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

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Nerves of Steel
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 By Noreen Mallory

Mess Media, November 5, 2005

Most everybody knows that New York City is a place where things are moving a mile per minute. This ain’t Idaho and to survive in the city you have got to move fast. Noone knows this better than Kurt Boone.

Boone, a Queens, New York native, is right in the middle of the madness on a daily basis. As a messenger, he is part of a group of people who quite literally keep the city moving.

“I was a messenger for four years from 1990 to 1994 and then I  stopped and then I became a messenger again from 1999 til today,” he says.

“I had actually looked at messenger work in high school and when I was a track star here in New York City. They would hire guys like us to deliver packages in the city and this is around 1977, 1978.”

But after graduating high school, he pursued his college education.

“I went to Los Angeles and got a degree in business from Los Angeles City College. But I came back to New York after a few career jobs that didn’t work out. I decided to go back into messaging work part time in 1990 to begin a career as an entrepreneur.”

And that penchant for independence and the entrepreneurial spirit seems to be a common thread in the messenger world.  To be a messenger, one needs a certain level of  individualism.

“You have actors. You have entrepreneurs like me. I’m a salesman. There are three kinds of messengers in New York City. I’m a foot messenger. I ride the subway and walk five to seven miles a day. Then you have a bike messenger who’s riding a bike maybe 25 or 30 miles a day depending on how many packages we get. But from that you have different entrepreneurs. Most of the bike messengers are into bicycle culture, you know, selling bicycles, building their own bikes. With foot messengers, it varies. You have a lot of foot messengers who are artists. They do different drawings and stuff like that. They paint. Me myself you know, I’m  a writer. I write poetry.”
In addition to foot and bike messengers, New York City also has van drivers to manage those oversized or heavy deliveries. But no matter what type of messenger you are, one thing is clear: time is most definitely of the essence.
“All messenger companies standards are to deliver packages within an hour. I’m not sure if it’s in other cities or just New York.”

A typical day for Boone, a slender, fast paced man, includes rising early and getting mentally prepared for a day of constant running from place to place in a hurry. Once in Manhattan the race is on. He is on a payphone calling his dispatcher at Mobile Parcel Carriers to get info – the location, the job number and contact person - for his first pickup. Once he has made pickup and delivered, it all starts again with the next package.

“I write all this stuff from the dispatcher. I have a little notebook where I’m writing all this information down. I’m actually getting all of this information in two minutes time or less. That’s the way it is. That’s the way the industry is. They give it to you really, really fast in messenger talk. You have to learn it first but I’ve been on it 10 years so I know how to do it but it’s a very fast language.”

Although as a messenger, Boone is whipping around the city helping to keep other businesses moving, he is busy with his own entrepreneurial pursuits. He has his own marketing company and has various clients in New York City. In addition, he has several book projects in development. Being able to do all of these things while being a messenger is one of its attractions.
“I like the personal freedom there where I’m able to do my entrepreneurial projects. That makes it great. The bottom side of that is it doesn’t pay enough money.”

Since he has traveled throughout Manhattan and the surrounding boroughs, Boone has seen and knows much of  New York. He has also made some memorable deliveries including one to former President Bill Clinton’s Harlem office, another to Bill Cosby’s home.

But being one of what he says is approximately 7,000 messengers of all stripes in the city, he feels the public has a certain view of messengers.
“The general public perceives messengers as I would say a street kid job. We all wear kind of funny clothes. A lot of times we don’t make a lot of money so we’re in raggedy shirts and beat up sneakers and our hair is all jammed up so we really look like real street people that’s trying to make a living.”
But, no matter what, messengers are out there keeping the city moving, hustling and bustling in any situation.
“I would say one of my wildest experiences was maybe five months ago.  It was just raining unbelievably hard.  It’s like a brutal day, wet all over. All of the messengers were feeling it that day and my cell phone got busted and I had it in my bag, my pocket. This is the first time my cell phone got busted because of a thunderstorm. It set me back so I had to get an emergency phone. But that day was the most unusual for all the messengers. It was just raining like crazy. Just a real nasty day. I think over the 10 years, I’ve had quite a few nasty days but that last one was the worst.”
Sometimes what is being delivered distinguishes a messenger job more than the circumstances surrounding it.
 “A person say on Fifth Avenue who lives in a $3 million apartment. They send you out to pick up dog food, you know special dog food to deliver to them. I mean it varies. You get a lot of bulky stuff. You get stuff that’s sometimes heavy.  It’s kind of crazy…It’s all crazy. It’s hard to put a name on it”.
Boone is recognized in the industry for his abilities to move critical packages swiftly and says one has got to be ready for the messenger business to succeed.
“You gotta know what you are doing and the streets of New York are tough so you have to be tough. Not that you get into confrontations with people but I’m always on the move so I’m going through people at a very fast pace. It’s a tough kind of experience in that you’re running through the streets and cars all day and it takes a certain kind of mindset to do that because it’s not easy and most of the messengers themselves are tough. And generally, we are streetwise kids. So most of the messengers, they expect you to be streetwise. So when I indicated about dispatch giving me the work, dispatch doesn’t tell me how to get everywhere. They just dispatch the job and you are expected to know how to get there. And so you come into that expected to be streetwise. And if you are not streetwise, you have to learn it pretty fast otherwise you can’t be a messenger”.

Send comments or suggestions, to: mima@messmedia.org

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