If there is any one advice that I want to give to those going abroad next year, it’ll be to get some experience in a café while in Glasgow. Having worked in hospitality before will make your life a whole lot easier when it comes to finding a job abroad. In a city like Melbourne I assume all of us are depending on or at least thankful for the additional income that part time work can provide. Melbourne is full of bustling cafés that are always in need for experienced staff. Your visa will most likely allow for 40 hours of work a fortnight, that’s twenty hours a week and probably more than you want to work during term anyway. In term break then you can go into full time or use saved money for even more traveling. If you’re lucky enough, maybe you’ll even handle the espresso machine. Baristas from Melbourne are regarded the best of their trade and if you ever come back to Glasgow, chances are that even Artisan Roast or Paperclip will take you. No prior work experience in a café or restaurant however and you will likely be turned down at any door you knock on. I can tell you that with some certainty as I speak from experience.
While left unsuccessful in my search for a “hospo” job, I was lucky enough to find a far better job to spend my time on. I was working as a bike messenger here in Melbourne. Couriers deliver parcels, letters and envelopes from one address to another.
Your dispatcher will receive all orders and then create a route for you by dispatching specific jobs to you. That means that if the work is steady and your dispatcher knows your ability and preferred lines, the work will line up for you pretty neatly. You might carry between 5 and 10 deliveries with you at a time, mapping out an ideal route to coordinate pick ups and drop offs, while not holding on to any package for too long. Payment at my company was on a job to job basis, the value of the job depending on factors such as parcel size and weight, distance between the locations and urgency of the delivery but income was guaranteed at a minimum retainer in case the day was slow and not enough work was coming through. I dearly love this job, and the reasons are plenty. Who wouldn’t want to get paid for riding their bike?
I can say with some conviction that no exchange student knew the city better than me after a month of daily riding. Admittedly, most of the city is an absolute grid, but it felt good to be so acquainted with my new home so quickly. It was great knowing every shortcut, the traffic conditions and how they changed during the day, the roads where you can safely hold on to trams to be pulled along, the way the lights work and where a little detour will actually get you there faster. Riding about 60km a day while getting paid was a lot more enjoyable then carrying trays.
Couriers also have an absolutely unique understanding of their city. After a while, most situations in traffic are responded to intuitively, splitting traffic on big intersections, cornering next to a truck or sidling through jams at full speed become mastered maneuvers and most situations that would be scary for someone less experienced in traffic become easy and fun to deal with.
The way traffic behaves around you will make more and more sense and it’s a great feeling to know you are truly among the few fastest entities in the city. It can be hard and exhausting. Many days are stressful, some are hot, others wet or rainy. You can’t always prepare for what the day might have up its sleeve for you, but the fact that every day will be different is half of the fun and coming home worked up and exhausted at least makes you feel like you did something. Very few jobs get you to understand what makes a city tick like this one. You experiences the streams of traffic during the day, you pass the commuters in rush hour, see tourists, and get an understanding of the interconnectedness of companies.
Couriers are also a great community. Not many employees have the same level of solidarity as bike messengers. In any city in the world, you will find somebody to host you, and possibly also a job, just by introducing yourself as a bike messenger to those flying to that city’s streets.
Almost every evening after work, at least a few of Melbourne’s messengers would get together for a beer, many weekends have been spent together at parties or camping rides and many of my best friends in Melbourne are also my colleagues. When I got to visit Sydney, I was hosted and looked after by couriers who took me out to parties and favorite spots, fast-tracking my experience of the city immediately. The community in Melbourne is also nourished by “the spot”, 140 William Street.
This is an address in the city where the building management has been particularly lenient with the presence of messengers and so this is the place to usually meet up. If the day is slow or you are still waiting for the first job in the morning, this is where you sit down, grab a coffee, chat and wait. It’s also a very central place; a lot of work is going in and out of this building and many other pick ups are close by. Having this spot to which you always return a few times a day is one of the reasons why Melbourne couriers are a pretty well connected and familiar group. Another reason is certainly that there aren’t that many couriers in Melbourne. Within a week of working you’ll have seen everybody on the road at least twice and whistled after them as a greeting.
All in all a great job to have, even if the pay isn’t amazing. I am thankful for the experience, the friends and all the fun I had. It’s a job to keep you fit, get to know the city and hear and see more interesting things a day than an office has to offer in a week.
Oh, and let’s face it: couriers are the coolest kids in town.
photos used are my own or Johannes Weiley’s. More from this talented photographer here: http://j0hannes.tumblr.com/
and the link to his article for ThreeThousand: http://thethousands.com.au/melbourne/stray/cycle-messenger-world-championships