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This week's Chicagoan: Rene Cudal, bike messenger

"I wear Jewel plastic bags wrapped around my feet to keep 'em warm. It may sound gross, but it works."



A first-person account from off the beaten track, as told to Anne Ford.

"I've been in this business since '95. Seventeen years. The average is two to five years. A lot of people last a year. Those are the ones who try it in the summertime, and winter comes around, and next thing you know, they're like, 'Ah, that's it.'

"My first day, I got lost, which was embarrassing. They gave me a run, and I was maybe a block away from it, but I ended up going the opposite direction, and I kept going for a while. They kept on calling me. I'm like, 'I'm almost there! I'm almost there!' but I had no idea where I was. I was like, 'Aw, man, they're gonna fire me.' But they just ended up going, 'Oh, it happens to everybody.'

"At first I didn't want to invest in the gear, the clothing. I was like, 'I don't have to spend money. That's silly.' I started in winter, and I wore two pairs of long johns, a pair of jeans, boots, and a big winter coat. One, I could barely move. Two, I was pretty much wet the entire day.

"Once I started buying the proper gear, it made all the difference in the world. I like the Under Armour. I have one of those and maybe a windbreaker, and I'm pretty much good to go. The one secret little cheap thing that I do is, I wear Jewel plastic bags wrapped around my feet to keep 'em warm. It's not very breathable, so it may sound gross, but it works. It works. It keeps everything contained.

"Everybody wants to ride a fixed-gear bike. I don't recommend that if you're just starting out, 'cause it's a track bike, to be used on a track, where there's no cars and you're going around in a circle and you don't have to worry about maneuvering in quick ways. I use a single-speed, 'cause it's easier on my knees.

"I do some dispatching too. One day—it was one of those days when everybody calls in sick—one of the dispatchers was waiting for me. He said, 'Everybody's sick, and I'm leaving too. You're running the show. You'll be fine.' And I was. Now I'm part of the 4 Star Courier Collective, and we rotate between dispatching and messengering.

"The majority of the time, I can figure out what a driver is about to do, even if they don't signal. You get this sixth sense. I've had a bunch of close calls—a car swerving, not seeing me. You just don't think about it, and keep on going. Every so often, someone flies by a little bit too close, and I'll try to chase 'em down. Not that I would ever hurt anybody. I would just give 'em a little scare. Give their car a little tap, like, 'Hey, you came a little close there.' But other than that, I have no problem with cars."

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