It all started when I finally said it out loud.
“My love affair with bikes is over.”
I’ve spent the most formative years of my adult life slinging packages through every weather condition in cities on either side of the country pretty much every day for nearly 6 years. I’ve had just about every experience, save death, that I can really imagine having. I guess what I’m saying is I think I peaked in my bike messenger career.
I’m certainly not regretful that I spent so much time doing this. I’ve met some amazing people, seen some beautiful and not-so-beautiful places I never otherwise would have seen, learned just how hard I can push myself and actually developed a pretty okay work ethic which I never thought I would have 6 years ago.
I’m not off the bike yet, however I’m going an alternative route with bike work which will hopefully result in me being off the bike entirely (I always thought when people said that it sounded like they were kicking a bad habit. Something like “off the sauce”). Although I’d love to just deliver my final package on my last day working with Cupid I unfortunately can’t say that will be the case, although I always swore to myself it would be. But good things come to those who wait, or so I’m told.
So I guess in the end at worst being a messenger was a means to an end which left me jaded and reluctant to ride my bike for fun anymore. At best it was some of the most fun, interesting, social, strengthening and sometimes even lucrative times I have ever and probably will ever have in my life and would never trade those times, friends and experiences for the world. I think the medium in there is a pretty happy one.
If you see me out in the world feel free to say hi! Or don’t, that’s cool too.
A room I rented earlier this year required $200 and four laborious days of mold remediation. I’ve gotten mold poisoning before; in 2012 I’d spent four nights in places that smelled thickly of my basement growing up; I was hacking mercilessly for a month and a half. Mold poisoning more commonly takes the form of chronic nausea and fatigue with long-term exposure to milder concentrations. I really didn’t want that, hence my efforts with this room.
At first I thought it was just in the closet, where stains darkly mottled the paint. I cleaned and sealed the small space, but the room still smelled rankly. There’s a particular sensation of cold, abrasive dripping in the back of your throat when you’re around mold for a few minutes. The feeling filled me with regret, despair, disgust, and panic. I realized that the carpet, long-ago soiled by the dog that once lived there, was a festering landscape of mildew. It was even still damp in spots. That the room got no direct sunlight sure didn’t help (I could see the sky though, at a certain angle, which is more than my partner can say).
I resolved to tear out the carpet (Sam helped, she lived four blocks away!). I wanted so badly to sleep in this place I was paying so much money for, where I’d acquired illusions of safeness, stability, and respectable citizenship. A chunk of the carpet was already missing anyway. From that gap, I thought it was concrete that lay beneath.
But oh no.
Half the floor was exposed particle board. The other half had this weird shale-like stuff poured over it, starting thick at one end and petering out to a thin layer to even out the un-level floor. The thinner parts broke when I stepped on them. The real problem, though, was the that the particle board was spongy where the carpet had been damp. Some of this lay beneath the shale. Well, I thought, I already had one afternoon of sweating in goggles and a respirator, why not treat myself to another? This time I was accompanied by my crowbar friend, and we broke up the shale to expose the rotting boards beneath.
I then doused the floor in mildewcide, let it sit for a day with a fan, and painted over it with mold-sealing paint and concrete-floor paint (for which I chose a pleasant shade of sage green). I also painted the walls to be extra safe; the worst part of all of this was at no point being sure that any of this would work, and worrying that I’d just sunk a bunch of money for nothing. But, to my swelling relief, it didn’t smell after that. The last step was acquiring a rug to protect the floor (paint, particle board, and shale remnants), and when my partner helped me pick one up from East Oakland, we got into a collision on the freeway. But that’s another story.
You may ask, “But young Wren, noble and fair, why did you move into a moldy room?” At the time, I was in between housing, and pretty desperate for a stable spot. The last time I’d looked for housing in Oakland, it took five months for me to land a room. Houses are overwhelmingly swamped with applicants, especially those with less-pricey rooms (and, as a bike messenger, the less pricey is a necessity). So, when I was accepted into this house, I wasn’t paying much attention, and thought it all smelled musty because the last person living there was a slob. Besides that, though, most people I know in West Oakland are living with black mold. It’s not easy to find a house without it. Professional remediation requires evacuation, as well as bringing up an expensive problem to a slumlord who’s itching to evict you and double the rent on new tenants. West Oakland has six times the asthma rate in children as the rest of Oakland. The Port and freeways are a big part of it, but black mold, I’m sure, takes some blame as well.
