San Francisco

Working on a Bike During the Super Bowl

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I can’t pretend that the service I offer is in any way necessary or even beneficial. New things are not made nor broken ones fixed. It does not much explore the world nor see into its workings. It neither makes nor educates. Intimate as I am with the city, the city does not need me. You could take all us couriers away and things would still go on. People would probably just get out and walk next time they wanted a sandwich. Keep their parcels to the postal service.

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Besides the catch-all – where a shift could send you hustling anything from buttons to barbecue – I work for several other services with more specific products. One for salads, one for cookies, and one for alcohol and cigarettes. Usually I don’t work alcohol delivery till the summer, since I don’t much like working after dark for a company that offers no form of health coverage. But then, on the other hand, I don’t give a damn about football. And if there’s one sunday a year when you can be guaranteed customers in the home and fewer drivers on the road, it’s Super Bowl.

Work started at two pm, and kept going without let up till eight. Orders came two, three, four, and even five deep. Most of the other couriers packing booze are drivers. Actually, they all are. I’m the only cyclist. Everyone else has a car, motorcycle, or at least a scooter. When the company hired me, they just asked to see my drivers license and never bothered asking after the vehicle, and I never bothered correcting them.

Of course it means the company thinks I can carry more than might be safely recommended, but I kind of like when I get up around Lafayette Park or Alamo Square and some bro comes out in sweats for his American Spirits and Smirnov. They always get a bit sheepish when they see the bicycle, the courier gear, hear the panting lack of breath, see the flatness of my stomach.

“You just had to make me look bad,” one said as I came up curbside on Cathedral Hill. He was either in pajamas early, or still in pajamas since yesterday. He had the pale and stoop shouldered look of too much desk work, self-reclining chairs, and time spent away from the sun. A six foot cauliflour with a week’s growth of beard. “Guess you take a job like this if you want to be in shape.”

“Personally I’m in it for the money,” I said. Mind you, I’ve never met a courier who does the job specifically for the spectacular pay, but it’s not through any goodness or love of a challenge that I would otherwise bring six packs and Marlboro lights to Cow Hollow and Nob Hill.

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After a drop off I was on a run back to the liquor store at the corner of McAllister and Divisadero. Somewhere on Broderick Street between Post and Sutter a man was dissassembling a pickup truck. There was still more of the truck under the hood than outside of it, but it was clear from the collection of metal that enough vital pieces had been undone there would be no moving the thing.

The man was bald, sitting on the pavement in a grimy forty-niners shirt, grease up to the elbows. His front teeth appeared either missing or badly chipped, though the lighting was bad and it may only have been shadows. His manner was that of a field surgeon dressing the wounded. I don’t know why he didn’t at least make his work easier with a light.

“Nice,” I said, slowing down to look. It’s not often you see street mechanics at work.

“What?”

“It’s impressive,” I said, and gestured to the collection of automotive viscera he’d taken out from the machine.

“Man, I refuse to pay a motherfucker to do my shit,” he said. “Only thing I can’t do is the transmission, but I just got a book on that. Soon as I finish reading it, imma do it myself.”

A man like that is never going to hire someone like me. A man like that goes and gets his own beer.

All that sunday sounds of the game came out in a muted and sequential roar, like train cars of cheering crowds going past and past the platform, though of course I was the one doing the moving. Moving along O’Farrell, Market, Chestnut, and Columbus. I’d go three times over Divisadero, the final run coming up southbound behind a standard transmission volkswagen that stalled out at every stop sign between Union and Jackson. Thirty two miles pedaling beer, wine, liquor, and smokes. Roughly the same distance from city hall to Stanford campus.

Sure, it was all the same city, but I got to be out and see it. Nearly everyone I delivered to spent the same night shut inside, watching people in a box kick a ball around a rectangle.

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