Whenever I’ve been to the Championships, I’ve been to a few: Toronto – 95, SF – 96, Barcelona – 97, Zurich – 98, Philly – 00, Copenhagen – 02, Toronto 08, I’m struck by our little international community. Perhaps it what I love best about the championships. We are from wildly different places, but somehow we are the same. The bike is the common thread. How you handle your bike, is a common thread. I remember meeting Japanese, Hungarian and Scottish couriers that I couldn’t communicate through language because we didn’t speak each other’s language, but that didn’t stop us from becoming friends.
I haven’t been in the messenger business for 16 years. I won my world titles, embarrassed myself at a few more recent championships and realized I’d gotten old somewhere in there. As I watched the youngins’ leave the park after qualifiers yesterday, to go and race an Alleycat all through the city, I couldn’t fathom where I found the energy to do all that in my middle-twenties and early thirties. I laid my head down on my bag and took a nap.
That’s ok. It doesn’t matter if you qualify, no one really cares if you did the course in one of the worst times. No one will care if you show up to the party late, or not at all. If you have street cred, no matter if you’re from Botswana, Boston or Buffalo, you will find friends.
That is why, talking to my new Mexican friends, under the broken beer tent in the rain, I felt compelled to apologize about the way my country has been behaving toward their county lately.
My old Canadian friend, Laura Hopcroft, remarked to me later how funny she thought it was that I was apologizing for my president to the Mexicans and Canadians. I’m certain some of my own county men will loathe me for apologizing. The thing is that I like people from around the world. Part of that is to do with the championships. At the worlds internationality is so fluid. No one thinks about it, you just meet people and start talking. Because this is the state I’m used to as my default, anything else feels strange and sad.
So here we are in Canada. There is openness, curiosity of other cultures and different kinds of people. I have been missing this so much since the beginning of the 2016 presidential election. Day by day, tweet by tweet, I watch as the character I like best about America start to fade into memory. It has been replaced by anger, self-pity, whining and hate.
Where do we go from here? I look back to some of the best times of my life. The courier industry is far from easy to negotiate, but there is a certain cat-like landing on your feet, being creative in the face of huge adversity that I use as a road map to deal with things that worry me. Messengers struggle against the elements, irate and careless drivers, lowering standards of living, fax machines, emails and now app-based delivery companies. Surely in the future, messengers will find themselves in competition against Amazon’s drone delivery and artificial intelligence doing the dispatching. But it seems to keep them as well as their minds lean and pro-active.
I didn’t come up to the world championships because I thought I had even a sliver of a chance at making it to the finals or anything like that. I came here for inspiration. I came here to take a break from my own country. For now, it is good to know that along with all the climate data that U.S. scientists sent up here for safe-keeping from a climate denying administration, Canada is also a repository of our hope and better Angels. They still seem to love us, and that reminds you that as a country, you’re still loveable.
I came to see how my friends are interpreting these changes. Their perspective, borne of a deep respect, is really important to me. As a courier, at some point you realize you might need another human being in a potentially life-threatening situation. It changes how you approach relationships. Suddenly, gender, race and all the other ways we separate ourselves from each other…just don’t matter.
Montreal as a city is the perfect oasis for this odd family of ours. It is also a fine and well-curated event. The courier organizers of Montreal have included all the traditions that make it possible to take a week-end and step outside of your own stuff and meet people on the same plane. That experience is so important for sustainability.