Memorial Day weekend is the annual messenger ride/camp out. It’s an interesting profession, attracting an eclectic group of people. Many of us share parks, steps, doorways as break rooms. Having these shared moments huddle under overpasses in the rain, brings unexpected friendship. Even though many of us work for different companies, we can come together in brother/sisterhood. What better way to hang out in our most natural setting, the outdoors? So I returned yesterday, sunburnt, covered in bug bites, and gassed from the 200 miles in the heat, with minimal sleep, with some of the best memories I’ll ever have.
Just a quick reminder we will be CLOSED on Monday May 30th for Memorial Day. We will resume our regular business hours Tuesday May 31st. See ya bright and early after the long weekend!
I’ve spent a lot of time in hospitals lately. I’ve watched nurses dismiss very serious issues with smug demeanors, discriminate against people based on their appearance and discharge people who were in no way healthy enough to be thrown out into the world by themselves simply to clear beds and turn a profit.
Oh, maybe I should say that I’m fine and I wasn’t the one being seen at the hospital. A very close friend of mine has been dealing with a lot lately and finally we needed to bring him to get some help after a week of not acting like himself. Saying things that made no sense, making strange movements with his hands and getting worked up over very little things even as minute as simple conversation, it was scary and upsetting to say the least.
The first time he was taken to the hospital after having an episode the doctors ran some tests, including MRI’s, and told us that they thought he had taken acid and sent him home with us. Our friend has never taken acid. He is, however, a very heavily tattooed person very clearly involved in the punk scene, as we all were. We were upset about this but figured if that was really the case we would let him sleep it off and talk to him about it in the morning.
The next morning there were no signs of improvement. We had a repeat incident, this time at a different hospital. This time, however, the nurse was guiding our friend through these questions heavily implying that he uses hard drugs and is schizophrenic. We intervened as soon as we were able to and he was once again discharged to us. We were all exhausted from sitting in hospital waiting rooms and crying and just hoped he would be better the next morning. We dropped him off at his house and he just went right to bed.
The next morning one of us went to go check on him at his new house. He was even further into whatever hole it was he had fallen into and was immediately taken back to the hospital we had just been to the day before. They admitted him and started running tests and monitoring him. Eventually a nurse named Sharon came in and started talking with our friend and taking his blood pressure and putting things in motion to actually get him some help. She even spoke with his father on the phone for well over half an hour, much more than the doctor who had come in would prove to do. She talked a lot with our friend, just little things here and there as she was working the machines and clicking around on the computer screen. Eventually, transport showed up to take our friend to a specialized facility. Sharon even went so far as to expedite that process for us and remarked how sweet of a person he was and gave us all hugs. I cried a little. Thank you, Sharon. You’re a saint.
He’s been at the new facility for about a week at this point. Every time we visit he seems to be doing better. We’ve been bringing him his favorite vegan food and some shirts so he feels more comfortable in there. We hadn’t realized how little he’s been eating for the past few months and how much weight he had lost. That on top of the weight of the world he had been carrying around with him for 33 years and working himself into the ground had proved to be too much. I find myself asking if he’s eaten today, if I can get him any water, how he’s been sleeping, how he’s been feeling lately, which brings me to the point of this story.
There are so many ways to tell someone you love them and none of the typical romantic or familial words for love ever have to be used. I’ve been making much more of an effort to ask all of the people I care about all the same questions I’ve been asking my friend for the past week a lot more. I’ve also been asking myself these same questions as well. They’re so simple but so important and I just wanted to put into perspective the weight they hold and what they can really mean to someone.
I’ll see y’all out there. Stay drinking water and eating well and try not to hang on to stuff for too long.
Every Monday night I go to “my weird folk-singing group-thing.” I call it that because there’s a long explanation.
Sacred Harp is a 300-year-old a cappella tradition of gospel music that originated in the South. I know people’s minds jump to one thing when I say gospel (as they jump to specific stereotypes for all the things I do [weightlifting, bike messenging, political organizing… I’ll probably write another newsletter about that phenomenon]), but there are hundreds of Sacred Harp songs that range from dirge-like chants to vibrant, polyphonic fugues. With its structure, vocal style, and lyrical content Sacred Harp feels like a lot of the old American and Irish folk music that originally got me into this.
