*Note: This article orginally appeared in Bicycling magazine.
Marky Ramone1 of 11
Photo Credit: Sofia
As the last surviving member of the Ramones, drummer Marky Ramone was bound to have plenty of road stories for his new biography Punk Rock Blitzkrieg: My Life as a Ramone. But while we were expecting to read about good times, bad gigs, and the highs and lows of early punk, what caught us off guard were Marky's war stories of his post-recovery days as an undercover bike messenger in New York. After working the twelve steps of Alcoholics Anonymous, Marky wasn't ready to return to music. Instead, he decided "the music would come from the spokes of a bicycle wheel."
"I became a bike messenger. I would get up at five thirty in the morning, eat a big breakfast, ride the subway in with my bike, and report to the dispatch office on West Twenty-Seventh Street. I wore sweatpants and bicycle shoes. I tucked my hair into a baseball cap. People may have known who Marky Ramone was, but that was not me. This was Bike Messengers Anonymous."
As it turns out, Marky isn't alone in his foray into the world of delivering packages by bike. In fact, if the stories of these well-known superstars (not to mention my own meteoric rise to the very bottom of Bicycling's masthead) are any indication, putting in hard time as a bike messenger might just be the best indication of future success.
Rachel Maddow2 of 11
Photo Credit: Rachel Maddow
Cable news host Rachel Maddow has spoken often about the series of odd jobs she worked before finding her way onto Air America and ultimately, MSNBC. In this on-screen conversation with cohost Keith Olbermann, she shares her true tales of tearing up the streets of DC.
"I spent a short strange stint as a bike messenger here. I've had a lot of weird jobs. That was step number four on my 10,000-step plan to become an MSNBC host, before landscaper. I was a bad bike messenger and a bad landscaper. I would ride on the sidewalks, like the Wicked Witch from The Wizard of Oz."
Janeane Garofalo3 of 11
Photo Credit: ThreeErin
Like Maddow, comedian and actress Janeane Garofalo has also gone on record with self-deprecating commentary on her failures as courier on Boston's mean streets. It appears she also worked with fellow comedian David Cross—another celebrity ex-messenger. "I was a foot-and-bike messenger downtown. There's not much to tell except that I was lousy at it. I was demoted to walking messenger. And I worked with David Cross downtown; he worked at Palmer & Dodge, and I worked at ASAP. This was in the 80s."
Rob Zombie4 of 11
Photo Credit: Moshville Times
Before becoming the frontman for White Zombie and director of House of 1000 Corpses, Zombie moved to New York City and worked as a bike messenger in 1985. He doesn't seem to have enjoyed the experience, which ended when he got a job on Pee-wee's Playhouse.
"Being a bike messenger in New York City was the worst job I've ever had? I got hit by a car twice and didn't even get hurt. I mean how many times can you get hit by a car and walk away?"
Wu-Tang Clan's GZA5 of 11
Photo Credit: Soundfromwayout
When GZA's first record deal didn't launch his hip hop career in the late 1980s, he worked as a bike messenger in New York City up until six months before getting his big break with the first Wu-Tang single, "Protect Ya Neck." GZA seems to have had something of a fair-weather attitude about the endeavor.
"I was a bike messenger, which was one of the most flexible jobs I ever had because I was an independent contractor. I took the jobs I wanted to do, so if it rained that week I didn't go to work. If it was sunny, I went to work. I made good money too at that time."
Chuck Palahniuk6 of 11
Photo Credit: Clarisa Rossarola
While working toward a degree in journalism from the University of Oregon, Palahniuk worked as a messenger on the rainy streets of Portland. In contrast to Rob Zombie, the Fight Club author said his bike courier days were comparatively lucrative (which strikes a small amount of terror into the heart of this broke messenger-turned-journalist).
"I was a bicycle messenger through college, then I was a newspaper reporter for 6 months after college."
"I made more money as a bike messenger delivering ad proofs than as a reporter."
Jennifer Aniston7 of 11
Photo Credit: Professor Bop
The A-lister delivered packages by bike when she was a struggling actress in New York, long before Friends took off. In a press conference for the film Horrible Bosses, Aniston said being a bike messenger in New York City at age 19 was the toughest job she ever had. When her co-stars suggested the image of that was "hot," Aniston shot back: "Not if you saw me riding the bike."
"My lowest moment was probably driving into a door that opened. I'm very uncoordinated and extraordinarily klutzy."
Henry Miller8 of 11
Photo Credit: poppet with a camera
Miller's first novel in 1922 was Clipped Wings, the story of 12 Western Union messengers, which he based on former coworkers from his days working as a bike messenger and a manager of the service. Described by Miller as "the worst book any man has ever written" and a "colossal tome and faulty from start to finish," the manuscript of Clipped Wings has since been lost.
Some of Miller's surviving works on bicycles include My Bike and Other Friends, which is essentially one long love letter to his singlespeed.
"After a time, habituated to spending so many hours a day on my bike, I became less and less interested in my friends. My wheel had now become my one and only friend. I could rely on it, which is more than I could say about my buddies. It's too bad no one ever photographed me with my friend. I would give anything now to know what we looked like."
Malcolm McDowell9 of 11
Photo Credit: Ian Aberle
The star of A Clockwork Orange and Caligula launched his acting career while working as a bike messenger in London, and admits he used to ride around to auditions during work hours.
"I was a messenger boy supposed to be delivering messages around London on a bike, which was great because it meant I could take the bike and pedal, and go to all the auditions."
Liev Schreiber10 of 11
Photo Credit: Joella Marano
It should come as no surprise that the actor knows his way around New York City on a bike—after all, he and wife Naomi Watts ride regularly around the city with their kids. But family riding isn't the only reason Schreiber is so comfortable rolling through the city streets, according to Watts.
"Liev is an ex-courier messenger," she told reporters. "He used to be a bike messenger so he knows how to dodge the traffic... [the kids] have got their helmets and they're very well strapped in."