Desmond* has been a weed courier on and off for almost four years. He’s in his mid-twenties now, but he was still in college when he heard about the opportunity through a classmate. He works three days a week, and makes, on average, 15 deliveries a day. If he makes more than 20, he gets a free bag. Usually he’ll give it away or resell it — he used to be a big stoner, but he doesn’t smoke much any more; certain strains make him anxious.
The work helps him pay off his student loans and subsidizes his creative pursuits (he’s in two bands and does photography on his days off). When he’s working, he looks like any one of the hundreds of bike messengers who speed around New York City, clad in shorts, perched on a single-speed bike, with a bag and a couple of delivery tubes slung over one shoulder. And like any other messenger, he can be at your door in 20 minutes or less.
*Not his real name.
I remember I met him at a Dunkin’ Donuts on, like, 60th and Second Avenue.
There was really no interview — he was like, “So, you can ride?” I was like, “Yes, I can ride.” He was like, “You got a bike?” And I showed him my bike outside. He said, “That’s shit. We can take care of that.”
(A month or two months later, he put in $800 and I put in $400 — it was like a $1,200 Bianchi.)
At the end he was like, “All right, man, get yourself another coffee.” He threw me a $50 bill and just walked out.
And then I started up. I was the highest-paid rider, at $220 a day. Starting salary is $300 now. There was five or six of us. He would only send us to Williamsburg, and it was only if the customer was buying more than one piece, and mainly he’d be like, “No, sorry, we don’t do Brooklyn.” Now we do all of Brooklyn. We do all of Manhattan. There are about 25, 26 of us.
Back in the day, you just needed a normal old phone. Now, you have to have a Blackberry. It’s a must, ’cause we use BBM — you know, the whole Blackberry messenger — so it can’t be traced. We’re just like dirty politicians.
I check in in the morning between 8:30 and 10 o’clock, just write, “checking in.” Somewhere before 11:30, whenever he wakes up, he will hit you back with a meeting spot, which is usually somewhere in midtown. He’ll be like, “All right, 34th and whatever, 1 p.m.” You always meet at 1 p.m.
You go to the meeting spot, and you get loaded up by one of your superiors. You get this black Pelican case. You know Pelican cases? They’re used for film, or — what are they called? Things you put on top of your gun? Scopes.
They can either try to sneak it under the table, which a lot of the time a lot of them will do, to be safe, but, honestly, you can just hand it right over the table because it’s just a black box. And it has a lock on it, too.
Cops in New York have a lot of things to deal with. They have to worry about 9-11s and Times Square. When it comes to drugs, they’re looking for the suppliers. They’re not even looking for my boss, they’re looking for the people who supply to my boss. They’re looking for the coke lords, who’s making all the fucking meth and crack in what apartment in what part of New York. It’s just weed, you know? Even if you do get caught — we’ve had one guy who got caught last summer — you pay like $300 in fines, which is one day of work for us. Not a big fucking deal.
You have to have a reference. You can’t just call out of the blue and say, “I don’t know anyone, I just picked this number up off the street.” Once you’re in the system, you’re good to go.
It’s a pager: Call the pager, leave your number, and then dispatch will call you back. Then dispatch sends a message to one of us, whoever is closest, and [whistles] off we go.
Friday, Saturday, Sunday is when people buy the most. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday — those are dead days. Yesterday [a Wednesday] from 1 to 5:30, I had zero deliveries. I just sat in Starbucks, and I was writing and reading and relaxing.
Upper West and Upper East are the least busy. I would say the East and West Village consistently throughout the day will order the most. Midtown. Brooklyn is unpredictable. But everybody likes the same stuff. Unless, of course, you know, you’re dealing with people who are smoking strictly for health reasons. And we do have a lot of those. There’s a few places I’ve been where I don’t know what’s going on, but the energy is just really, really sad. A nurse will be buying it, and there’s a big curtain around a certain area and I don’t know what’s going on back there, but she’s holding a piece of paper, and she’s like, “Do you have something that is indica-based or sativa-based?”
I have a couple — I go to them all the time — and they always like to get Sour Diesel, because it relaxes your body and all your joints; it helps you sleep. We have a “buy four, get one free” deal, but you can double that — buy eight, get two free — and someone did that right before I went to them and bought out all the Sour Diesel. They’re adorable, but they’re 80 years old, he’s almost entirely deaf. I’m sitting on the couch with them, and she’s like, “HE’S GOT NO SOUR DIESEL!” — like, screaming it in his ear — “NO SOUR DIESEL?!” They kind of cussed me out a little bit.
