Thursday, April 21, 2011

Triple Rush

by Drew Martin

There is a new reality show on television called Triple Rush. It follows three New York City bicycle messenger companies and emphasizes the harrowing work the riders endure, often escaping death by the skin of their teeth. I don't typically watch television but I find this show fascinating for several reasons.

For starters, when I was a kid I thought the New York bicycle messengers were the coolest guys in the city. New York was definitely a tougher place in the 1980s and the bike messengers seemed to embrace that mad chaos. They broke all the rules, often riding opposite traffic, between streams of cars, relying on whistles gritted between their teeth instead of brakes.

I still think they are a cool, with their stripped-down fixed-gear bikes, purposefully hipster clothes and on-the-move lives.

The main reason I like Triple Rush is that I am friends with the owner of one of the firms, Rob Kotch of Breakaway Courier Systems. I rode with Rob for thousands of miles a few years ago when I commuted with him regularly on bike from our town in northern New Jersey into Manhattan and back. I rode every day for six months and covered six thousand miles in the broiling summer afternoons and the freezing winter mornings. Once we rode together through a severe electrical storm with lightning bolts crackling all around us.

I've stopped riding but Rob is still out there almost every morning. He does it for exercise, camaraderie with other bike commuters and for the sake of alternative transportation but he also rides to be in touch with his messengers and to get a feel for the road conditions each day.

Rob is shown in the first episode giving an eye-opening safety lecture to new hires. It's a Scared Straight approach (his words) but the rookies should be thankful. It's the only messenger company in New York City that has a safety program and Rob's been doing it for 20 years.

The show is interesting to watch because the cameras follow the riders close enough to give a sense of what it is like to ride in the city. Bike cams and quick editing contribute to the effect. In the first episode, there were 1,400 cuts during the 43 minute run time.

The amusement of the first show was watching young guns from places like Lincoln, Nebraska get miserably lost. You feel a dispatcher's pain and frustration when a new messenger overshoots his pickup location by 20 blocks. How is that even possible with a straightforward city grid in midtown? And when the new messenger is on time, something else inevitably goes wrong, like losing the "gold," the delivery manifest.

The term 'triple rush' refers to a pickup that needs to be delivered in 15 minutes or less. For the veteran messengers it's a higher commission, for the rookie, it's an impossible task.

Triple Rush is on the Travel Channel (on my Fios system it's channel 170 and it plays at 10pm on Thursdays).