neighborspotlight.jpg by Peter Schmidtke

A bicycle messenger and business owner, a dabbler in film and music, a building renovator — Wayne Wallner, for lack of a better phrase, is a modest jack of all trades. Before we begin our interview, Wallner, 30, and his longtime girlfriend Amy Rohan, 28, offer to make me a hot cup of green tea. Set back on Booth Street behind another house, the open interior of their two-story cottage features black-and-white framed photographs, a fish tank gurgling in the corner, a fluffy black cat sitting in an easy chair, and countless vines and potted green plants sprouting from various nooks and crannies. Even though I’ve forgotten my questions at home, the ukulele and the assortment of bikes and mechanical parts sticking out of corner rooms lets me know right away that Wallner will provide plenty of material. And, of course, there’s the square 4×4 foot hatch in the ceiling, complete with a wooden ladder which they and their two black cats must shimmy up to reach the bedroom. “I’m afraid of heights,” says Rohan with a laugh, when she sees me looking at it. “This is like bootcamp house.” When Wallner comes back with my tea and a green bottle of Beck’s beer for himself, we talk about his work as a bicycle courier and his ability to persist through winter elements that would make most people dive under a heating blanket. “Every day has its own unique challenges. Winter isn’t just one type of weather, there are more types of weather than there are in spring or summer,” he says excitedly, flattening his kooky hat-head hair and making me wonder if he has antifreeze for blood. The owner of Bicycle Breakaway Courier located downtown, Wallner operates a bicycle-only messengering business which has been his bread and butter for the last six years. Although he owns the operation and manages eight other riders, he says he still manages to spend 60 to 70 percent of his time hammering away on his pedals delivering packages and correspondence to area businesses, some as far away as Whitefish Bay. “I still discover things,” Wallner points out as he scratches his week-old beard. “I can’t believe I didn’t have Gortex socks for the first few years. I would just bike around with these wet, cold feet.” Through the grapevine, I’ve heard that Wallner also plays bicycle polo, so I figure this is a good time to ask. Within seconds, the lean jeans-clad courier produces an official U.S. Bicycle Polo wooden mallet. Seeing my interest sparked, Wallner flops over to the Mac in the corner and fires up some footage of himself and five of his cohorts batting a small ball around a field near Lafayette Hill. They are skilled and agile, strategizing with formations and passing the ball between players’ tires. After I inquire, I find out that the polo footage, complete with an Eminem soundtrack, is only part of a series of his bicycle-related film work on his Mac; Wallner also whipped up a DVD of bicycle related, self-shot footage that he has shown to his courier friends. “I think I did a good job with it,” he says, Amy nodding. “There are edited chapters and everything — but the only people who would like it are people into biking.” Later, Wallner again bursts over to the wide-screened Mac and conjures up a recording that he and Rohan did recently, she playing guitar and handling the vocals and he programming the keyboard and drum beats into the synthesizing software they recently purchased. Phrases of modesty emanate from both of them (“We’re just learning how to do this;” “This thing is kind of neat.”) while Wallner cues up the recording. But what comes next is Rohan’s folk-style voice and a symphony of flowing keyboards, and I realize that there’s more than just a little plinking around going on. Rohan, who is sitting cross-legged on the floor in a comfortable sweater, sings and plays solo guitar every fourth Monday at Linneman’s. She and Wallner met there a little over seven years ago one night after Wallner had finished laboring at Java Lava, a coffee shop on Burleigh (now the Art Bar) that he used to co-own and was refurbishing at the time. He’s used the talents he picked up at his old job to renovate their house — knocking out walls, painting, molding, stuccoing the walls downstairs where the kitchen and bathroom are, and tiling. “It’s a work-in progress,” Wallner says with pride, hands across his chest. Right when I think the interview is about to be over, Rohan mentions their sunken outdoor Koi fish pond and the tub that they have indoors to keep the colorful orange Japanese fish warm during the winter. And sure enough, in a side room packed with bicycle rims is a deep plastic pool three feet or so by five feet with several Koi lolling about below the surface. The big air filter generator is grinding away, and I chuckle — these are big whoppers of aquarium fish. “That could be about a nine pound fillet,” Wallner exhorts affectionately — he and Rohan even give some of their Koi and goldfish names, and they speak sadly of one that passed away a few years ago. Building ponds, restoring houses, shooting film, or racing around downtown on bike courier missions, Wallner leaves a definite mark on Riverwest. “I think it’s good to be a jack-of-all-trades — if the world ever collapses or something, I’ll be able to rebuild a small part of it.”