Couriers on bicycles, “messengers,” sometimes go places off-limits to mere workaday citizens in suits. They meet people, mundane and exceptional, famous and infamous, in brief exchanges of package for signature, pickups and deliveries. Everyone knows about the messenger’s adrenaline-infused city sprint and flash, skinny tire en pointe traffic ballet. But when not on the road, the courier must negotiate different hazards.
Manhattan, circa 2004 --
I got the call for a special run. It was a "Double Rush," meaning theoretically what you are carrying on your back goes direct from pickup to drop-off, nothing in between. Any other jobs in your bag are supposed to be sidelined. So the client gets practically beam-it-over service. Bicycle messengers like Rushes and love Double Rushes because they make more money.
This particular run came with unusual instructions. I was told to go to a corner, something like Grand and Centre. At that point I was to call a number and speak with "Elvis." Now, I'm a longtime fan of The King since well before the 1968 Comeback Special; but on that day, well into my mid-late forties, a grown-man daredevil-bicyclist literally risking life and limb in pre bike lane NYC to rush, for example, stiletto heeled slippers to glowing, nipply, ecstasy enhanced supermodels -- it wasn't until that day I found out that Elvis is an asshole. And probably a douche bag.
My dispatcher tipped me off -- this was a celebrity run, and I gave not one damn. I was very focused on messengering, and being a messenger and doing that seriously, because I didn't want to get busted up or killed, and I wanted to make money. I saw five messengers get or just got killed on the road. It's sobering. The last one I saw was on Park Ave South around 30th street. The guy was folded inside the front right wheel well of a bus. He looked like he was sleeping. I quit a few months after that; the joy of a speedy slalom, skirting moving obstacles never goes away, but the bullshit guaranteed to come when dealing with jerks, Elvis being the least of them, and the danger, made me see the end. God bless the messengers out there for twenty plus years.
Then there's "The Rule™." Before I get back to the story, let me explain The Rule. I discovered it. I coined the term after a year or two in the messenger game. My Rule™ postulates that on any day of bicycle messengering, the courier will encounter no less than three incidents of a deadly, random event. By deadly, I mean you can be killed. By random I mean you have no control and there is no possibility of taking control of the event in an attempt to alter the outcome. As skilled, professional and careful as you are, gifted with a sense of radar curving around that box truck or bus, this will happen three times every day. Guaranteed. At some point I discovered this phenomenon and began counting. That's one. Two. There's three...another reason why I eventually retired from messengering.
Anyway, I arrived at Grand and Centre and called "Elvis." He was a hipster dick. Like the hipster of today, Elvis feigned anger, was clearly not from New York and to compensate, spoke fast and unintelligibly like he was running away from his true accent. His accent being that of a stuttery weasel. Why was Elvis annoyed? I wasn't sufficiently clairvoyant to sense the actual building address from his massive brainwave. Then I persuaded him to tell me.
The next set of instructions told me to proceed to the address and call again. Fast-forward four seconds. I call again. I assume he was looking out of a window or security camera to see if I was hot enough to be granted entry. I was. He instructed me to buzz a particular apartment number. I hung up, chained my bike and walked over to the buzzer, which was completely messed up -- not one legible digit or character on it. Even the spray painted graffiti tags were obliterated and extra-indecipherable. I called Elvis back. He was beyond annoyed, pissed, so I responded in-kind and mashed the hell out of every button on the goddamned panel and literally broke a few. The door buzzed open.
I saw an elevator in the vestibule, but no call button. It must have been 100% keyed, I can't remember, but I couldn't get the elevator. I waited thinking maybe he was sending it down. Nope. That would take practical intelligence. Dreaded it, but I had no other option but to call The King again. He screamed distorted commands into my ear, his loud, crackly weasel-tone attaining zero intelligibility. But then...the elevator lurches downward, I get in and I'm already jonzin' to get back on the road. Stillness is anathema to messengers.
The elevator door opened directly into a loft apartment. A few steps forward and I'm in someone's kitchen. Nice place. A woman steps over to me holding a package, no sign of Elvis. I said the usual "Hi, Elite Courier, picking up." She had a very warm smile, looked Italian, asked if I wanted a drink, I said no. I exchanged my canary copy (receipt) for the package and she gave me a long, direct look, half opened her mouth as if to say something, but in that space of time I was already back-stepped into the elevator ready to roll. It was a weird, brief encounter wherein you know the person sees something in yourself, which can be uncomfortable. At the time I thought she merely saw another Italian American. Or maybe I resemble John Turturro a bit. Perhaps I looked good -- compared to Angry-Elvis. Who knows?
Her name is Sofia Coppola. Angry-Elvis? Quentin Tarantino, who played an Elvis impersonator once on the “Golden Girls” TV show. Both successful movie directors. Their relationship lasted two years. Coppola sold the loft in 2012 for 2.75 million. A Chinatown bargain!
Later in the week I regretted not initiating a conversation with Coppola. Hey, everyone needs a break in life, friends in high places, a leg up. Entrée. I never had the ability to capitalize on the rapid-fire mobile roulette of chance encounters that is bicycle messengering. You meet all sorts and sometimes they are movie directors. I should have said outright: “My severely ethnic, authentic faccia brutta is quality character-actor material. Put me in a film. I’d play perfectly at the Copa smoking in a shiny suit; or as the messenger delivering your Double Rush on a hot, gritty, New York day, in black and white.”