At age 41, Mike Rizzo is Buffalo's only bike messenger, providing delivery service for many offices downtown. With a client base that's 95 percent lawyers, Zippy Delivery made perfect sense to Rizzo. He loves the outdoors for one, despite the nasty weather. And he appreciates the architecture that defines his mobile office.
PT: What's the best part of your job?
MR: I found that I like being outside, even when the weather is really bad. I never was an office person. Before this, I did computer work. Overall, I like being my own boss.
PT: Who's your best friend on the road?
MR: My bike, I guess, although I don't love my bike, as my wife would say. My bike is a tool that I use for work, and I don't take care of it as I should. That's why there are bike shops.
PT: Do people yell at you?
MR: Yeah. "Get off the sidewalk. Get on the sidewalk. Get out of the street." It's really not as bad as I thought it would be. I've become immune to the horn. Somebody could pull right next to me and jam their horn on and I usually don't startle.
PT: What makes a bad delivery day?
MR: The weather. What makes it really bad is when I get lost mentally, where I just forget something. Someone will call me, and I'll just forget it. That happened once three times in one day. Usually I get five or six jobs, and in my head I can picture what order I need to go to do them all so I don't backtrack.
PT:What's your biggest weather worry?
MR: The wind and the rain are pretty close, but rain is the worst because even though I have Gortex clothing, if you're outside in the rain for hours, you get wet. I've had people quit after three hours.
PT: How many layers of clothing do you have on?
MR: Just one. When it's zero, I add another.
PT: You must have an intimate look at street life.
MR: On the bike you can see so much and notice so many things. I look at the architecture downtown all the time. I watch buildings going up and coming down. People, panhandlers, nothing too bizarre. It's pretty mundane overall. You see the same people all the time.
PT: See any famous people in your travels?
MR: Robby Takac, once in a while.
PT: You're high energy, aren't you?
MR: Yeah. If there had been ADD (attention deficit disorder) diagnosis when I was kid, I'm sure I had it. I was always moving at 100 mph.
PT: What's the oddest thing you ever had to deliver?
MR: Buster Bison's head. It was after the season, and it needed repair.
PT: How do you protect yourself?
MR: I had a rearview mirror and it broke. I realized I was watching it too much so now I just look over my shoulder, watching everywhere. Watching cars, pedestrians, watching the ground for nails, holes. Looking in a hundred directions at once.
PT: Tell me about the bike messenger culture.
MR: It's big in the big cities - New York, Chicago, California. There are thousands of bike messengers. They have influenced fashion in some ways. In a couple of cities, they are unionized because a lot of bike messengers are treated unfairly.
PT: What's your record for deliveries in one day?
PT: What's your motto?
MR: It changes as I think of different things. For a while, it's been "downtown's fastest delivery."
PT: What strikes you about downtown?
MR: There's definitely been a resurgence, a lot of housing. People are buying property and actually doing things with it rather than sitting on it. The best part is that in the middle of winter, Main Street is empty. It's mine.
PT: Are you a people watcher?
MR: Yeah. I watch people. I sing songs about people. I make up songs when I see people. When you're riding your bike by yourself, it's not like you can sit around the water cooler and talk to people, so you have to amuse yourself, too.
PT: As jobs go, yours is pretty independent.
MR: It's very independent. Right now, I carry my office on my back. Phone, paperwork, everything. I don't mind being alone. I'm married and have kids, dogs and cats, so I'm not too alone.
PT: Don't you get sore?
MR: My neck gets sore from carrying this bag around for eight hours. Sometimes my feet from pedaling.
PT: What do you do for fun?
MR: I'm a local historian. I've got one book out: "Through the Mayor's Eyes." It's a history of Buffalo's mayors. That and I research houses, and oldtime criminals.
PT: Tell me a downtown secret.
MR: I know where a lot of bathrooms are.