Photos by Hoang Xuan Pham.
Maritime Bicycle Courier (MBC) is the missing piece to connecting the city’s jigsaw of urban, beach-side infrastructure; an answer to the question of how to deliver anything, really, in an eco-friendly manner, and to the question of how to make Long Beach more bike-friendly and responsible.
It’s a movement in and of itself, that has built a community surrounding the uncompromised living of a healthy, sustainable life for anyone willing to break a little sweat or simply support those wanting to do so.
Bud Abille and Langdon Taguiped had just returned home from racing the famed Red Hook Criterium in Barcelona, Spain when the two dropped everything and took a risk, launching the business in September of last year. The two couriers, entrepreneurs and competitive cyclists have brought something to Long Beach that seems like it should have been here all along. So why hasn’t anyone in Long Beach done this before?
“I immediately fell in love with the job as a bicycle courier, but when the structure of my former courier environment wasn't ideal, I took the first step and visualized it in my way,” Taguiped explained. “Bud and I had similar beliefs in our current situations as couriers and planted the vision for Long Beach. Like most situations in my life I don't sit around complaining, I try to fix the situation or create an ideal one, hence the birth of Maritime Bicycle Courier. We wanted to bring delivery culture to Long Beach and the job we both love.”
Maritime was born from a dream to get out of the office, to combat the lethargy of coming home from a long day's work pent up in a cubicle, to fulfill the lack of actual living and community one is unable to establish with a typical job, slouched over at a desk all day, getting lost in the glow of a computer monitor.
“I knew I didn’t want an eight-to-five schedule and couldn’t be bound up in a box,” said Abille. “I liked the adventure and the thought of being able to interact with people more often. I like riding my bike, and courier work is the perfect reason to do that.”
What started as a tag team operation, with Abille and Taguiped selling their services to restaurants and businesses throughout the city, has quickly grown over the past five months to a full-fledged business employing some 50 local bicycle couriers. The two entrepreneurs started recruiting from a cycling community they already knew quite well, but have altered the lives of many newcomers who had never considered making a living by bike. Abille, on the other hand, who has made riding and racing a way of life, has always known his passion for cycling would take him somewhere positive.
“I had always wanted to ride my bike in the city I grew up in,” said Abille. “And to do it for work would be even better. Before MBC, I was doing two part time jobs; trying to stray away from the full time job life. I wanted to be in an open environment, so the office was definitely not where I wanted to stay. When I got to experience some courier work in the LA area, I knew it could happen. It was just a matter of planning and teamwork, to bring courier work home.”
Maritime couriers have done wonders for blossoming small businesses like Seoulmate, a Korean counter-service eatery on the corner of Park Ave. and 7th St., where Mosher's used to be. Jason Kang, owner of Seoulmate, didn't have to think twice before handing his budding establishment’s delivery needs over to MBC, one of the first eateries to put their trust in the company.
"Our plan was to hire delivery drivers eventually, once things picked up and gained some momentum, but Bud happened to drop by right as we were about to do that," Kang said.
"MBC is very efficient," he said. "I think they have some great, great leaders and it all trickles down from there. There are times when it's pretty busy for them and we can tell because they have a good sweat going when they show up, but it's always with a smile on their face.”
Kang continued, "Long Beach needed a bicycle courier service very badly. That's one big step in fulfilling our proclamation that we're the bike-friendliest city in California."
Kerstin Kansteiner, owner of Portfolio Coffeehouse, the couriers’ unofficial headquarters, said, "It’s great that they made Portfolio their home, because we’re kind of in the center right now and it’s a cool thing for us as a business."
She was first approached by the online ordering services GrubHub and Eat24, but Portfolio didn't have enough demand for food and coffee to-go to hire a full-time driver, "So when Langdon approached us and said hey, this is what we do," she continued, "I was like 'Wow, this could work.' He put the pieces together for us.”
“And it goes really in line with our business,” she continued. “It’s such a cool method of delivering food and not by car because I would imagine that most deliveries are really in a small radius.”
Maritime uses a system where to-go orders placed online to Eat24 or Grubhub are sent directly to the smartphones of the individual riders on standby. Of the seven to ten cyclists working that shift at the time, one will head directly to, say, Restauration to pick up your already-paid-for Spicy Pig Pizza and Braised Kale, and bring it to your home, office or current location rain or shine, as long as it's within Maritime's designated delivery zones. Orders can also be called into the company phone or be placed on MBC’s website for not just food, but personal deliveries of any type of goods, as long as it can fit on a bicycle. So far, nearly 20 restaurants outsource their delivery needs to MBC via Eat24 and Grubhub.
