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MOTORCYCLE MANIAC // Today's Pony Express moves film fast

Published Jul. 6, 2006

The motorcycles parked outside the main press center looked ready for action.

"I'm a journalist" I told the woman guarding the bikes. "How about a ride?"

The BMW roadsters were the preferred method of transportation for Olympic film couriers, Linda Voith explained, not mopeds for rent to tourists.

Every 15 minutes, one of these motorized messengers takes off on a high-performance machine to retrieve the images that will end up in newspapers around the world.

"I work for a newspaper," I informed here. "How about I take a picture of you and carry my own film? That will save you a trip."

Voith thought about it for a second then agreed, "OK but you'll have to sign a waiver and wear a helmet," she said. "Do you have any leather?"

"Just underwear," I said casually.

She smiled. "You'll fit in fine with this crew."

Be back the next day at 9 a.m., she said, and wear long pants, boots and a jacket.

But being from Florida, my wardrobe was a bit limited. So I improvised and borrowed some socks to wear beneath my topsiders, pulled on a pair of jeans and grabbed a Hawaiian shirt I didn't mind ripping.

"Ready to go," Steve Schriber asked. "You better be because we have a run to make."

Schriber, 38, has been working major at athletic events like this one for eight years. And when he isn't riding shotgun at the Ironman Triathlon or New York Marathon he's stopping speeders on the freeway outside Oakland.

"Everybody knows who we are since the TV show," said the California Highway Patrol (CHIPS) officer. "It is kind of funny."

Flying down the entry ramp to the Interstate, I asked Schriber if we finished our run early, could we pull some people over?

"I'm a little outside my jurisdiction," he said. "Besides, this isn't a police bike."

But it should be. The 1100 BMW Roadster is to motorcycles what Ben & Jerry's is to ice cream. It has a 4-cylinder, water-cooled engine, anti-lock breaks, an electrically adjustable windshield and heaters on the hand grips in case your fingers get cold.

It's flashier and faster than the motorcycles Ponch and Baker used drive on CHIPS. In fact, if the California Highway Patrol had given everybody Beamers in the first place, maybe the television series would have never been canceled.

"You see Poncherello around the station much these days?" I asked.

"No. I think he's on the Psychic Answer network," Schriber answered.

"He does soap operas in Mexico too," I added, eager to finally get a chance to share some of Eric Estrada trivia.

Schriber weaved in an out of the traffic at 70 miles per hour, dodged a couple of trucks and exited near the new Olympic stadium.

The security guards stopped the bike in the parking lot as the fans roared for track and field inside. They checked his pass then asked for mine.

"I'm a journalist," I said. "I'm just here for the ride."

The guard laughed and kicked me off the bike. I traded pins in the street with the police and waited for Schriber to return with the goods.

"Hop on," he said as he tore off down the blacktop, which is something he'd seen a lot of over the past three months. "We travelled 15,000 miles with the Olympic torch, most of it going four miles an hour. Talk about a trip."

En route to the highway, film stowed safe in a saddlebag, Schriber hit a yellow light.

"Hey...didn't that mean slow down," I asked.

"No," he replied. "Yellow means caution. I accelerated cautiously."

Back on the highway, the driver of a Lincoln Continental changed lanes without looking. Schriber leaned like a batter dodging a wild curve ball, and saved my Hawaiian shirt.

"After 13 years on the road, nothing phases me," he said. Over the years, Scriber has had a few close calls. One accident left him with broken bones and grounded for six months.

But like a cowboy who gets thrown by a bad bull, Schriber has always climbed back on.

Heading through downtown, three Atlanta motorcycle police officers scream by in the commuter lane. We're doing in 70 mph, but they zip by in a blur.

"They must be trying to make it to the donut shop before it closes," I said.

"Not all cops eat donuts," Schriber informed me. "I used to, but I can't keep buying $200 motorcycle pants."

Schriber slipped through the congestion and made it back to the courier headquarters with a few minutes to spare. They were a rider short, so he has to pull extra duty.

He dropped off the full bag and they handed him an empty one. No time to chat. Turn around and head back to the stadium for more film.

"I drive on the California freeway everday," he said. "I'm ready for anything."

He shook my hand and wished me luck, then took off down the street.

"Hey," I yelled. "Thanks for the ride!"