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He’s On A Roll

Veteran bike messenger has ring side seat for city circus

New York Post, March 31, 2008

By C.J. Sullivan

Kevin Bolger refers to the 16 years he's spent as a bicycle messenger in Manhattan as "16 winters," because the cold months are when work is abundant and the weather takes its toll.

The son of a city cabdriver, Bolger, who grew up in Queens and San Diego, got started in the trade at 20, after dropping out of college. His brother had been a bike messenger, but quit after breaking a finger in an accident, and Bolger was bequeathed his messenger bag and bike and took to the streets.
Kevin Bolger
Now 36, Bolger lives with his wife, a former messenger, and baby boy in Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brooklyn. He still rides daily, but he's slowing down some - last year he opened his own messenger company, CycleHawk, and spends part of the day off the street, answering phones and hustling new clients.

Bolger, a lanky, laid-back sort who resembles a California surfer until he speaks up and a full-blown Noo Yawk accent emerges, sat down with The Post in the company's small office near the Port Authority Bus Terminal. The walls are decorated with posters promoting various bike races and hard-rock bands, as well as memorials to messengers killed in the line of duty.

I loved biking as a kid. My first job was as a newspaper delivery boy, when I was 11. I thought it was cool that you could make money being outside riding a bike.

I graduated high school in Queens, from Archbishop Malloy, and went to college in Arizona. I lasted just a few weeks before I realized I didn't want any more of school. So I came back to New York and did odd jobs, like working in a warehouse and as a security guard. I was 20, and I wasn't enjoying work and had no idea what to do with my life.

When I saw my brother's bike and messenger bag, I thought, let me try this. I took a job and fell in love with it. It was hard work, but I felt good physically, and being outdoors was freedom. So I just kept at it.

If you want to be a good messenger and make money, you wake up nice and early and be sure your bike and equipment are ready to go. You check the weather so you have the proper gear on. I carry a spare tube and a pump because the main thing that keeps you from rolling is a flat.

I ride in from Brooklyn at 6:30, and I'm ready to go by 7:15. Work starts coming in at 8. We pick up from architectural firms - they have blueprints in tubes and they need to get them out. A lot of fashion houses use us.

On most days I'm out on the bike half the day. I set up the office and deliveries, and then hit the streets when it gets busy. In the afternoons I'll either work the office or go around and try to develop clients. We're bringing in two to three clients a week, and we started six months ago, so so far we're good.

The best days of messengering are gone. The computer and fax cut into the business. But there's still plenty of work. I don't know about anywhere else, but in Manhattan there's still a lot of stuff that people need to see physically in their hands as fast as we can get it to them.

It's a rush when you get a package to someone real quick, and they ask how you can get around so fast. On a bike, you can move. I ride more carefully now than when I was younger, but even riding careful a bike is a fast way to get through the city. It becomes almost a meditation, and you feel like you're right in the middle of New York.

When something happens in New York, a messenger sees it first. This is the most interesting city in the world, and you're part of it every day. I've rode past bank holdups and elephants walking down Seventh Avenue.

The bad part is snow, rain, injury and danger. Messengers get killed out there. You have to be careful.

I never wore a helmet until 2005. I was coming across the Williamsburg Bridge, and as I changed lanes I misjudged the speed of a car and got T-boned. The car just rammed me, and I smashed into the windshield. That was the closet I ever came to eating it. I wound up with nine stitches. Now I wear a helmet anytime I get on a bike. I learned.

I've done 16 winters on this job and always loved it. This job gives you freedom. You can work hard during the winter and travel when it gets slower in the summer. I've traveled the world.

But now I'm older, and we have a baby, and my priorities are different. I'm thinking 10-15 years down the road. This job wears you down physically, so I'll have to stop one day. That's why I wanted to start a business, so I can work inside. I still love riding the bike, but this is a young man's game.

Link  - CycleHawk Messengers New York City




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