monitors, analyzes and corrects media reporting errors and bias concerning messengers and couriers.

Messenger Institute
 for Media Accuracy

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The Messenger and the City

In the article below the author states that in the case of opening a door in front of a bike"the rule's simple: if the taxi passed you, stopped and the door opens, it is the taxi's fault. If the taxi was there before you it is yours."

That's wrong. N.Y.C. Traffic Rules section 4-12(c) states: "No person shall get out of any vehicle from the side facing on the traveled part of the street in such manner as to interfere with the right of the operator of an approaching vehicle or a bicycle."

Fault always belongs to the person who opens his or her door into traffic.

The Messenger and the City

Big News, March 2004
By Richard Thomas

One, if not the most bone- rattling job making the Big Apple go around is being a bike messenger in Manhattan.We all know the high-tech helmet-headed spandexed-trialthalonic Goliath types snaking, wailing and weaving up 6th Avenue. I'm not sent out on suicide-mission timeframe deliveries...

I do not have an all aluminum ultra-light racing bike and my seat does not extend 18 inches into the lower stratosphere. I ride a medium weight mid-size mountain bike. I cruise and criss-cross this island, sometimes several times each and every day just trying to make a decent wage. It really is a cool job.

There is no dress code or time clock to punch out and since it is on-commission, you pretty much write your own paycheck. You are out in the great wide-open canyons of this city and some of the views are understatedly spectacular. Did you know that when the sun is setting, just after it dips below the horizon, if you stand on the corner of 57th and 6th on the north side of the street, look westward and focus in on the beauty of Carnegie Hall, as the sun hits the federal brick for some reason Carnegie Hall takes on the most eerie phosphorescent orange-blue iridescence? There is so much stunning beauty in so many timeless buildings all around this city that sometimes it is just plain difficult to not say "Now it's my turn to stand and stare" but then I'd never get paid...

Knowing Manhattan's Bermuda Tri-Bec-Angle is the difference between getting 9 runs a day and 30. At a citywide average of $3.50 per run, this breaks down to about $30 dollars a day--versus $75. No kidding. You'd better know where Laight street ends and Avenue of the Americas begins, Harrison Street; Varick Street; Hudson Street; and the seemingly never-ending Greenwich Street; Leonard Street; The old G.E. building and let's not forget all of the area on the other side of the West Side Highway. North End St., River Terrace... and then what about Barclay St.? Then there is China town. Do you know where Pell Street is? What about The Two Bridges area? Did you know East Broadway runs east west? Sometimes you have to use your radio just to call in and ask for directions. This is the oldest big city in America; therefore it can be very easy to get lost if you don't know your way around. You better hope you are in good favor with your dispatcher.

The Swivel Chair Commando is a seasoned dispatcher that can pinpoint your location and ETA by triangulating (1) the what-time- of-day-traffic, (2) knowing which buildings have the Stone Age elevators (3) and what offices the "Black Hole Messenger Center"-- where time and the courier just disappear. After 9/11 it is security on top of security. A classic example of an office space where you can disappear is 200 Park--that's Park, not Park Avenue South. The Met Life Building, formerly The Pan Am, is like a bad dream. Just entering the general area on 43rd street you are likely to encounter a Port Authority Police cruiser full of donuts, the bomb sniffing Canine Unit, a couple of horse-mounted NYPD, the regular NYPD, and maybe even a couple of black beret camouflage-wearing Marines with side arms and machine-guns or the security for the Met Life building itself--any one or all of whom may demand a photo ID on the spot. Then you go into the very bowels of this monstrosity of a building where you wait in a queue with other couriers for, yes, instant photo ID. Yes, that's what they do--and only after they contact the recipient/pickup-person or company. This can eat up 20 minutes--and then you go to an elevator bank, down four flights where you emerge and wend your way through brightly lit corridors to yet another elevator bank where you surrender this photo ID and get another ID allowing you to go up 8 flights and wait for the person to either bring you the package or sign for the one you are dropping off. All in all you can expect to be in the building the better part of an hour! What a waste. Having a dispatcher who is aware of all of these factors is the major key to getting a decent paycheck. However, if your dispatcher has a "favorite" who he gives all the work to---while he does what is commonly known as one-ing you to death, you have a problem. This fully blows because it means he is sending you all over Manhattan with one letter or package at a time. Translation: if you don't grease the dispatcher/Swivel Chair Commando with party favors, cigarettes or kickbacks, your pay packet will not be anything near in weight to a lead Zeppelin.

