Pedaling pizza for piety

Joe Cox explains how the PMA bike ride — which he founded — hands out free pizza to the hungry and homeless. Pix taken 5/31/17 at 801 Market St. by Stu Bykofsky

“With my hair and the way I dress, if you don’t see me in traffic, you should have your license revoked,” says pink-haired bike courier and humanitarian Joe Cox, a new Philadelphian operating on an old idea.

“Do unto others,” he says. “I was raised religious, I have that in me. If people just had respect, things would be so different.”

As a courier, “I see so many people that are on the street, homeless and hungry, I want to do something. It makes me sad.”

Rather than wallow in sadness, last June 24 he rounded up some friends for the first PMA bike ride. PMA stands for Positive Mental Attitude. They bought a bunch of boxes at Rosa’s Fresh Pizza at 25 S. 11th St., the place that charges only $1 a slice and urges customers to “pay it forward” by making a donation for a hungry person.

Joe Cox serves a man pizza during a PMA bike ride Saturday. CHRIS BAKER EVANS

A match made in heaven.

At first, the 31-year-old Cox and his bike buddies bought the pizza and rode around Center City, giving slices to anyone who asked, purely on the honor system. The tattooed and bearded Cox wouldn’t dream of asking anyone to prove their need. That would be disrespectful.

Cox displays his PMA tattoo, one of many he wears. STU BYKOFSKY / Staff 

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As to his eye-catching appearance, he says he likes being colorful and “weird.” He gets few hard stares, a lot of smiles and compliments on his hair, kind of a modified Mohawk, blond on the sides with a pink lick on top the size of a cow’s tongue. Pink shoes match his hair.

Cox and crew now go out on the last Saturday evening of each month, giving away about $500 worth of pizza, along with smiles and human interaction. Most of the money comes from donations made online, “and the rest comes out of my pocket,” Cox says with a shrug.

In January, the PMA bike ride added a matinee: a Saturday afternoon ride through Kensington with pizza bought at Four Sons Pizza, on Kensington Avenue near Allegheny, another pizzeria with a reputation for helping the homeless and hungry.

The PMA bike ride may not sound like a big deal until you think about the thousands of people who walk by the homeless each day “and don’t give them so much as a ‘hi,’ ” says Cox, with a sad shake of his head.

He talks about a homeless lady at 15th and Locust who got robbed of everything: the little money she had, “even her dentures. The world is so much negativity, we need to do what we can to change that,” says the native of Maryland’s Eastern Shore, who came here five years ago and now lives in South Philly. Like many other transplanted millennials, he enjoys the vibrancy of Philadelphia.

He loves his courier job because he loves bikes, always has. “I love going through traffic, the job pays decent money, and it’s a free workout,” he says with a laugh.

Electronic delivery has slashed courier jobs in recent years, and now Philadelphia has only about 20 full-time bike couriers, moving paper for lawyers, real-estate agents, menu printers, architects.

Cox is always looking for more donors and more riders, although he has volunteers who carry boxes of pizza on foot. “It’s more about the pizza than the bikes,” he says.  If you want to step up, go to Facebook/PMAbikeride or email Cox at thePMAbikeride@gmail.com

Volunteers serve a woman camping in Center City during the ride. CHRIS BAKER EVANS

He would love “to see a PMA bike ride in every neighborhood” in the U.S., and has a plan to use a bike camper to cross the country and spread the word of kindness and generosity — my words, not those of the modest Cox.

As we talk, it becomes clear Cox doesn’t know that  — at least in the minds of some in the bicycle community — I am the most anti-bike journalist in the city. I am not, of course. I just want cyclists to obey the law.

So I have to ask Cox if the PMA bike ride obeys traffic laws.

Yes, he answers.

How about when you are a courier?

He hesitates as he watches me take notes.

“That’s not always possible “ he says.

I laugh. I like honesty. I like Cox. When someone with a good heart is doing good for others, I cut him some slack.