Zen and the Art of Being a Motorcycle Courier


“His face twisted slightly with irritation. The courier should have been dead – records destroyed, history altered, the past ended. It should have been easy. Just as easy as all the other lives, so many other souls erased from the world in the years since that hot July day.”

A former Vietnam veteran, CIA operative and self-proclaimed “Restorer of Silence” has gone rogue killing people associated with a piece of information that has the potential to hinder foreign relations, but more importantly could send America into a national frenzy. The man with many names is knocking people off one-by-one until a piece of invaluable information is obtained, or everyone around him is dead; which ever comes first. Because in the end, you know, I know, and he knows that once you know something, you can’t make it unknown.


On congested rain-slickened streets a man dances his way through the hustle and bustle of downtown Washington in order to make his pickups and time-sensitive deliveries. Straddling a BMW R50/2 with a battered helmet, radio and gloves attached to his belt, Rick Putnam goes on with his day-to-day life as a transporter of important information. OK let’s bypass the informalities, to his fellow roadway patrons he is simply regarded as a self-involved, driver’s ed manipulating courier for the Associate Broadcast Network. With tattered blue jeans, deep black shirt, butt-kicking boots meant for strutting not running, form-fitted leather bomber jacket, eyes shielded by black framed glasses complete with a Winston in his mouth, you would think Rick was headed for a Motorhead concert. But what you quickly understand is that this is his typical occupational attire, no Brooks Brothers for this guy. Before the invention of the fax machine, the presence of the internet and the worldwide reach of Twitter and Facebook you had the dependability of transportation as your means for information hunting and gathering. A man like Rick was sure to get the job done with no questions asked.


“As a courier, Rick wasn’t really considered a part of the newsroom, and he was but grateful that this allowed him to skirt the emotional chaos and make it back to the courier desk. Between his mother’s destructive methods of child-raising and an unhealthy dose of battle trauma, he’d realized long ago that he just didn’t react to this kind of emotional situation the way most people did.
Just another way that I don’t act like a normal person, he thought.”

On a seemingly normal Tuesday in 1972 Washington during the ongoing saga in the backlash of the Watergate scandal, Rick picks up a film canister ready for development. This isn’t any normal pickup, this is from the number one news team on the network and he must be judicious so the production team can have it primed and ready for the six o’clock slot. What Rick quickly finds out is that this film, or perhaps himself are radioactive and everyone that comes into contact with it, or are in his presence are dropping like flies. It is not in his job description to ask questions or raise an eyebrow at his various pickups, but when word gets around that the information he is hiding pertains to a history he would rather soon forget, his interest has officially been piqued and like a wild dog his hackles have been raised.


“He reached down, bent his knees, and lifted the lowest step. Years of concentrated effort had made his upper body strong – strong enough to overcome the damage the Cong had done.
To that strength, he added rage. Rage against the asshole behind him who had killed his friends, rage against the chickenshit who had sent him to that goddamn jungle, rage against the President who had sent his friends to die.”

Rick had a rather turbulent upbringing being raised by a World War veteran father and an alcoholic mother who later succumbed to her disease dying from liver failure at an early age. Like his father before him Rick served in the Army and fought in Vietnam where he was one of the first teams stationed in the Ia Drang Valley. Left with a bad arm and a lifetime of hellish sleeps, Rick spends his nights lifting weights trying to regain his strength, all the while doing his best to function on minimal sleep. After the war, images of a career, a marriage or even a future became less of a reality, but one ideal that Rick has held onto from his time in The Nam was NO MORE KILLING. His goal has been quite simple, to take it day-by-day and lead as normal of a life as possible. The motorcycle and his current job has certainly provided him this luxury.

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“He looked over and smiled. ‘Motorcycles help.’
‘They do?.’
‘Yeah. You go fast enough, and it fills your mind. Makes it so you can’t think of anything else. Can’t remember, can’t hear the sounds.’
‘Can’t grieve for your friends.’ There was the slightest glint in her eyes, but there were no tears of sympathy. He was grateful for that.
‘It all gets blown away in the wind and the speed and seeing how close you can come to the edge without going over.’
‘OK, if you’re going to put it so poetically, I’d like to try it sometime.’
‘You’re on.’ “

The author exhibits a great understanding of photography, politicking in production meetings as well as the happenings in the inner sanctum of the newsroom. I guess you don’t win 4 Emmy Awards for nothing 😉 He is also able to showcase his passion for motorcycles and provide a firsthand perspective of the high-paced life of a man on the go. One of my favourite aspects of the story were the secondary characters including Corey the homosexual ninja and the 3 IT guys with a wide variety of skills that I affectionately referred to as The Three Muskateers. These four guys were not quite what they presented themselves to be and provided many surprises and comic relief. With respect to the lead character, what I liked about Rick was that he was more of a thinking man’s protagonist. You know from his experience that he has combative skills but the author makes him less of the cliché that you expect from these types of novels as well as his wardrobe. This representation made Rick quite likeable, realistic, and a breath of fresh air in a genre filled with unbelievable superheroes. Courier was an easy read that I would recommend to anyone who enjoys subtle political thrillers and characters that are genuinely amiable.


” ‘You don’t get to choose those who go into battle beside you,’ she said. ‘That’s something only they decide. Your duty is to make the sacrifice mean something.’ “


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