‘Hey, what’s goin’ on boys?
and the chorus responded
‘Did everyone get a slice of that
Wall Street press release last night?
I got 12, 31 runs for the day.’
‘Whoa, 31? That beats me, I don’t know
how you keep doing it Rabbit.’
John always had a knowing wry smile, and a lot to say just behind what he didn’t tell you. I liked him and we broke the code a few times talking about stuff, real stuff. He was educated and even had a Masters but for some reason his life became unraveled and he fell through the cracks.
‘Watch out for those cabbies Rabbit.’
A smallish guy, John was a longtimer, an easy conversationalist and very steady, never got too high or too low, never complained or made mistakes either and he always arrived at the coffee shop before anyone else.
I don’t remember him ever taking a day off.
This was important to all of us superstitious types which meant all eight of our clique, because it was with John that we began our daily ritual just before walking up the stairs to the dispatch office, just after downing all our rocket fuel, of placing our palms on the image of his well worn shirt for good luck.
‘Thanks John, see ya’ tomorrow morning,
and keep outta’ those potholes!’
We would gather every week day morning under the tattered forest green and white trimmed canvas awning of the corner coffee shop, the classic shop keeper’s awning that was rolled down each day by hand announcing the store open for business. The street level take out window would slowly squeek open, and one by one we click click clicked over to get our coffee and donuts, the caffiene jolt and white sugar rocket fuel excuse for a nutritious breakfast.
As if hurtling at 30 mph through the choked arteries that passed for streets in Manhattan, as if being clipped into your pedals squeezing through shoulder width lanes of erratically moving trucks and cars, as if suddenly stopping your brakeless fixed gear bike and saving your life avoiding a dive bombing cabbie gunning his beat up yellow cab directly at you, as if all this wasn’t enough of a high alert, fight or flight crackling adrenaline current to sustain us through the day.
No, we didn’t really need
the rocket fuel at all.
What we needed was the 7:30 pre work ‘us against them’ comaraderie, we needed to take a head count and bodily injury check, we needed to outdo each other’s ‘damn i’m lucky i’m alive’ steaming asphalt street war horror stories of the day before, we needed to confirm a hierarchy by comparing completed tickets and how many extra pay, triple rush runs we did, we needed to bitch about the office creeps who would treat us bike messengers like crap, as if there was a speedier way to get someone a super urgent letter in Manhattan in the pre fax days of 1988.
Believe me, there wasn’t. Nothing was faster than a triple rush driven, fearless guy on a bike navigating through the impossibly crowded and often lawless jungle of Manhattan.
We knew it and so did the resentful office creeps who despised being so dependent on sweat soaked social misfits wearing skin tight black biking shorts arriving suddenly at their desk, knowing that in a good week we cleared more in our paycheck than they did. In 1988, $600-$700 a week could buy you an awful lot of rocket fuel, a decent living as long as you stayed alert and alive.
The group of us that met each morning were the top earners in our office, we were a tight bunch of 8 youngish guys, all skilled cyclists and most of us raced in club races in Central Park on the weekends, myself included. We all had our story, a reason why we were bike messengers instead of following more socially acceptable career paths, instead of utilizing the diplomas most of us had earned and I learned quickly there was an unspoken code that those stories were just never spoken about, an impenetrable male bravado veneer shielding any and all percieved vulnerability. I willingly complied.
I also learned, after being invited into
this elite clique after my first day, that
those invitations were rare. In the two
years I spent riding my black fixie no one
else was asked in, but then again, no one
else had a first day of work like I did either.
On a day when over half our crew didn’t or couldn’t make it to work, on a day that you were better off and safer at home, on a day that the wind blew blizzrd like heavy wet snow flakes sideways into your eyes, on my birthday in late January, I trundled up the one flight of stairs with my snow encrusted bike to the dispatchers desk and reported for work.
It was a ridiculous day to be on a bike, but after spending the entire day struggling to even see where I was going, I completed all the runs I was given. They were late, but they were completed.
My reputation was cemented that snowy day.
I was in.
‘This is Rabbit, what do ‘ya got for me?’
‘Holy crap! You finished all the runs I gave you alreasdy?’
‘Yeah, yeah, yeah! C’mon, what do you got?’
‘Jesus!…ok, come in, I’m giving you 12 rush press releases for Wall Street.’
By midsummer, after throwing myself headlong and headfirst into this new job, this new life threatening daily adventure, and throwing every caution I ever had to the place dark in my mind where such things go to be ignored, I had consistently and stubbornly become the top earner.
I was no longer who I thought I was, no longer who I was running from, an identity slipping slowly, imperceptively into a fading numb anonymity.
I was just Rabbit, a nickname
made official by my dispatcher
which meant everyone had to use it.
And that suited me just fine.
And as I listened to the dire warnings about the oncoming snowstorm that January morning, as I stared numbly from my second floor window in the Brooklyn Heights duplex where I lived, as I considered what it would take to ride over the Brooklyn Bridge to get to the office on 24th and Broadway, I consciously made a decision most people in their right mind wouldn’t.
But I was on a mission, a journey to erase what I couldn’t face, to forget what I didn’t want to remember….so down the two flights of stairs and out the heavy oak doors and down the brownstone stoop I walked.
The snow was blowing so heavy and hard, I could barely see the arch at the mouth of Prospect Park just across the street, undeterred I rode off with my brand new bright red messenger bag slung over my shoulders and a pocket full change for phones, the public phones that littered almost every corner then.
A lifeline for a quarter.
to be continued….