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Checking In On The King Of The Streets




CBS, November 26, 2008


From the 1960s to the '90s, CBS News correspondent Charles Kuralt was "On the Road," looking for stories and people where no one else was looking. Kuralt died in 1997, and many of the people he discovered are gone as well. But the stories haven't ended. That's why we sent CBS News correspondent Steve Hartman to follow Kuralt's trail, "On the Road … Again."


In a city known for crazy drivers, he may have been the craziest. He was a guy who cheats death by sometimes just a fraction of an inch … just like he did when Charles Kuralt met him 23 years ago.





Back then, Kuralt asked David Leopold, a New York City bike messenger: "You don't stop for red lights?"

"I don't stop for red lights," Leopold said.

"You don't stop for pedestrians," Kuralt replied.

"I go against traffic. People go, "gasp gasp," he said. "All day long I hear that."

As Kuralt said in his original report: "At 24, David Leopold is an outlaw legend - the fastest and the flashiest of Manhattan Island's last romantic adventures - the bicycle messenger. He passes trucks, he passes busses, he passes mounted policemen as if they were standing still - and all taxi cabs."

Leopold told Kuralt: "I can ride between objects that leave me an inch-and-a-half on each side. So technical …you know, it's like a surgeon's hand," he said.

Given his cockiness and daredevil-may-care attitude, Hartman said he thought for sure Leopold would be roadkill by now.

"It is a dangerous job," he said. "Only the strong survive."

And yet he's still here - with at least one grey hair for every near-death experience.

The other big difference is, if you strap on camera on him today, you'll see something in his riding that definitely wasn't there in the original Kuralt footage: An actual modicum of good judgment.

Nowadays, Leopold even stops for baby carriages.

"I am cautious because I want my children to have a father and my wife to have a husband."

Those dependents, those beautiful dependents, have not only made Leopold a safer biker, they've made him a mostly behind-a-desk biker. The only riding he does now is to work.

Today he owns his own messenger service called Cavalry Couriers. It's one of the few remaining messenger services in the city. Apparently ever since the fax came out business has been going downhill. Half of him wonders if the profession will be obsolete by the time his son can ride.

"Ian does have it in his blood, I can see it," Leopold said.

Hartman asked: "If he came to you and said, 'I want to be just like you dad,'" what would you think?

"I would think I've done something wrong as a dad," he laughed.

But Leopold says if he insists, he hopes he does it for the right reason - a reason Charles Kuralt summed up so eloquently.

"Leo's in it for the joy of passing everything that moves on the island of Manhattan - and of doing this one thing better than anybody else on the planet Earth," Kuralt said.

"I'm the king of the street," Leopold told Kuralt.

Now, he tells Hartman: "I'm probably no longer king of the streets, but I gave it my best shot."

The original story that aired in 1985: