| The City Visible
New York times, November 16, 2008
By CAROLINE H. DWORIN
“IT’S Russian roulette every day,” said Cassandra Castillo, a tough,
tattooed 26-year-old who is one of the city’s handful of female bike
messengers. “Every day we’re two paychecks away from disaster.”
Each morning, Ms. Castillo removes her bike from its hook on the
ceiling of her apartment in Greenpoint, Brooklyn, pulls her short dark
hair into a ponytail, checks Weather.com (“Messengers live by
Weather.com,” she said) and hopes that the day’s hustle will treat her
According to the New York Bike Messenger Association, of the city’s
approximately 2,000 bike messengers, 50 to 100 are women. The
messengers, however, say they know of only about 30 women, and Ms.
Castillo estimates that a mere dozen of them work full time.
Many of them know one another, if only by the color of their bikes or
the type of bags they carry. Carmen Burkart, a slight, tight-bodied
43-year-old who smokes and drinks only hot coffee for hydration, even
in the summer, can think of only five women who ride full time.
“They want to be safe,” said Ms. Burkart, who, before emigrating from
her native Germany in 1998, worked as a bicycle mail carrier in the
city of Karlsruhe. “They want to dress nice. You have to really have
guts the first time a car goes right by you.”
In Manhattan, cabbies curse and spit. Cigarettes flicked from windows
hit messengers as they pass; pedestrians step into their path seemingly
from nowhere. Sweating and dirty, rained on, snowed on or baked by the
sun, they spend a considerable amount of time waiting for slow and
often foul-smelling freight elevators.
Some are paid by the hour and others by commission, so messengers
usually earn $300 to $800 for a workweek that can run from 40 to 60
hours for full-time messengers. It’s the hustle, though, that keeps
them coming back — “chasing the dollar around town,” as Ms. Castillo
“I wouldn’t want to have your job today!” people often tell her.
She replies: “I wouldn’t want to have your job any day!”