Cobble-Stoned to the Bone can be a most dreaded thing. Like a Pavlov dog, you ominously sense when a cobblestone street is somewhere near. Even your bike knows it. It's like being strapped to a jackhammer while being dragged behind a pickup. But you can take some measures to avoid the wretched stonework. Park outside the area and walk, for example. That makes for easy deliveries down on Greene or Mercer. But while plain cobblestone can be bad enough, in the now fashionable area just below 14th by Hogs and Heifers in the meat district, the cobblestone's booby-trapped. Tiny jagged pieces of broken glass embedded like punji stakes lay in wait--silent as a claymore mine.

Murray Hill can be murderous...If I get a call first thing in the morning from the offices on 28th Street on the west side to say, 444 Madison, I know I'm in for a grinder. There is no quick way to avoid going up that hill. But--even more a reason to avoid the hill--is the traffic in the area. Fact is, it is a demolition derby comprised of taxis, double-length busses, and fully loaded freight trucks, UPS trucks, motorcyclists, bicycle messengers, Vespa couriers and pedestrians--with everyone seemingly in major desperation hurry. You're trying to squeeze through two big trucks, and just as you're in the middle of a small space, they start veering together on either side and let me tell you, if you haven't started praying by now it's definitely time to find Jesus! Sometimes you can get lucky by doing something dangerous-- and of course illegal--but it's about as close you can get to surfing in the streets of Manhattan. I am sitting at the light on 36th and Madison right next to a city bus and see the gas tank nozzle door at the back on the left side that is beckoning so conveniently and already bent ajar from countless other messengers. So I look around...no cops, and I'm off on the big pull! Hopefully this will be good for at least a couple of blocks. Can you blame me? Once you cross 34th street, its almost straight uphill for maybe 10 blocks.

Riding In the Bush Lane...It always amazes me when people stick on the street and wait to see someone famous. Everywhere I looked when the president's in town, there were people sitting and waiting for a glimpse. During such hold-ups--especially when the UN's in session, an odd traffic phenomenon exists: standstill traffic while right next to the bumper-to-bumper seething anger are open lanes... wide open lanes. Not one lane but several lanes all over town. Blocked off with pretty orange cones that stretch all across big wide streets. So that there's a whole lane or two across 57th, or 42nd, or up 1st Ave--with only one thing in common--people sitting and waiting everywhere. But I do what I have to do to save time and make lots of money--I take off in the Bush Lane--and get all over this town real quick. So if you happened to have seen a bike messenger wailing down Broadway all alone, it was probably me...riding in the Bush Lane.

A pair-a-lypse now... Sometimes the people you meet during the course of a working day ask you to do things that you would otherwise not consider. One morning while dropping off a package, there was this nice looking redhead in a tight, slinky little black cocktail dress just staring at me, smiling. I walked right up to her and said like any other red-blooded American "Do you want to make out?" She said, "I haven't made out in years". And I said, "Well you must be ready." "Would you like to have a drink with me?" she asked. Since it was not yet half-nine the sun had not yet crossed the yardarm, I did a little close examination on my own. She was definitely buzzed. She explained that she had been up for at least 3 days that she could remember, I put it at about 5 or 6. Whatever. I asked where she was staying. With a black lacy arm she pointed/waved in a general westerly like direction and said "That hotel" and I said, "Let's go". She said, "No, no, no we can't go there. My sister and her husband are having this huge fight, what about your place? We need a drink. Do you know where a liquor store is?" I said right there. Just let me call my boss and tell him I have a flat tire while you go get the booze, OK? She said sure and walked into the liquor store only to walk out moments later with no booze and a $20 dollar bill in her hand almost in tears saying they refused to serve her. "They say I am too looped." She was fully bummed. "I can fix that" I said, "Gimmee the dough and let me go". In seconds I returned with this really pretty bottle of Stoli, which immediately put a smile on her face. We walked to a little park with this beautiful misting fountain. Without hesitation she asked "It is soooo hot, do you think anyone would mind if I took off my clothes?" For a moment I thought she was kidding but no...

