The Bard and Jester

Welcome Readers! Here you will find some real life experiences and musings that I'd like to share with you. So, come on in, if you have the time and I'll do my best to be entertaining... Please click on my sponsors' links!!! Established March 12, 2005.

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Location: New York, United States

I can be a clown, a poet, a fool, a romantic, a diplomat, a all depends upon the timing and circumstance.

Tuesday, September 27, 2005

Things A NYC Bike Messenger Can See: The Nickel Trick, YES! and Celebrities

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Originally uploaded by vraven.
During the fall and winter of 1993, I worked as a bicycle courier--or Bike Messenger, as they were more commonly called.

I lived in Brooklyn and, each weekday morning, I would get up, shower, dress, climb aboard my bike and ride across the Brooklyn Bridge into Manhattan. Then I would find the nearest payphone and call into my dispatcher for my first pickup and delivery of the day. This was before cellphones of course--and oh, how they would've made the job alot easier...and cheaper, too.

When your dispatcher paged you, where ever you were at that moment, you had to find the nearest availble, working payphone as fast as you could. If you took too long you’d catch hell or worse: the call would be passed to another messenger. We got a commission based on how many runs we did that day, so every one was money in our pockets.

25 cents a call added up after a 9 hour shift, 5 days a week. But as I got to know other bike messengers, I began to hear about an esoteric method called the "Nickel Trick". This was around the time of those old Bell Atlantic payphones.

I finally asked a messenger to teach me the Nickel Trick. What you did was--and this if I remember all the steps correctly, it's been 12 years--take a quarter and a nickel, deposit the quarter into the coin slot first. Then you'd ever so gently lower the lever to right exactly where the dial tone is cut off. Then you released the lever, and, as fast as you could, drop the nickel into the coin slot and dial the call. If you did it just right, your quarter would be returned, the call would go through and all the call would cost you was a nickel.

That saved me alot of quarters.

On my very first day as a messenger, as I rode through downtown Brooklyn, on my way to the bridge, I was hit by car. I had foolishly ran a red light and, thinking it was a one-way street, I was only watching for traffic in one direction. It was actually a two-way street and my front tire crashed into the driver’s side door of a passing car. I was sent flying but was otherwise unhurt…but I only worked half a day because the accident had loosened the handlebars so that, by midday, I couldn’t steer; the handlebars spun around in place like a propeller.

The second day, my bike was nearly stolen. I had almost learned the hard way that, as a messenger, you should only use an industrial strength chain and padlock--the kind that stores use when they lock up at night. I had returned from a delivery only to find the bite marks from some metal cutting tool on both the standard bicycle chain and thin padlock that I had used. I figured that while they were working on the chain and lock, they must’ve seen me returning and fled. I heard from other bikers that there were guys who would go around in vans, watching for messengers whose bikes they could cut free and drive away with. So, the next day, I went to the hardware store and bought the heaviest chain and padlock they had. No worries after that, but it was a lot of extra weight I had to carry around all day.

You rode hard up and down and across Manhattan Island for 9 hours, dodging between taxis and buses, around cars and speeding through the herds of pedestrians that crossed against the green. But there was also alot of downtime as you waited for your dispatcher to page you.

One downtime in particular, I was sitting on the curb between two parked cars outside the New York Times Building. I had just finished making a delivery to the Times. My bike was still chained to the lamppost. One of the building’s security guards was outside walking a mini-beat between the front doors and the truck garages.

"YES!" someone shouted.

In the manner of a New York native, I barely noticed, lost in my own troubles and dreams.

The security guard strolled by.

"YES!" That same voice again, but this time I heard a loud clap precede the shout.

A few cars went by. The security guard finished another short, lazy circuit.

Another single clap and another "YES!"

Okay, I thought, what the hell is that?

I stood up and saw only the occassional pedestrian (it was only a side street), the security guard and a homeless man across the street. The homeless man wore a soiled old baseball cap and a bandanna over the lower half of his face like bandits of the old West.

Suddenly, he dashed across the street to the side that I was on, spun around and looked up above the roof opposite. He lowered the bandanna, did a jazzy, snaking dance move, clapped his hands together and shouted, "YES!"

There was such joy in his voice…no…more than joy…rapture, as if he were having some holy vision.

The homeless man periodically repeated this.

The security guard regarded this with the cool indifference only native New Yorkers have.

But I was fascinated. I love talking with crazies and I wanted to ask the homeless guy what he was seeing that made him celebrate so. But my beeper finally went off and I had to get my bike and begin the frenzy search for a payphone.

I never saw him again. But I did see a couple of celebrities. Or one and half…if TV weathermen count. I saw Al Roker as he went into a deli. People called out greetings and he smiled at them. He seemed like a nice guy. The other celebrity I saw as I made a delivery to the ABC Theatre Company on Broadway…near Union Square Park, I think. They had the old fashioned elevators operated by an elderly man—possibly as old as the lift itself. He was dressed like a cross between a bellhop and doorman. It was the only elevator in the building and if you didn’t want to take the stairs then you had to wait in line. And as I did, one guy behind me kept making a racket, singing or loudly muttering in a musical voice things like, "I hope I get the part'. He wore sunglasses and as I stared at him, thinking I knew him from somewhere, he stared back, waiting to see if the recogition would kick in. It did. It was Jim Belushi. I nodded and grinned at him and eventually went about my business.

In another installment, I'll tell about things I saw like the beating of a taxi driver at a hotdog stand in broad daylight.


Blogger debbiecakes said...

For some strange reason, I really wanna be a bike messenger now...and not just for the fringe benefits like running into Jim Belushi or witness cabdriver beatings. Too bad I'm in Cleveland.
Great blog, think I'm gonna link to it.

November 22, 2005 10:36 AM  

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