Mercury Falling

For 11 years, Markus Cook was synonymous with Bay Area bike messengers. But he didn't live to see his dream come true -- the Cycle Messenger World Championships held here in San Francisco.

The zine also ran photos of white-collar businessmen who commuted on bicycles, as well as tributes to favorite security guards like Hank, who manned the desk at the Chronicle building. Regular updates were filed by messenger Howard Williams and his Bicycles for Afghan Amputees' Rehabilitation, which provided bike-related physical therapy for amputees in Afghanistan. Mark wrote a regular column called Spokes, under the pen name "Fur."

Markus hustled his zine to no end, distributing it to all the messengers at the Wall, members of the media, and fellow messengers in other countries. Other bike zines came and went -- Mudflap, MessPress, even Raw Vulva, the zine for nude female bikers -- but none resounded so strongly, and at such a gut level. Here was the voice of the working Joe and Jane Messenger, in all its Zo bag, elbow-bleeding, visceral beauty. It was Markus on paper.

Messengers were organizing not just in San Francisco, but around the globe. Mercury Rising and other bicycle involvements made Markus an obvious Bay Area contact for the first world championships of bike messengers, held in Germany in 1993. A group of 20 bikers left SFO for Berlin, including Markus, where more than 400 riders competed in timed races and other events like the quickest changing of a tire. The scruffy, eccentric San Franciscans stood apart from the well-funded, Day-Glo-wearing Europeans.

"We're the craziest of all of them," says Williams.
The Germans may have swept the competitions, as they have every year, but the Bay Area delegation had the best time. Markus raised enough money to also bring along his new band, L. Sid, which kicked off a monthlong European tour by playing for the international messenger community.

Of the many bands spun out of the San Francisco messenger community, L. Sid was the biggest. The name was a verbal mutation of LSD and El Cid. Markus started it with Phoenix friend Jack Chandler, and other members came and went throughout the years, including Markus' wife, Jennie, and big band leader Timmie Hesla. Blending country, folk, Middle Eastern jazz, hofbrau polka (yes, the band had a tuba), and ska, L. Sid played intelligent and quirky music, and if they made any money, all the better.

This was the Markus people remembered, a lanky, wild-eyed man in garish clothes, arm in a sling, leaping about the stage enunciating Zappa-esque asides -- whatever came to mind.

"If you went to see us live, you wouldn't be able to keep your eyes off him," says Chandler.

"He was the antithesis of the stoned musician who just hangs out," remembers Adam Kahan, a former messenger and original L. Sid bassist.

L. Sid's audience, primarily messengers, was loyal -- and participatory to the point of jumping onto the stage with a harmonica or tambourine to play along with the band. Markus had a bum shoulder that would routinely dislocate whenever he horsed around. A couple of times it went out before a show, and the audience would forgive the delay while somebody drove him to the hospital and a doc popped the damn thing back into its socket.

After playing the messenger championships, L. Sid continued a grueling European tour through Germany, Switzerland, and then-Czechoslovakia. The tour was shoestring, day to day, and chaotic, and though the shows were satisfying, spending so much time together took its toll. At the same time the band decided to give it a rest, Markus and Jennie's marriage exploded.

"It was like an acid test," says Chandler of the tour, and for Markus, the added stress of a broken relationship "was like a double whammy."

When L. Sid prepared to board the plane in Berlin and head back to SFO, Markus couldn't find his passport. He frantically dumped the contents of his bag on the airport terminal floor, pawing through his possessions, but it was too late. The others left without him. Markus spent the night in the terminal, eventually found his passport in another pocket, and grabbed a later flight.

Heading back across the Atlantic Ocean, Markus looked out the window and assessed his life. Here he was, the life of the party, the international Bhagwan of bicycles, rock star as well as voice of bicycle advocacy. Leading what he called the "velorution," he had hoped that his music, the magazine, and his activism would help swing the labor force away from the car-based economy. But inside, he felt like curly-haired Mark Cook from Phoenix, clawing through the charred remains of his band and marriage. The words of his father replayed in his mind: "Son, you can't ride a bike all your life."

In early 1994, Markus moved out of the Germania apartment and crashed on friends' floors and sofas. He still had a job at Now Courier, but his depression was transparent to everybody. To cheer him up, his sister Camille invited him to Colombia with her husband and child. Mark readily accepted. As they walked off the plane in the Bogota airport, Camille heard a crowd of people cheering behind her. She turned back and saw her brother, smiling and waving at the locals like he was a rock star, after being in the country two minutes. The Colombians were applauding at this bizarre presence, a 6-foot-2-inch man with a 5-inch white-man's 'fro.

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