He's one of few bike messengers left in DC.
Turns out he was delivering something to my own office. He explained a bit about the business to me, and I introduced him to my co-worker as "legit, a guy who had a real shot at the Olympics."
Jay just grinned and juggled his two phones.
She said, "Ah, so you know him through the biking." We then talked about Premium Rush, and Jay grinned again.
I didn't tell her that Jay bought and refurbished a barn out in Lost River, West Virginia, which serves as the cathedral of the church of good riding, for those of us still seeking two-wheeled heaven. Didn't tell her that Lost River is a really special place for cyclists. Didn't say that Jay built the barn up from nothing, mostly with his own hands. That most MABRA teams go there a few times a year, and that only now, seven years after buying the barn, has Jay made back most of the money he invested on the project.
Not that he cares about money--he wouldn't messenger for $50 a day if he cared about money.
Last week when I was out at Jay's place I had the chance to talk with him while we tackled a huge 90-miler with 10,000 feet of climbing. Mostly we talked about his days racing with NCVC when they were the dominant elite squad in the region, with Russ Langley and Chris Schmidt. Back then, NCVC was home to a lot of messengers and guys, shall we say, not really in the corporate mindset (it may still be home to such characters--it is a big and diverse, glorious squad).
Jay told me about racing against Danny Pate, Levi, Zabriskie, Vandevelde, Chris Horner, and the Americans that now make up the pro peleton. That discussion led, inevitably, into the revelation that most of these guys, exculding Pate and Horner, were doping.
He told about Russ Langley, in his first elite race after upgrading from Cat3, racing against Levi in a crit where Levi lapped the field solo--Russ looked at that and rightly thought he could never do what Levi did. What he didn't know, and what we now know, was that Levi and much of the field, were doing what they did because they were doping.
One of the tragedies of the doping culture, Jay noted, was the pyschological effect on the clean riders like Russ, who found it hard to muster supreme confidence in the face of cyborgs performing literally inhuman feats of strength.
"We got results," Jay said, "Russ won a stage of Fitchburg. But now we have to wonder."
Ain't that the truth. Look at them now. Levi is out of a job, but he still has his fondo and his millions, and his wife Odessa (although his doggy, Trooper, remains missing). Russ and Jay have their clean consciences, but they certainly aren't millionaires.
I'd have been pissed about the doping (hell, I am pissed) if I was Jay, but he was mostly laughing--and this despite the rainclouds we were riding through.
Jay had a lot of skin in the game, and he lost a lot because the system was rigged. But rigged systems are no surprise--his vocation, the bike courier business, is suffering from the economy and from the nature of the game, and there's something of a monopoly exercised by the one company remaining. It sometimes pays its couriers less than $50 a day. And Jay, like many of us, has spent much of his adult life dealing with difficult medical issues, from his own to those of his friends.
Shit's messed up. That's it.
Maybe it took a guy like Jay, a guy firmly aware of the problems with the game of life, to build a place like Lost River. Let me assure you, no businessman anywhere would have done what he did. No bank would have launched that endeavor. No politician.
There's a different attitude there, one that's illustrated by books.
Here's what I mean.
Last time I was at Lost River I borrowed Keith Richards' memoir. I still haven't given it back. This time, as I was leaving, I took a look at the shelves: every kind of book on cycling, countless issues of Rouleur, other cycling publications, a shelf of Phillip K. Dick ("When Androids Dream of Electric Sheep"), a shelf or two of the standard stuff, and then, there it was: a shelf of zen philosophy.
We're not talking just Zen and the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance. We're talking the real deal.
I'm skeptical about how much art remakes people, generally. Sure, serial killers loved Catcher in the Rye and the Bible and the Quran have certainly been linked with mass cultural changes. But in my view, people tend to be driven by the gut, not the brain.
Walter Isaacson wrote of Steve Jobs, a popular figure of zen thought, that he "aimed for the simplicity that comes from conquoring, rather than merely ignoring, complexity."
I think this is somewhat bullshit. Jobs was a money-grubbing narcissist who exploited Wozniak and a hundreds of geniuses to create stuff we like. Yes, he had body odor, and, yes, he was a mostly vegetarian, and, yes, he ascribed to a personal asceticism that was convenient for him--but the guy was a businesman and something of a tyrant.
So zen, shmen.
And yet, there's the calm I feel when I'm out at Lost River. It's hard to deny the thought that's gone into the place, and it's very non-commercial vibe.
It's a beautiful idea that's never going to make any money. It appeals to a tiny portion of society in a way that will never be franchised. Hell, half of MABRA doesn't go there--for reasons that are beyond me.
Here's one more example: there's a heater in the bathroom that directs hot air in a way that only a cyclists who's done a 90-miler in the cold will appreciate. That heater--that's beautiful.
I could go on, but I'm rambling way beyond what I recognize as humane toward the two people who sometimes swing by, looking for god knows what.
But I guess that's the point--that ability to get away from training and zones and elections and the work clock and the team and the drug testing and the mortgage and the money making and the grammar and the USAC and all that and to, to, to...
have a conversation
maybe with people
maybe with Gary the Wonder Dog
and maybe ride upwards and outward forwever
maybe with Jay
maybe with some locals on four-wheelers with gun racks and a bullet lodged in the skull
from a tussle over love
(that's the story he gave us at the country store,
in any case)
eat a few Raw Talent Ranch magic brownies.
and eat a bite of the divine sea salt chocolate chip cookies of good and evil
take a few puffs on the Lost River pipe
go all zen on it all.