People really are looking for specific strains. Not only people who need it medicinally, but people who are just weed nerds. They’ll be like, “Is that a sativa-indica hybrid?” And I’d have no idea, so now I have look them up on like strain.com or leafly.com. I’m only now just realizing that it’s my job to know.
Every few hours, he’ll ask you for your stats. How many headies do you have left, how many middies, wax, hash, how much money do you have? If you are running low before 6 o’clock, he will reload you. If you’re running low at 8 or 9, you just might get cut early, which means like maybe $30 or $40 less. And we all bitch about it because we want as much money as possible.
We only do $50 worth or more. We don’t do change. It’s $50: Have $50. Mainly because we can pocket extra cash. It’s wintertime, and people have the audacity to be like, “That’s really inconvenient that you don’t have change, man.” I remember I turned on this one Wall Street guy, because I saw him on the regular. I was like, “Yeah, it’s really inconvenient that I just biked through a blizzard, got here in 20 minutes.” I was like, “Lemme ask you something: Pizza guy get here in 20 minutes?” “No.” “Is pizza legal?” “Yeah.” “You tip your pizza guy?” “Yeah.” “Have you ever tipped me?” And I was like, “Sorry, I don’t have change. This $10 can make up for every time you didn’t tip me, fucking prick.”
I don’t expect a tip from you if you offer hospitality, and a lot of people are like that. People will be like, “Wanna have some dinner with us? Do you want to smoke?” Which I’m vehemently opposed to on the job, with the exception of late at night. If it’s been a long Saturday, I would love to have a hit, and, like, play some stupid video game with you, absolutely.
Or, two weeks ago, I delivered somewhere in Tribeca. I ring; the apartment door opens up: just a guy in a purple thong, and he’s holding a glass of wine. I come in, and it’s him and his partner, and they’re like, “Would you like some mac and cheese?” Yes, I would like some mac and cheese. And I go into their living room, and I don’t know what the professional word is, but they’re crystal, like, rock collectors, and they have all these display cases on the walls that are all empty. They’re organizing. So they have millions of dollars’ worth — these guys are loaded — of rocks on the floor. I’m sitting on the floor with them, eating mac and cheese, drinking wine, you know, going through their rocks.
Things like that happen all the time. And at the end he’s like, “You know, we have too many of these. Here” — gives me a purple crystal — “it’s worth, like ,$1,000. Keep it.” It’s going to be my gem of the job. When I’m old, I’ll look at it and be like, “I remember my job as a bike messenger.”
I fell in love with this girl a month and a half ago. It was in the West Village, on Jones Street. I mean, she had me sold right away, aesthetically. Not even her look — she opened the door, she’s wearing a Metallica T-shirt, she’s wearing Lord of the Rings leggings, and she’s wearing the Eddie Van Halen Signature Converse.
And, I’m not — I don’t know how to do the whole talking-to-girls thing. I’m just standing there, like, “Eh, eh, eh,” and finally I’m like, “Everythingyou’rewearingisawesome.” I think I said that directly. We ended up hanging out, and of course we talked metal and Tolkien. Turns out she also really loves Russian literature, and I’m a huge Dostoyevsky and Gogol fan. And we just hit it off.
I completely blew it.
I finally had to go. I’m standing at the door, and we’re still talking, and I’m like “All right, I’ll see you later,” and I just grabbed for the door, and I looked back and I just saw her eyes, like: Oh! Like, speechless. Like, You’re not going to ask me to hang out or anything? And as soon as I shut the door, I’m in the hallway just like, Oh, God, this fucking sucks.
I couldn’t — I wanted to so bad — but I just couldn’t do it, because I knew I was going to want to hang out with her all the time.
Come 10 o’clock, all the coffee shops are closed.
Sometimes you literally just walk with your bike in circles around New York, ’cause there is nowhere to go. The phones stop at 11 p.m., but if 15 people call for just my region at 10:40, I have to finish them all, so there are nights that I’m still riding at 11:45.
If I’m still doing it in a year and a half, I’ll have a problem. But I’ll do it for at the least another year or so, because I’d just like to take out a good, like, $15,000 of my student loans. That would feel good.
I have to admit, it’s the first time I’ve had money in New York. I used to be so broke that I could barely afford groceries, go out with friends. My fridge is stocked now. I cook like a motherfucker, you know? And I enjoy going out. My little sister came up, I took her to Broadway; we saw McKellen and Stewart in No Man’s Land. It’s just those little things that you don’t get to enjoy in New York if you’re not doing relatively OK.
So I’m kind of trying to enjoy that.
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This article from the Village Voice Archive was posted on April 16, 2014