Letters to the Editor

Week of February 19, 2003

Great City Forced to View Swill!

Nice job of calling out the airheads:Matt Palmquist, the writer, and Tom Dougherty, the illustrator, could not have done a better job at teaming up on what MADmagazine would skewer and baste into a juicy and stimulating story ["More at 11:00," Feb. 5].

The undercover "discovery" of Terilyn Joe was on point, and it makes me miss her miscues and odd pronunciations. She was/is truly an original. TV newscasters have always been as sterile and plastic as Barbie and Ken dolls.

"Jock" sportscaster Gary Radnich is only trusted to read the numbers: "so & so, 12 and so & so, 18" and make small talk. He does not do the academic, scholarly stuff, nor is he even allowed to do the weather. Someone else is given that tough assignment.

So we are left with three distinct personality types: the Charming; the Hardened; and the Boring.

Rob March Harper
Oakland

So you shot some media fish in a barrel; so what?:Congratulations, Mr. Palmquist and Mr. Dougherty, on your investigation. And the cover story at that! More proof that, week in and week out, SF Weekly gets to the heart of what's important.

I hope you put this piece forward for every award out there. You're both clearly going places. The quality of local news coverage is such an elusive target in the Bay Area. I never imagined it could be cut to the quick with such deft prose and illustration outside of the pages of MAD magazine.

Keep up the great work!

Brook Matzell
Russian Hill

We're Not All Alcoholic Junkie Knuckleheads

So stop stereotyping bike messengers!:Lessley Anderson's cover story gave a good recent history of messenger organizing ["Bent Outta Shape," Jan. 22]. A few events were left out, but considering that the reporter was new to the messenger community, and to organizing, it still read well. I especially loved the pullquote of Professional Messenger owner Joel Ritch emphatically describing himself as a weasel.

What was unnecessary was fueling the drunken, derelict messenger stereotype. The writer picked the absolute worst lowlights of the meeting she attended (where she admitted to me that she was exhausted and "out of it," from having an unusually long day). In paraphrasing the meeting, she oversimplified the dialogue to the point that the meaning was lost. She chose to omit discussions of community events, of our fund-raising methods, and of our recent successful demonstration/mass filing with the state labor commissioner. She didn't bother even to note that meetings are run according to Robert's Rules of Order.

Neither was there any note of the diversity in the messenger community. Yes, the majority is white men, but what about everyone else's contribution? And we're diverse in many other unmentioned ways. We have varying levels of education, from high school dropouts to those holding master's degrees. We come from a spectrum of economic backgrounds. Some have a well-informed and developed political approach. Some of us are actually light drinkers, or (gasp!) sober. I personally try to always remember to remove the needle from my arm before making a pickup.

Sarcasm aside, the largest majority (if not our entirety) are those who have stood up at some point to dissent against our treatment by our companies. The aimless, stoner stereotype hampers public endorsement of this dissent (which already sucks given the current anti-labor Bush administration). Let's face it, postal workers and FedEx carriers don't have to pay for their vehicles or equipment. UPS workers have good health insurance for themselves and their families. These large delivery companies must keep consistent, reasonable pay scales. But since bike messengers are widely seen as irresponsible, most people don't take work standards like these seriously for our industry. It doesn't occur to most people that messengers also want to look after their families (and S.F. market rent, student loan payments, and so on).

Which brings me to the next point. Some critical analysis of owners' statements, like those of Joel Ritch, should have been made. Poor him, doesn't want to have an organized shop because he's worried about home and family? Try owning a home and supporting a family on a messenger's income! At my company alone, I can think of five bike messengers who have kids they are responsible for (four of those have their kids at home, with a wife or partner). Almost all driver messengers have kids and spouses/partners. (This is very important because by law, bike messengers cannot organize separately from the drivers.) All these families can only survive with two working adults. There's no way to even plan owning a home on the average messenger income. Most driver messengers have a long commute to start and end the day, in order to live somewhere a bit more affordable. It is doubtful in the extreme that anylarge messenger company owner has these concerns. This comparison, and perhaps a more thorough study than my estimate of the number of messenger parents, would have been appropriate for the article.

I also take issue with the statement that Joel Ritch has never been accused or convicted of stealing. In fact, Pro Mess had to pay out thousands of dollars to a handful of messengers in 2001, as a make-whole remedy in a suit that had begun years prior to that. Pro Mess pays riders a percentage of each tag, but they show a lower tag price than they actually charge, and they keep that actual charge highly secret. If that's not stealing from employees' pay, then what is? This is a very important distinction because in California, individuals can be charged with felony for more than $400 in theft or damage. With Three Strikes, you can spend life in prison for incurring a total of $1,200 in damages, over three incidents. There is a case of one person imprisoned for life for stealing a bicycle, in exactly this context. Think we'll ever see company owners imprisoned for life?

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