The other day, I was downtown for a high profile interview. I was to meet with the person at their office in Brookfield Place at 2PM. Not wanting to be late, I showed up 15 minutes early for the interview and waited out front on Bay Street for my photographer to arrive. Leaning against the building, I started watching the bike traffic to pass the time. Within the space of five minutes, six bike messengers had ridden past. Two of them locked up and went into Brookfield Place. By the time I had to go inside for the interview, all the messenger bikes had been unlocked and were off to the next delivery. It was extraordinary.

When my photographer arrived, I pointed this phenomenon out to him. I said that, the way they appeared out of nowhere and then just as suddenly were off reminded me of bees flying into and out of a hive. There was something startlingly beautiful about it: the unexpected and silent approach,  the graceful lock-up and then the supersonic exit. I don’t know why I haven’t noticed this before.

I made a mental note to do a second count when my interview was over.

On leaving Brookfield Place, we found ourselves at the Wellington Street entrance. Distracted by our discussion of the interview, it took us a moment to realize we were in the midst of another round of incoming messengers. Two swept through my peripheral vision before I started counting again. Five more in the space of a minute and a half.

As I stood mesmerized, one stopped beside me and locked up. He had the charmingly boyish face of a cyclist I have come to admire: an honest, open face full of good cheer. We greeted each other enthusiastically and wished each other well on our respective journeys. I did not have my bike gear with me.

Ten minutes later, I decided to have a coffee at a shop at University and Wellington to write up some interpretive notes. Four more messengers went into this building during the twenty minutes I was there. Remarkable.

More remarkable was the lock-up. Virtually every messenger pulled a small U lock from his or her back pocket, bolted the bike frame to the back wheel, and leaned the result against something solid: a wall, a planter, a tree. They never locked their bikes to anything. I suppose it would take longer, and the messenger credo is all about speed. I’d never do this. I’m terrified to leave my quick release wheels unlocked, for heaven’s sake. This got me wondering.

Why don’t any of these high falutin’ businesses create a safe lock up space for their messenger traffic? I’ve heard it said that the downtown core would shut down if we didn’t have our messengers. I believe this, after yesterday. I mean, eleven messengers in the space of seven minutes to a single building? We should be supporting them.

But hey, maybe it takes a bee colony collapse lesson to make us see.

 

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