Today, while checking my overflowing and slightly intimidating Google Reader, I came across a rather inspiring post over on Letter Writers Alliance – one of my favorite non-bike blogs around. In today’s installment, I discovered Graham Eccles and his fantastic Penny-Farthing Post. You can read the full entry here, but essentially, Mr. Eccles has created his own, local, letter delivery service independent of the Royal Mail service, which he operates largely from the seat of his Penny-Farthing bicycle. Brilliant.
As an avid letter writer myself, this post is particularly close to my heart. My bike journeys are largely taken within city limits – no long rides on country roads for me. At least, not yet – and often run me within a few short miles or blocks from the homes or workplaces of my friends. Unless I am mailing in my rent or some other bureaucratic piece of mail, I construct my envelopes from scratch and often make the stationary or cards I use rather than buying stock versions of the same. Written mail is a hugely personal and intimate thing, and I like to make it my own whenever possible. Often, if I see the car of a friend parked outside of their office, I will pull out paper and leave them a (usually unsigned) note to say hello before continuing on my way. I have long considered expanding this idea to drop off letters or mail at their homes – like the postmaster of my own wildly idiosyncratic mail department. Much like one of my favorite mail artists, Nick Bantock, I enjoy the aesthetic of official mail and I love it even more when I can create and stylize it for myself.
My own selfish financial and artistic whims notwithstanding, there is something beautifully
romantic about this idea. I don’t ride a Penny-Farthing – one good pothole and I would go down like a dead body dropped out a window – but the idea of closing a loop in this way makes me outrageously happy and seems, somehow, strangely practical. Unlike the RMS, the USPS is suffering to the point of scaling back services and considering backruptcy and there is part of me that would feel bad, sort of, for leaving them out of this entirely. But I sent a fair amount of international mail, and have plenty of friends and penpals who live out of state, to whom I cannot simply bike over to deliver them a letter.
Maybe this is the next step in the evolution of DIY economics. This culture is particularly strong on the West Coast (San Francisco, Oakland, Seattle, and Portland, as examples); bike messenger services abound even in these hilly cities, and there is the emergence of bike based moving companies or haulers-away of junk/refuse/recycling. More companies like XtraCycle are emerging as well, making these lifestyle choices more readily accessible to a wider variety of folks. It is interesting to me that while so many of us embrace these ideals, we rarely consider the idea. The idea of biking to work, before culture popularized it, is kind of ridiculous – we show up to our professional environment needing to hit the showers. Yet, in the new bike culture, riding is no longer a separate activity that we do after work, or outside of our daily routine. It is our routine. So why not put it to other uses? We run our errands on bikes, we transport ourselves, our children, and our pets on bikes. Why not transport our mail that way? Why not use these tools in the service of making local, interpersonal connections beyond the farmer’s market and local bakery? Mr. Eccles, I do believe you are on to something.