Delivering $5 Million Deutsche Marks on My Bike

| June 25, 2017

snow-bikeThis was my only chance. I figured the only time I would have an opportunity to do so would be in medical school. I lived in a busy city that employed them, and I could make time to do it. Once I graduated I knew I would have neither the time, nor be close enough to the city to make it happen. So I applied to become a bicycle messenger in Chicago.

After completing a short test on the “Rules of the Road,” and memorizing which way the one-way streets ran in The Loop, I was hired.

If I finished a class early, was post-call or if a clinical rotation ended early, I would get on my bike, find a payphone, and call the dispatcher. Inevitably, he would have somewhere for me to go to pick up an envelope or package. He would give me the pickup and drop-off addresses. When I arrived at my destination I would ask to use their phone and get my next assignment, and on and on it would go. If deliveries were slow, the dispatcher would page me. I would find a payphone and get my assignment.

I quickly learned the best places to lock up my bike, the easiest way to get in and out of each building, and which doormen I could trust. I also learned which ones were more likely to give me a hard time, slowing me down by checking credentials or requiring me to sign in before entering their office or condo building.

This particular courier company had its “regular” clients and we got to know the secretaries and other couriers pretty well. A carefully orchestrated system had cars or trucks deliver packages from the suburbs or airports, then bicycle messengers would make the final downtown drops.

There were regular places the bicycle messengers would “hang out” while awaiting our next assignment, or places we would congregate to commiserate over a cold soft drink in the summer or hot chocolate in the winter. Some of the guys admittedly “spiked” their respective beverage before going against the flow of traffic on those busy city streets. The fulltime, professional messengers often had 2-way radios and regular routes.

Sometimes we would go down to Printer’s Row to pick up new cards, banners or brochures for a business. Other times we would deliver documents between attorney’s offices, or blueprints between an architect and a contractor.

Sometimes we could deduce, or someone would tell us what we were picking up, but I never asked. We were paid based on weight and distance. The faster we could get from one place to the next, to make another pickup and “drop,” the more we made. I think there were premiums if we worked beyond 5PM, but in general it was simply a matter of how many deliveries we could make. If we hustled, we could do okay. It helped pay the rent.

During my last month of medical school, I finished up a family practice rotation early and called the dispatcher to see if he had anything for me. Sure enough, he told me to go to a condo close to where I was, then ask the doorman to send me up.

germanmarksInside the studio unit stood an elderly gentlemen with a thick envelope. He instructed me to go to a small boutique hotel on Chicago’s Gold Coast. In the darkened lobby of the small hotel I would find a gentlemen, sitting at the far table next to the fireplace, smoking a cigar and drinking brandy. I was to deliver the envelope to him.

When I arrived, I found a slightly younger gentleman sitting in the small lobby, with a drink on his table. He was smoking a cigar.

He said he had been expecting me and, according to protocol, I had him sign the clipboard after handing him the thick envelope. He thanked me for my time and offered to buy me a drink. I respectfully declined, then started walking through the lobby back toward my bike.

It had never happened before, but I became curious about what was in the package I had just delivered. It wasn’t all that unusual to pick up something at a condo or apartment, then deliver it to someone in a hotel lobby or even on a street corner – but this time I wanted to know what it was.

I turned around and headed back through the lobby to the table where the envelope sat under a cloud of cigar smoke, still unopened. I approached the recipient and asked if he wouldn’t mind telling me what I had just delivered.

Very casually, he said I had just handed him $5 million in German Marks. This was before the 2002 conversion to the euro.

I wonder what else I may have delivered during those years …

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Category: Humor, Pathology News, Personal

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