simple is beautiful
New York Daily Photo: Street Cred
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Tuesday, 17 June 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 :)


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