpg
Trading patches and stickers for my book with the Indonesian bike messengers

Depanneur:  (Definition from the Cycle Messenger World Championships 2017 Montreal Guidebook)  (day-pan-err)  Often shortened to simply “dep.”  This is the corner store for beer and smokes.  It literally means “bailing you out of a pinch.”

That’s the essence of being a bike messenger.  You spend your whole day, bailing people out of a pinch.  Throughout the day too, with the million potential crises messengers bail each other out of a pinch.  It is a job, but it is also a life-style.  It’s interesting to me how I started my evening catching up with old friends, met brand-new friends and we ended up talking about how, the whole world, the bike messenger industry and ourselves individually, could all stand to be bailed out of a pinch.

What brought it into focus for me was talking with Duenno of Jakarta.  His courier company, West Bike Messenger is only 5 years old.  He brought three other guys and really, they weren’t here to race, they were here because only at the bike messenger championships can you learn the holy secrets of the business, only if you are a genuine messenger though.  “We messengers in Asia need to know how you guys do it.”  Duenno is desperately trying to keep his business going.  He told me his counterparts in Singapore and Malaysia are looking to his example.  Much like when I first started travelling the U.S. to find other messengers in the days before the internet, Duenno has gone abroad in his corner of the world setting up his own ASEAN of messengers.

The big drag on his business comes from moped competition that operates almost exclusively on mopeds.  Having lived and worked in Asia, mopeds are ubiquitous.  They take huge loads, the guys work extremely hard and make very little.  A bike messenger is like a boutique hotel in a sea of Motel 6’s.  Then there is Foodora, and the Indonesian food delivery app equivalents.  All of it powered by gas.

He told me he had an app, but keeping it properly maintained was draining his finances and he was desperate to pay his guys appropriately.  As it is, the clients he does have pay ridiculously low rates, Duenno is held hostage by competition.  I told him about how the Germans and the Scandinavian messengers had long been marketing their services as the “Green” choice.  Unfortunately, that’s not an argument that has any traction in Indonesia, the land of subsidized gas.  “No one cares about that.”  Duenno says.  Sounds familiar.

20170812 Montreal 2

We are all in this pickle.  What I’m really interested in, is the Open Forum happening on Sunday about the industry.  In my generation we were worried about what faxes and electronic signatures would do to our paychecks.  It’s terrifying to think that now bike messengers have to deal with apps like Uber eats and drone delivery by Amazon.  Where is the bike messenger niche?  How to get paid the premium for the service that a job with such high skill set levels should require?

I have a sneaky suspicion that it may come down to the humanity of it.  The in-your-face character of the work.

I was sent to deliver a package to Senator Joe Biden before he was Vice President Biden.  Our lawyer clients insisted I waited until I got him, and that I make him sign for it.  I waited for about 40 minutes in that office in the basement of the Russell Building.   practiced my Chinese on a plush leather couch, staffers that looked like human Barbie dolls glaring at me.  He came out and I shoved the package into one hand, the manifest into the other.  “Could you sign please Sir?”  The Senator from Rhode Island’s response, “You’ve got to be fucking kidding me!”  For $50 to the client (rush round-trip service with wait time), I performed a function a fax machine, an email, and even a drone from Amazon could not do.

Hey messenger family, let’s think about this, and then let’s help out Duenno, and by extension, the messengers of Malaysia and Singapore.  Please write in your comments.  They will be much appreciated.


One thought on “Depanneur – Bailing you out of a pinch

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s