Bicycle couriers, by their own estimation, are a persecuted guildcut off, cursed at, and unloved on D.C.’s streets. And, as if that weren’t demoralizing enough, several bike messengers now find themselves hitting the wall trying to make friends in the city’s gallery scene.
A group of local couriers is trying to throw a series of fundraisers so they can afford to host the Cycle Messenger World Championships, scheduled to take place in D.C. Labor Day weekend. The races were lured here by Andy Zalan, president of the D.C. Bicycle Courier Association, and are being backed by Mobile City, a fanzine of courier art and poetry. These aren’t “alley-cat” races; they’re serious heat, and about 1,000 people are expected to take part. But the hosts need big bucks to pull off the event. For starters, they have to pay the city to close streets for the competition.
With “no money and no credibility,” messenger John Whittington went banging on doors around the city trying to find a cheap, decent site for the group’s May “gala.” It wasn’t easy, he says: “You get a lot of runaround from local people if you’re not paying.”
Nonetheless, they thought they landed an ally in A. Salon Ltd., one of the largest providers of artists’ studio space in the city. A. Salon gave Whittington the impression that two sites were possible: Projectspace (formerly the Insect Club) and the WPA’s Central Armature, both near Gallery Place. But as it turned out, Projectspace was booked. So Whittington headed down to inspect the Armature with Mobile City editors James Kerns and Steve Gibson. On his way, he received a page: The Armature had been shut down, says Whittington, because of asbestos danger.
Whittington says it’s all part of a pattern. A. Salon kept “flaking out, not taking us seriously,” and the volunteer gallery scout was “not living up to professional standards.” By luck, Whittington found a space a week before the happening. The Ruppert family (of restaurant fame) offered up Studio 1019 on 7th Street NW. But George Cooke of A. Salon recalls the negotiations differently. “A space was available, but not the one that fit the couriers’ needs,” Cooke says. “They were dealing with the Rupperts when they were dealing with me, and they took the better deal.”
The fundraiser went off as planned: an art opening (60 works), a raffle, and a rock show rolled into one. Courier bands Grand National and the Stigmatics lurched through mechanical sets while the zipped, cuffed, and capped tribe stabbed at the buffet.
The organizers are hoping to gin up greater interest in their cause, but are “working against just having the world ‘courier’ or ‘messenger’ [attached],” Whittington notes. Now the sponsors are planning their next gala for later this summer. The location, as yet, is unknown.John Dugan