Job Interview: Bike Courier

From Vol. 1, No. 4, 1998

JOB INTERVIEW where we talk to someone about their job
Fish Piss readers might remember Scott Ellis from his photographs in the first issue (& he was also the guy who had a fistfight with the landlord in Mush, the totally true ‘infamous cat head story’ in #3).
Scott’s a bike courier. Today he got a $25 ticket while working. The charge: not obeying a cop.
He was biking between this bunch of cops who’d blocked off a street to arrest the people eating that food at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel. “Usually you can go right by them when there’s a protest like that,” he said, “but not this time. I went right through, and heard one of them say ‘Hey, you, stop!’ Fuck you, I said, and went right by him, then two of them further up stopped me on my bike. What’s your problem, I said, and he said Right now it’s YOU.”
Scott said he saw a big ‘cop bus’ on the scene. He also saw several cops with big camcorders videotaping the people involved, including those who weren’t arrested at the scene.
Scott became a father a couple of years ago and has been working since. We both work downtown and make the same amount of money, but he’s a bike courier and I work in a suit in one of the offices he delivers to (the other people in suits always stare at us when we run into each other and talk in the hallways, like it’s weird that I would know one of ‘them’.) The other night after work we sat around bitching about our jobs like we’ve often done, this time with a tape recorder recording it. Here it is:
Louis: Which places did you have to deliver to today?
Scott: Today I was Alcan man. Alcan aluminum. Doing lots of lawyer stuff. One person per week gets to do Alcan, and works every hour on the hour for Alcan, and whatever they have he delivers. It’s one of the better runs. It’s a chump job overall, though. There’s never any raises. The only way I could make more money is if I make more deliveries. There’s no insurance to it, though, so if I get hit by a car, then I’m fucked.
L: So then it’d be welfare…
S: Yeah, welfare. You have to be on welfare for a year now before you could apply for benefits like prescriptions & shit, too.
L: I guess if you have a health card it’s not so bad.
S: Yeah, I did this job for a year before I got my health card. Then I got hit twice, and I said ‘It’s time to go do it.’ Twice in two weeks, man. My left knee and my right ankle, so I was like, OK, I can hardly walk here.
L: Can you think of how many times in two years biking that you got hit?
S: Well, I’ve definitely been hit by over six cars. And as for how many close calls I’ve had, well, it’s unreal. Tons and tons of times per day. People in cars think we’re chumps having this job or something. It’s such a class war. They get mad, because they’re stuck in traffic and we’re zipping by.
Once the novelty of having this job wears off, it’s like I’m stuck in it. What am I gonna do, you know. I don’t want to get a job where I’ve got someone sitting over my head. But the longer and longer you stick with one job, the worse it gets, you know.
L: How long’s it been for you now?
S: This is my third winter now. I started not long after you did.
L: Yeah, I’m in my third year now. I remember starting, it was fucking tough. As bad as the St. Urban pad was, I started enjoying just hanging around, doing things, having fun, then poof! I get this fuckin job. Immediately I felt alienated from everything. At work I was the weird one, and at home I was the weird normal one. Fucked me up.
S: You feel like all your time’s being sucked up & shit.
L: Ah yeah, ever since then, time’s been zipping by!
S: It flies by, man, “Shit, I’ve been doing this job for how long?” It doesn’t even compensate for all the shit we have to go through.
L: It pays for your life while you’re working, but you’re working.
S: Yeah. You can look back and say “Wasn’t the future wonderful?” (we laugh)
L: “Well, I’ve been having a good future, how about you?” Reminds me of that guy in the movie Slacker, this bum they pick up, who says “I may be living like shit, but at least I’m not working to do it.”
S: The only cool thing about this job is there is nobody looking over my shoulder, and I can dress any way I want. Smoke pot or whatever too, who’s gonna know, you know?
L: I guess dead time in the summer’s not bad.
S: Yeah, you know, sit around and smoke, stare at women all the time. Still, though, you know, you gotta be somewhere you don’t wanna be. I can always be doing something else other than working. They’re still consuming my time expecting me to be downtown, doing nothing even, hanging around.
L: It’s true. I never did more nothing than since I’ve been working, fuck. I used to never just sit there. Now I do it all the time, sit there in my suit, waiting for my boss to give me something. And they say “Well, you gotta work, because otherwise what are you gonna do, nothing?” No, I’ve got lots of things to do. Remember at the loft when I made furniture out of all that scrap wood? I have no time for stuff like that now that I’m working.
S: I always got tons of other things to do, man. The only reason why I wanna be lazy is if I work too much (laughs.) I think that’s what creates laziness, it’s overworking. They make you feel like you deserve it, man.
L: Yeah, “I got a right to do nothing!”
S: Yeah, I come home, I’m all tired, Fuck, man, I don’t wanna do nothing else, I deserve this, man.
L: I can’t take it there sometimes. That’s what got me all into this mag in the first place, sitting there, hmm, computer here, photocopier over there. Fuck, gotta do something, man. And of course it may as well have something to do with changing this system we’re stuck with.
