Professional Motorcycle Courier - What was it like?
Chronicles of a Motorcycle Courier - By Douglas Kingsbury
In this ongoing series of blogs, I would like to share some 20+ years of experience I had as a “Professional Motorcyclist” or “Motorcycle Courier”.
While we no longer offer motorcycle courier services, as you may already know, Amstar Express started as a motorcycle courier service in 1982. At the time, there were no fax machines, email, cell phones, e-filing, etc. Mobile communications technology was relegated largely to two-way radios, pay phones and pagers or “beepers” as they were also known.
During these times, rush or same-day movement of documents, Court filings, and the like, were of course, handled in a very much analog fashion, meaning manually.
Much as it is now, traffic in Los Angeles was something to be reckoned with, but deadlines were still…well…deadlines. This is where motorcycle couriers or messengers, also known as “shaggers”, really shined.
Since “lane splitting” or “lane sharing” as it is sometimes referred to, is legal in California on motorcycles; it made highly skilled motorcyclists’ and their two-wheeled machines, the perfect tool to “beat the clock.”
Having said all of that, I would like to start off with one of my favorite stories…
It was in 1983 and it was a beautiful and sunny fall morning at around 11:00 a.m. I was on my 1975 Yamaha RD 350 and was returning from a delivery job in West Los Angeles to the San Fernando Valley on the 405 Northbound, between Mulholland and the 101 interchange. I was in the number 4 lane, coming down the hill, preparing to negotiate the interchange.
Then as now, as you are coming down the hill, there is a slight left bend, which at the time, did not have an emergency lane. I noted that vehicles in the number 1 lane appeared to be swerving around an object, which as I proceeded, turned out to be a stalled vehicle.
I could then see that a woman was outside the vehicle, between her vehicle and the cement divider. I could still see that moving vehicles in the number 1 lane were being caught by surprise and were swerving around the woman’s stalled vehicle at full speed. It was then that the woman and I locked eyes and I could read her lips, she was saying “help me” and she appeared very much terrified!
One of a motorcycle’s unique advantages is maneuverability. Using this, I got off the freeway at the Ventura Blvd off ramp and worked my way around to the South Bound 405 to assist the woman. Fortunately, the Southbound lanes had an emergency lane at the time and I soon found myself alongside the woman’s vehicle, which of course was still in harms way. By this point, she had gotten back into the driver’s seat, was still very much terrified…and pregnant!
No…I didn’t deliver a baby on the freeway, but what I did have to do is climb over the divider and help her out of her car. I could certainly understand why she was so scared, because as I was helping her, fast moving vehicles were still swerving around her stationary vehicle and were so close, that the wind created from the passing vehicles was rocking hers around. While I was now between her vehicle and the center divider, I truly feared what would happen if one of the passing vehicles collided with hers.
Ultimately, I was able to get her over the divider to the relative safety of the southbound lanes, just as another motorcyclist pulled up along side of me. I asked him to find a call box (remember, no cell phones) and call the California Highway Patrol to help. He motored away to do so as I did my best to calm and assure the woman that she was going to be just fine. She of course, thanked me, and it was about then that she told me she was thankfully not in labor.
A very short time later, CHP and other emergency vehicles arrived (Thanks Guys!) They were great and took control of the situation.
As I put my helmet on to leave, she again thanked me profusely and we gave each other a warm hug.
I am no hero, but it felt so good to do the right thing. My spirit was moved and lifted and I learned something about myself. I was 24 years old at the time.