There are four parts to the harmony, and the singers sit arranging a square with each part a side, all facing each other. One by one, each singer chooses a song from the big book of Sacred Harp we all have, and stands in the middle of the square to lead it. Sacred Harp is participatory rather than performative; everyone at a gathering is there to sing, and there is no audience. The leader chooses pitch internally and keeps time with specific hand motions. Singings aren’t rehearsals, and there’s no final performance. Everyone is also singing as loudly and abrasively as they want, as that’s kind of the style, and making mistakes and deviations from the written music, as it’s a loose guide written with little shapes designating the notes. This notation, shape-note music, was designed to be accessible to rural people who could not read. People with all levels of musical knowledge sing Sacred Harp, and it’s very easy to learn.
All this makes Sacred Harp extraordinarily fun. There are Sacred Harp singings all over the WORLD at this point. Most meet once a week, but then there are regional and national all-day singings that last six hours with hundreds of people and a massive potluck. People take weeks off to travel and participate in all-day singings, and there’s a strong culture of hospitality for travelers coming to be a part of your singing. A book comes out every year of the schedule of all the singings, regular and all-day, all over the world. It’s like 300 pages. Included is a compendium of contacts so you can call or email a point person who will ask their local singers to let you stay at their house to be a part of a singing. The community and camaraderie is extraordinary.
There are all different sorts of people into Sacred Harp. Though it’s originally a Protestant Christian tradition, believing in Jesus is not a prerequisite to singing loudly and passionately about death (a LOT of the songs are about death). Some people I know have stopped singing because they were uncomfortable with the religious lyrics. Personally, I didn’t grow up with or take on any sort of Christianity (thanks, Berkeley), so I have no trouble singing words so distant to me. In addition, a lot of the lyrics are beautiful poetry that can be broadly and metaphorically interpreted. The songs differ. It helps, though, that there’s no religious undercurrent to the actual gatherings. People are with each other there because they love to sing in this communal way. I’m usually the most dirt-and-road-grime-encrusted person at singings, but, if you can believe it, not the most weird.
I’m going to be an old man and paste a url into this newsletter, so that, if you’re curious, you can watch a video and get a better idea of what I’m talking about. Look, these people are singing in Ireland! https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=_B56sU9zrhQ If you ever wanted to explore your musicality, but have been daunted (I know this well), there are regular singings in San Francisco, Berkeley, and Palo Alto.
The crest of summer is on the horizon. Having a deep love for sun, California drew me from my frigid origins of Minnesota. My love for the sun has caught up with me, though, and proven to be a harsh mistress. Years of riding and working under the fiery goddess, has caused damage to my skin that required surgery last December, hence my hiatus. Fully recovered (skin cancer has 99% recovery rate), I am all geared up to do a bike tour from Alaska back to SF in June, with a lot of sunscreen. I’ve been working so hard to recoup from the financial backlash medical issues can cause, I decided to take a month, and do something for myself. To live minimally, and re-enter the city with 2,000 miles of gorgeous west coast and thinking behind me. I do love this city, but I need a new perspective. The constant hustle, the information overload, everything at your fingertips, the gloomy thought of forced relocation; it all builds up like a pressure cooker. Well, my cooker is steaming, all the irons in the fire are starting to melt. This trip will be a reminder that everything I need to live….I can carry on a bike.
Finally, after what felt like forever, I’m able to take advantage of multiple creative outlets. I felt like I was going insane. I’m sure everyone knows the feeling, consumed by work and all the other everyday stresses and feeling completely stagnant. But when that creative dam finally bursts, it’s like gaining a whole new perspective on life. As of late, I’ve been writing song after song after song for one of my bands (albeit they are between 25 seconds to a minute long) and also kind of took the reins of our visual design (i.e. shirt designs, patches, etc.), and it has just been filling me with much-needed and welcome feelings of accomplishment and purpose. It has changed my perspective so much, in fact, that I even made use of a giant paint stain on my bag, which was the unfortunate result of unsecured paint can lids by revisiting an old habit of mine. Now I kind of love the way the paint spill made my bag look, just took a little modification and creativity. I’ve been trying to take that approach with Cupid as well. Make little changes and modifications and try to make things more fun and exciting. Designing the new brochures and website were definitely large tasks, but they were also super fun because I had to problem-solve and be a little expressive with things as well. I dunno about y’all, but I definitely think there’s a bit of my personality in both. Or I could just be a raging narcissist. There’s always that too. I guess that’s easy to fall into when you’re part of the best-looking messenger company in the city!