Today is Messenger Appreciation Day, also known by its messenger code name as “10-9 Day.” To mark the occasion the Chrome Hub store in downtown Portland hosted a free breakfast to these unsung heroes of Portland’s economy.
When I rolled in around 9:30 or so the smell of fresh Belgian waffles and coffee filled the air. Chrome store manager Lilly Hager and her crew had set out a feast for working messengers. There was a tub of champagne, bagels and cream cheese, a dozen donuts, and a sign hanging above it all that read: “Happy Thank You.”
While the business of delivering things by bike has changed dramatically over the years, Portland is still home to about two dozen messengers. Or at least two dozen of the classic style of messengers made popular by Hollywood and Madison Avenue ad campaigns over the years.
These “business couriers” or “office guys” have set routes and clients and deal primarily in parcels, blueprints, data files, and other time-sensitive documents. They are a different breed in many ways from the newer-style of bike delivery people that have sprouted up in recent years thanks to companies like B-Line, Portland Pedal Power, Jimmy Johns, and others. Then there are the start-ups like Postmates, Delivery Dudes, and Caviar.
“In some ways we’re seeing the death of the industry,” said messenger Jay Grisham as he bit into a waffle, “But in many ways, bicycle delivery has never been stronger.”
Jay is one of four bike messengers employed by MercuryPDX. He said working as a messenger in this more traditional role doesn’t pay as well as working for one of those other companies, but for him it’s not all about the money.
“All the perks aren’t financial,” he said. What are the perks I asked? “Freedom.”
“With so many jobs,” he continued, “when you’re not busy, they want you to look busy. But when I’m not busy, I can come here, eat a waffle, read a book. It’s pretty nice.”
And he isn’t envious of people who have to deliver food. “I like carrying envelopes rather than plates you can spill,” he said.
One of Portland’s most established messengers, Dee Branham of Magpie Messenger Collective, was also there this morning. When I came in he was holding up the 2009 Portland City Council proclamation where then Mayor Sam Adams made Messenger Day official.
These days most of Dee’s business comes from doing post office runs. He and the Magpie crew do an early mail run for businesses whose mailperson comes too late in the day and then a similar run in the afternoon.
Dee and Jay both said the messenger scene has remained a pretty close-knit community. One downtown business recently moved to Swan Island so they didn’t need a bike messenger any longer. “He retired,” Dee said, “And there are so few of us that when one person leaves it’s actually a large percentage.”
If you see a messenger today, give them a “thank you” or a nod of encouragement. They deserve our gratitude and support!