"So I looked into it, I tried it myself as if I were the customer,” Kansteiner continued. “It was so easy to order from those websites. It was totally foolproof. That’s when I contacted Langdon again and said, ‘I think you’re onto something.’"
Portfolio Coffeehouse, Berlin Bistro, Taco Surf, Restauration, Kafe Neo, Seoulmate and MVP’s newest location on 4th and Temple are just a few of the growing list of restaurants that have signed on to use Maritime's services. With every delivery, the couriers are slowly but surely building a reputation for being the most eco-friendly, professional delivery service in the city.
“They’ve been so helpful with suggestions,” said Kansteiner. “I mean they’ve come behind the counter to experiment with different packaging methods which is totally awesome. So it’s not just somebody that is completely dissociated and says ‘Where’s my bag? Give me the food so I can deliver it.’ No, they’re actively interested in us to succeed so their business succeeds, so the whole model succeeds. That makes it so much easier.”
One of the reasons Rafael Larios, operator of Honduras’ Kitchen on 4th St. decided to use MBC was to reduce the restaurant’s carbon footprint and to help out a fellow small business.
“Aside from providing Honduras Kitchen with a local delivery option," Larios said, "it has allowed us to keep the business in-house, by contracting a local company and giving back to the community by staying green.”
“In a city known as Bike Town, USA, a bicycle courier service has been long overdue," he continued. "MBC has opened doors not just for us as a restaurant, but for many other local businesses, as well. Providing a courier for documents and other services is a great way to contribute to what makes Long Beach a great, united city, and to help local business grow, like us. MBC is not just helping local businesses thrive they are also reducing the amount of vehicles on the road and perhaps even inspiring other businesses and consumers to get out and ride.”
MBC employees make up an incredibly wide array of people, from local college and high school students to medical professionals, musicians, artists, teachers, cocktail connoisseurs, track stars, construction workers, therapists, outdoorsmen, animal rights activists, hairstylists, accountants and of course, competitive cyclists.
Roberto Roman, a husband, father and EMT, chose to apply for the job because it allowed him to be “out in the world with no restrictions.”
“I'm also a competitive cyclist who is yearning for an opportunity to become something great and successful,” he continued. “I want to demonstrate to all the young parents in our society that it is possible to chase and achieve any dream in which one chooses to pursue. Though it will take a tremendous amount of dedication and support, it is nonetheless obtainable.”
When asked about one of his most memorable experiences working for MBC, Roman replied, “[...]delivering in the rain.”
“I worked a full 11-hour day staying completely soaked the whole shift and it was absolutely exhilarating, bringing me one of the best experiences I've had in a long time, to be able to provide this courier service to customers when they don't want to leave home and get cold and wet,” he concluded.
While Maritime certainly seems to attract more provincial residents, the job has also given out-of-towners an opportunity to live, work and explore a city previously unknown to them. Whitney Hall, who used to courier for a sandwich shop in Atlanta, GA, picked up everything and left for California for a major change in lifestyle. She’s now a Long Beach resident, one of MBC’s hardest working employees, has garnered an interest in potentially racing and hopes to one day lead bicycle tours across Europe.
Speaking of Europe, Frenk Martucci, a visiting Italian professional cyclist, helped out the Maritime crew for the few months he resided in Southern California. Visiting with the sole intention of training in warmer weather along our somewhat glorious coastline, he introduced the Italian language and culture to the group and was able to learn a bit about Long Beach, as well.
Clearly, Maritime supports a symbiotic lifestyle, connecting not just restaurants and small businesses within Long Beach, but bringing together people who would normally have never met. Maritime is a fine example of how cycling is a truly great equalizer, where those from the most drastically different walks of life can come together with just their love of riding a bike as common ground. Evelyn Delgado was able to quit her former job at Subway; Joey Helen Lloyd can continue investing in his passion for bread making; Solange Igoa, the voice of the much-lauded local band Bearcoon, can continue singing and teaching local yoga classes; Abille and Taguiped can continue to train and travel to races.
Elaina Alvarez, a soon-to-be-graduating senior at CSULB, majoring in Criminal Justice and Forensic Science, has been cycling competitively for nearly four years now. She also delivers grounds for Rose Park Roasters by bike. When presented with the opportunity to work for Maritime, it was a no-brainer.
"My first thoughts about working as a bicycle courier were that it's the best job imaginable," she exclaimed. "You get to ride your bike and get paid for doing it. I applied as soon as I could.”
“I also feel like I'm doing something good for the community,” she continued. “Most people in Long Beach drive everywhere... we are showing people that you can get around in this city just as easily by bike. You don't need a car to make deliveries."
