cover image The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power

The Immortal Class: Bike Messengers and the Cult of Human Power

Travis Hugh Culley. Villard Books, $19.95 (352pp) ISBN 978-0-375-50428-0

Puck, the scabby roommate from MTV's The Real World, remains the archetypal bike messenger: hyperkinetic, crass, hygienically challenged. But as Culley demonstrates in this exciting memoir of his years spent on two wheels, there's much more to the world of bike messengers than the stereotype. Many are artists, writers or revolutionaries--Culley himself is all three. He got his start as a messenger in Chicago in the late 1990s by answering an ad in the newspaper after his small theater company went belly up. ""The below-freezing winds burned my wrists and forearms,"" Culley says. ""Thick bloodless cuts would open up along the lines of my fingerprints."" He persevered and soon became (by his own description, at least) the fastest, best bike messenger in the city. Culley evokes the dangers of his profession, from careening taxis to yuppie road rage and broken bones. But there were also rewards, principally freedom from the cubicles of the corporate ""wage slave."" Culley's book is not just a memoir; it's also a political tract about the evils of the consumer economy and car-based capitalism. ""The bicycle is a revolution,"" Culley says, ""and I am using it like a hammer to change the world."" Such statements may seem to many to veer toward the lunatic fringe, but to the bike messengers living on the edge of the system and constantly in danger from four-wheeled competitors, they'll make considerable sense. Offering a rare inside view of a maligned but ubiquitous urban subculture, this kinetic memoir--which is supported by a four-city author tour and ads in alternative weeklies--will appeal to younger readers who admire Dave Eggers (A Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius) and his magazine, McSweeney's. Agent, John Ware. (Mar. 20)