New York Daily Photo Analytics

Tuesday, June 17, 2008

Street Cred

The NYC bike messenger is the epitomizes New York on edge. These people put their life on the line for little money and no benefits. Of course, a comparison to the Police or Fire Department is unfair - bike messengers are not public servants hired to protect citizens. And it is a for profit business. But they risk their lives for no glory. An extraordinarily dangerous job with no recognition.
The job itself demands the ultimate in utility - a whole style of bike outfitting and accoutrement has been spawned by the riders, some of it spilling over to those interested in sporting a street style. Perhaps the most notable item adopted by non bikers, is the messenger bag - the Manhattan Portage.
Many experienced messengers (like the one in the photo) will use a fixed gear bike (aka track bike). There is a minimum of parts and maintenance. They offer control, light weight and quick acceleration. There has been an up trend in use and interest in these bikes.
Also de rigeur is the heavy duty 3 foot bike chain and locks - this is a whole discussion unto itself. Theft is a huge problem here and virtually every type of innovative lock has been used. In the end, the simple heavy duty chain and American style lock have proven most reliable. Thieves have used huge bolt cutters and all manner of tools and techniques to break locks and chains. And it is not unknown for a thief to take the bike and the thing it is locked to if feasible. Or take parts and leave the frame - see Left for Dead here. You can read about these and other matters at the NYMBA (New York Bike Messengers Association) website.
Here are two quotes from their website about the job as told by messengers Hermes and Tone.

Hermes: "It is a job where you’ll encounter people who’ll attempt to kill
you, disrespect you, and unwittingly put your life in danger. You’ll ride in
the worst weather imaginable, and deliver heavy, bulky items for an extra $1.
You’ll wake up tired in the morning and go to bed defeated. You’ll be bored
out of your mind sometimes, just sitting around and waiting.), and you’ll be
stressed to the breaking point."

Tone: "It is however incredibly dangerous, yet exhilaratingly
fun at the same time. I seriously consider it an extreme sport. Imagine running
with a pack of wolves made of metal as fast as you can with the wind in your
hair, but sometimes the wolves bite and you have to evade them as well as the
moving trees, called pedestrians, in this konkrete jungle we call New York.
I guess it’s hard. It’s definitely not for the weak hearted."

In the final analysis, the job is the ultimate in street cred ...

NOTE: In an amazing happenstance, while shooting this a messenger approached me, Eugene Carrington. He told me he was actually known in the messenger world and pulled out a small booklet: Messenger Blues and Other Poems. I bought a copy for $3 :)


Terry B said...

You beautifully illustrate what is indeed a dangerous job, Brian. You also inadvertently illustrate one reason it is dangerous--not just for the messengers, but for pedestrians. The messenger in the photo is going against the traffic. Manhattan is a grid of mainly one way streets, and pedestrians stepping off a curb are always looking in the direction the traffic is coming from. They will not see this messenger until they step into his path. Countless people have been seriously clocked by cyclists going the wrong way.

Brian said...

terry - u are absolutely correct. and another huge danger is opening card doors without looking. many bikers have gotten seriously injured by this.

Misawa Mama said...

Very upsetting,
People will do anything to anyone now adays. How was the book you purchased? It sounds like a great find.

Anonymous said...

i hate these bike people, mostly rude obnoxious assh*les (and i dont drive)...

Sherry said...

I've been living in NYC for about 5 years now, and I've been subbed to your site for several months. This is my first time commenting and I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy your blog! The New York moments you capture on film, the interesting background, and your insightful commentary are fascinating and help me to appreciate this wondrous city even more. It's amazing how much you know about the city and how many interesting characters you meet. Thanks for keeping up such a great site.

Aigars Bruvelis said...

Great story and description of character, cheers

Doug D said...

yeah I know Eugene, i read his poems, pretty blue. He's not on a "up trend" fixed gear. He's an old dude on an old road bike, I can't say if he messengers for the street cred.

Anonymous said...

NYC has over 100,000 bikes on the street. and a more than a few go the wrong way, most of the time just for a block or less just to get to the one way going the right direction. But Terry, when crossing the street, pedestrians should do what we teach children to do. Look both ways!

Peixesloucos said...


great content!
i maintain a photoblog and share stories from streets and sidewalks in Europe.
will you consider linking it on your blog?