The couriers employed by MBC are not the glorified, mangy street urchins so often dramatized by the film industry, who are depicted as adrenaline junkies with no other prospects, who thrive in the face of stupid and dangerous decisions made for the sake of shaving twenty seconds off an order.
They don't revel in skirting traffic laws and angering law-abiding citizens with foolish antics. Maritime couriers are the respectable, pedaling purveyors of our "little-big" city who earnestly desire to spend their time outdoors doing what they love, including, but not limited to, cycling, making a decent living and being a part of a close-knit community.
P.J. Alvarez, who is also a competitive cyclist, was studying Criminal Justice at Long Beach City College with the intention of becoming a cop, when he eventually realized that, simply put, he “just really didn’t like it.”
“Bikes have been a big part of my life for the past five years and I felt like, why am I wasting my time in a place that doesn't offer any cycling or bike related classes,” Alvarez questioned. As one of MBCs first several employees, he has grown with the company to figure out that becoming a bicycle mechanic, while continuing to race, is what he really wants to do, at least for now. Now an apprentice mechanic at Outspoken in Huntington Beach, working as a courier has simply pushed him in the right direction.
"On a full shift, I have ridden up to 60 miles," he said. "There is a lot of mileage that goes into the job and I have definitely gotten stronger because of it."
When asked to share one of his proudest moments as a courier he said, "That would be carrying six drinks at once on my front rack from Royal Cup to Downtown. Didn't spill a single drop."
He laments that sometimes drivers don't understand, much less notice, when he's trying to do his job. He said, "Having to swerve out of the way of a pot hole and into traffic does not go without a horn in the ear.”
Hazards on the job include, and are not limited to, delivering to homebodies still in their “evening garments,” getting your bicycle stolen, finding the thief, and convincing him to sell it back to you for $20 bucks, spilling hot soup all over yourself after swerving away from an inconsiderate vehicle and getting your bungee cord, used to keep items safe and secure on your bike rack, stuck in your front wheel. It’s been a learning experience for everybody, but not without a few good laughs after the fact and the motivation to keep on rolling forward.
As a courier, you're putting yourself out into a fast-paced environment dominated by automobiles, the majority of which are being driven by people who believe you don't belong there, sharing "their" road, even in Long Beach. Because couriers have more of an immunity to traffic and the maneuverability to make split-second decisions, whether they’re whizzing past cars stalled behind a construction site or taking a last-minute right turn, they’re able to cut a significant amount of time spent idling (and polluting the air) out of their overall route.
They can choose to take side streets, alleys and the less frequently traveled shortcuts to avoid cars and poor road conditions. They’re the ultimate human-powered delivery vehicle, built and trained to be more efficient, resourceful and safer than a cumbersome metal cage with an engine, as they quickly learn to take full advantage of the City’s existing infrastructure, whether it’s truly bicycle friendly or not. Perhaps this growing addition of bicyclists on the streets that serve a purpose other than just riding for fun, will better bolster an understanding between motorists and cyclists alike.
Evan Whitener and Nicole Maltz, co-owners of The Bicycle Stand, have been supporters of Maritime since the very beginning. The husband and wife duo had MBC deliver an order from Open Sesame on the first day they brought their son Axel home from the hospital. Whitener said the service was seamless and believes in the future of a courier company that can help improve cycling in Long Beach as a whole.
“Couriers will bring business to the door steps of Long Beach residents," he theorized. "Maritime may eventually be the only tactile contact between actual humans if life continues to move online. Couriers have an opportunity to set the standard for responsible cycling.”
“If the city can use Maritime as a positive example of business interconnectivity, creativity, and safe cycling they will be responsive to the business and take note,” he continued. “The couriers could also aid in community efforts to improve bicycle infrastructure as a token or gift back to the city. It would be a great way for the next generation of Long Beach cyclists to assert themselves and shoulder the responsibility in the eye of the public. Sweeping a bike lane and gaining public opinion will translate into more delivery orders being placed. Everyone helps everyone.”
Both Abille and Taguiped, teammates, friends and now business partners, have worked countless hours to fully realize a bicycle courier service in Long Beach. Both took a risk that left them no choice but to make it work. Now, quickly, as if part of a dream, the two are just starting to see the fruits of their labor.
“I think Maritime could become a household name,” Abille concluded. “The convenience of a delivery by bicycle has been a working method for a long time. With Long Beach trying to become a more bike friendly city, our presence as couriers on the streets could be the secret. We can be of service to anyone. I always hear that people see us all around town, and it makes sense, because people are more visible and memorable outside of a car and on a bike.”
Maritime Bicycle Courier is currently accepting applications. To apply click here. For more information or to place an order, visit the website here or check out the Facebook Page here. You can follow the life of a Maritime courier on Instagram @maritimecourier.