Now, we were already raising eyebrows during the Monday morning rush, what with our mixing drinks in little cups provided by a hotdog vendor, but ensuing nakedness here near the UN--that didn't seem a formula for the pure pleasure I sought. I turned to dialogue: "Where are you from?" I asked. "I live in Queens," she responded. She started fishing and fumbling around in her pocketbook and then produced a check for $800 dollars which she handed to me and asked "Do you know where we can cash this? I want some pot." Once again she was not kidding. I explained that I have some friends who own bars that could cash the check, but none of them were open yet. I asked her if she liked rock and roll. She said, "I have been dying to go to a blues club--I love the blues. Will you take me to a blues club tonight? I told her I usually got up to play bass with Jon Paris at Lucille's on Monday nights. "That's faaaabulous", she said, "We have plans for tonight, now what about lunch, are you hungry"

Before I could answer I noticed a vague lurking shape. This guy was cock-eyed drunk and leering at us like a stalker. I said, "Is that your boyfriend? She looked down with a frown and said, "That's him." For a moment I feared for my life thought Lynard Skynard's Gimme Three Steps Mister. "Don't worry," she told me. "He won't hurt you". She did say though that he was a "beater. He will beat me for this." Then she asks, "Can I move in with you? I'm a great cook. I have great underwear and I'm a lot of fun, really! I am dead serious you can take me home with you right now." Now I was sure: I had no idea what was going on. But whatever the case, this was not my kind of party. I up and bailed lickety-split.

Things to Remember...This is a dangerous job. There is no question here. The most common accident is when a taxi is right in front of you and the passenger door swings open. If you're lucky you have enough time to break into a dead skid and pray. But often you take the spill. As for assigning fault (we must do that, mustn't we?), the rule's simple: if the taxi passed you, stopped and the door opens, it is the taxi's fault. If the taxi was there before you it is yours. [actually that is wrong, it's the person's fault who opens the door-always] Whatever the case, get the license number and check your bike for damage. The first time this happened to me, I was so happy to not be hurt badly, I just let it go. When I got back on my bike, I realized my whole front end twisted, and the rim was bent into uselessness. By this time, the taxi was gone. The other time the passenger took a quick look at the situation and ran away. The driver--also aware of possible repercussions, suddenly sped off. I was left lying in the middle of the road. Fortunately I wasn't seriously injured and my bike was not damaged.

Here are a few facts for your information, If you run a stop sign, this ticket will cost $140.00. If you are caught going the wrong way on a city street, it is a $40.00 summons. If you are stopped by a policeman for riding on the sidewalk, this is not only an arrest able offense, it is also an environmental infringement. If the policeman is not in a good mood, he can arrest you, impound your bike and write you a whopping $400.00 ticket, I am not sure why bicycles and sidewalks are related to the environment but this law does make a lot of sense. I mean you have to agree, little old ladies, pregnant ladies. children and invalids should not have to compete for space on any city sidewalk. The policeman who told me about all of these statistics used to work in Crown Heights. He said they use this law all the time to stop bicycles, and I was amazed at the stories of guns, drugs, knives and people who are wanted or have a warrant who were put away just for being stupid enough to ride a bike on the sidewalk.


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