It’s pretty easy to change by this point. We just have to make it so we can change the economy whenever it fucks up. They say we need to do all this useless shit because the money says we have to, but no, why not just change the money to fit whatver it is we’re already doing, or all this stuff we really need to do but have no money for. It’s fucking money, it’s not a person, you know. Just go change it. But all those old men, you notice that, don’t you, that it’s all mostly these old white men, in the buildings.
S: Oh yeah. There’s one term that’s been floating in my head, looking at all these fucking geezers, man, I think, “We’re being run by a handful of fools.” That’s exactly what it is, man, they’re all a bunch of old farts. They’re lazy, too.
L: Yup. So what’s the type you see most of downtown, lawyers?
S: I don’t know, man. You see so many of them you don’t know what they are. I don’t know, I guess the more you taste money, man… It’s like tasting the dragon, you know, the dragon. (pretends to shoot up his arm). You meet the occasional cool people, though, who talk all about sabotage and stuff.
L: The people who work in the mailroom and stuff like that seem to have more energy, they talk to each other and everything, you go down there, they always have a radio on in the mailroom. I don’t think they make very much, seven or eight bucks an hour before tax or something, so they’re like, “Fuck, who cares,” you know. May as well live a little.
S: Yeah, I think it’s the anal ones who care about moving up and stuff, who’ll be all serious and say things like: “I’m gonna tell on you!”
That’s the one thing I don’t understand, man, it doesn’t matter what I look like, you know, I do my job, you do your job, you know, and some people actually complain about the way you look. Just because I had two skull rings once, it was winter, I had to take off my gloves to sign the thing, this receptionist complains about my jewellry, I was like, ‘What??’ What a thing to complain about. How would that ever bother her, you know? Preference of jewellry, that’s all it is, man. Someone has to complain about my preference?!? Fuck, man, I’ve got tons of complaints, man, but—who’s gonna listen? (we both laugh) My boss doesn’t care either, man. I mean, he’s there pimping, and someone’s out there pimping him. Whitey’s just a big pimp.
L: It all has to do with pimping, yeah. There’s food right there, but they said they own it, so they sit in front of it, “Nope, you’re not getting any—unless you do this.”
S: “Go and work for me! Do this! Do that! Do this!”
Louis: You make them ten bucks, they give back three or four, or whatever it is.
Scott: Yeah, just to keep you around.
L: Whenever I don’t work for awhile, then I work, I realize the only thing worse than not having a job is having a job.
S: The only thing worse than both of those is really having to look for work, man. You’ve sort of got this scale in your hand, like today I was thinking, what’s worse, looking for a job, or having this job. If I don’t have this, I gotta go look for something else, man. Looking for a job is a drag, man. You have to go dress up like a clown and go entertain the circus, fuck.
L: And the bullshit. “Yeah, I really want this job. (we laugh) I want to work for you.” (more laughing.)
S: Yeah, “I’d love to work for you, I, I enjoy your product!” (more loud, long laughing.) I’d love to move your mail.
We get back to talking ‘bout bike couriers…
S: Then there’s this courier tax they have. What the fuck’s with a courier tax, man? It’s my bike, it’s my knapsack, it’s my legs. Not all companies have it, but most of the big companies do. This company Canbec, they take $10 off your check every week, in courier fees. What the fuck? They’re going to charge you an additional $10 fee so you can move their mail and they can pay you for it. It’s the company that keeps it.
L: Sounds like a scam.
S: The thing is, you know, they figure most of us don’t really know our rights that well. They look at us like… it’s kind of a chump job, you know? Any doughhead could ride a bike and deliver mail. You have to know how to read street signs and addresses. So they just figure, “Well, we’ll just keep brushing him off, he won’t really want to take this issue far enough to court.” So eventually, you know, they wear you down, and they’ll have gotten four hundred bucks out of you. They really like to milk you. Like, what you don’t know… it’ll make a buck for somebody else, you know.
L: All this shit on my paycheque, I don’t know what it is, I don’t know why they’re taking it off, what it goes to. I just know what I end up with. I know some people, though, they’re funny, they’ll say “Well, I’m making $18 an hour, fifty-two grand a year” or whatever, that’s how they think of it. But they never, ever, ever see that money.

S: They’re all over around the ports, distributors of some sort.
L: That’s what it comes down to, most business comes down to. (after this interview happened, in early January, freezing rain ended up closing all the highways, the airport, lots of roads, and the distribution network for power lines fell apart. Distribution stopped—the economy stopped—people mostly hung out with each other.)
They make all good business, because they… they bring in all kinds of stuff, man. Everything you could imagine, piled up to go to stores and stuff.
L: Do you have to carry samples sometimes?
S: No, actually, what I, the only thing I ever move is always invoice notices, because they want, you know, uh, the Government of Canada approval and stuff like that. Chamber of Commerce, actually. They have to stamp approval the stuff being shipped in. It’s hours of transaction. Thing is, you can’t photocopy the stuff, they need originals for this stuff. The photos don’t even count.