Your whole day is meeting deadlines. That’s the job. You get put under pressure to meet deadlines. You put your body at risk. Carrying big loads. You have to push yourself as hard as you can. Sometimes even when its miserable and its pissing rain. Having to put in long hours. You don’t stop until the job is done. Its usually 8 hour days, but I work 10 hour days. Sometimes you’re understaffed. I’ve been understaffed for weeks. You gotta pick up the slack and be in ten places at once sometimes.
I ride Ciocc. It’s a handmade Italian bike from the mid 80s. I got it for $500. For what it is that’s a steal. You gotta have a good bike to do the job. Like any job, you gotta have the right tools. If you’re on something for like 40 hours a week, it can’t be no bullshit.
There’s this whole messenger economy. There’s all this wheeling and dealing for supplies and housing.
The lady who makes the Pac bags was a former messenger. She even worked off and on while she made these bags. All the legit bag makers are messengers or former messengers. Bags are a big aspect of messenger culture. Pat from Toronto makes pack bags that I think are the best bags in the industry. She makes them all by hand herself. She invented the x strap to balance the weight on your back. You really don’t take your bag off much while you work.
Don’t get run over. Don’t hit any pedestrians. It’s like you’re in control, but you’re not in control at the same time. That’s how it is when you’re in traffic. You feel like you can adapt to any situation, but its so unpredictable. It takes a couple years to really get the feel of this, but after spending many hours for years on the streets in traffic, you start to see the patterns, and understand the flow of how everything works. You can see whether a driver is going to be an erratic driver. When they’re moving slow and hesitant, that’s the type of driver that’s gonna flip a U turn right in front of you or see a parking spot, and just jam right on over. It’s kinda like a spidey sense that takes a while to develop. You just understand how the traffic works and how to find these holes, the stuff that to an average observer would look like there’s no way to get through that space, but as a messenger this is what you’re doing all day. U-lock justice is when a car hits you or almost hits you, and if they start screaming at you about it, you might take your U-lock and break their mirror off. I’ve only done that once, but they were really asking for it. And there are a lot of people who are like regular U-lock justice type people. Those people just have a chip on their shoulder, but man there’s nothing like breaking that mirror off.
Taxis and messengers used to be like arch enemies. They used to butt heads a lot. These days, I really value taxis. The whole Uber and Lyft shit is outta hand. Taxis are really aware. They’re very aggressive in the moves that they make, but they are aware of you. They know what’s going on around them. They know the grid of the city. They’re not driving the wrong way on one ways, looking on their phone for directions in traffic. So many people I know have been hit by Ubers. I just hate Uber with a passion. They put me and all my friends in danger. Their whole job is being a scab on an established workforce. Trying to undercut the taxi industry. I don’t respect it at all.
In New York, messengers and taxis formed a union together. That is like the most unlikely alliance ever. But it makes sense. They’re trying to advocate for better wages, benefits, and sick leave. There are some bad working conditions. There are some shady companies in the industry. There aren’t any lawsuits because usually messengers can’t afford lawyers.
A lot of the younger messengers move from company to company, whether they just wanna level up, or they got fired. Most of these companies don’t give you time off. I you wanna travel, maybe you go trainhopping for a summer, and you gotta quit your job. You get a job at a different company. Once you’re older, you tend to stay with the same company for awhile. There’s a lot of veterans who have been with the same company for decades.
Over time, being a messenger can burn you out. It’s a dead end job. It can make people look weathered, being outside in all sorts of conditions. Some people get caught up in the party lifestyle of it. That takes a toll on you. You start to look haggard after 10-15 years of it.
I’m probably more clean than most bike messengers. And I’m a grimy person. It’s kind of an outlaw culture, but its all based around doing tasks for businesses.
There’s a lot of overlap between my job and the restaurant industries. I think that may be why the same drug culture is present in both industries.
You get addicted to the “Mess Life”. It’s hard to stay away. It really gets you hooked. If that’s just the life that you know, I mean, I love what I do. It’d be hard to walk away from that. Everyone has to at some point. It’s hard to see myself doing anything else right now.
“It’s halfway between being an extreme sports athlete and being a mailman. It’s exhilarating and thrilling, the best feeling in the world.”