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Tuesday, March 23, 2004

I'm excerpting myself tonight, so please pardon me. I wrote this thing about the messenger gig a few months back, just before I left the East Coast and I liked it and haven't done shit with it since, so I've pulled a piece out of the middle (the whole thing is a tad too long for this page) and I'm sticking it up. If anybody out there digs it, lemme know and I'll email a .doc copy of the whole thing.

Enjoy:


The Nextel walkie-talkie on my belt beeps twice. Dave from dispatch, telling me that ADP has a package heading for Long Island, hot-hot, gotta get there like right fucking now. Stratford to Garden City. He repeats everything twice, just to make sure I’ve got it, because the Nextel’s sound quality is about one step up from a tin can attached to a taut string. ADP, Stratford, Garden City. Got it. Run’s worth $75. Pays my gas for the day, puts a couple bucks in my pocket. Cool. Thanks, boss.

Phillip K. Dick goes into my bag, which gets flung into my car through the open window. Keys are already in the ignition. I fire it up, pop the emergency brake, back it up, slam it out on to Bedford, and I’m on my way. Eddy Messenger is on the job.

A sociological equation posted on my webpage a few weeks ago, after a day in the trenches:

I am a unique + beautiful snowflake + I need to get to point X = everyone needs to get to their point X = I'm no different from any of these people = I have become just another warm body in the mob = I am faceless, nameless + distinctly pointless = I need to break out + make myself known as an individual = I am going to buy a high-powered hunting rifle + climb the nearest clock tower.


Long Island is attempting to eat my soul. I am sitting behind the wheel of my wagon, foot firmly on the brake, staring at the ass end of a Ford Excursion that is, no kidding, bigger than my first apartment. It’s red and has a glimmering chrome bumper that reflects sunshine straight into my eyes and I’ve been staring at it for the better part of twenty minutes now.

I glance down at my clipboard, the gray plastic pouch clipped to it, ADP’s logo embossed across it in dark corporate blue. ADP does payroll for companies all over the Tri-State, and Eddy Messenger does a lot of business with them. Usually on Fridays, regular payday, delivering paychecks to companies that don’t trust the Post Office to get stuff there on time. But today’s Monday, and that probably means there was a snafu with this particular set of paychecks, which probably means that there’s a bunch of people who didn’t get paid on Friday, which probably means that they’re pretty pissed off. I mean, I’d be, if I didn’t get paid when I was supposed to.

And they’re probably getting more pissed off by the nano-second, because right now their paychecks are sitting in a blue station wagon that’s stuck in traffic on the Grand Central Parkway.

Here’s how it lays out:

There are two ways into Long Island. Well, actually, there are a lot more than two ways, but there are two obvious ways when you’re coming from Fairfield County. You either take I-95 and go over the Throg’s Neck Bridge or take the Hutchison River Parkway and go over the Whitestone Bridge. It’s a tossup, and 1010 WINS usually tells you what’s the best choice. Here’s today’s report:

“We’ve got an accident on the George Washington Bridge that’s tying up traffic on the Cross-Bronx aaaaaaaall the way back to the Bruckner Expressway and just to make things worse, there’s a stalled semi on the Southbound Turnpike right around Co-op City that’s backing traffic up to Westchester.”

Translated, that means that I-95 is a parking lot for a good six miles, which works out to an hour or so of sitting in an ocean of overheating engines and the occasional impotent horn-honk. Bad choice.

So I grabbed the Hutch and flew south to the Whitestone, feeling smugly superior to all the morons who were currently speeding their way towards the stroke-inducing stress of a quality New York-style traffic jam. I occasionally forget, however, that I’m not the only one who listens to 1010 WINS.

There are approximately 800 million cars waiting in line to cross the Whitestone by the time I get there. I mean that literally. Traffic is stopped so far back that I can’t even see the damned bridge. And there’s nothing to be done about it except sit and wait and fight the urge to squeeze across lanes in a vain and, let’s face it, assholish attempt to cut through traffic faster than everyone else.

So I sit, and I wait.

I listen to NPR, to Leonard Lopate talking to a variety of guests who are high-minded and literate and witty and urbane and that does nothing for me so I switch over to 1010 WINS and listen to news reports about murders and corruption and accusations levied against the President and that helps my mood a bit. The traffic report comes on again and this time they mention that there’s a half-hour delay at the Whitestone Bridge. Hey, thanks guys. I check the dashboard clock. It’s 12:35.

At 1:07, I’m three cars away from the tollbooth. I have a ten-dollar bill in my hand and my patter ready. When I get up to the window, I launch into it.

“Hey, howya doin’?” Shove the money out the window. “Hey, can I get a receipt?”
Sometimes you’ll get a toll booth clerk that smiles and responds, respecting your humanity just as you’ve respected theirs. Sometimes you get someone who doesn’t even bother looking at you, just hands your change and receipt out into the open air for whoever might want them. After you’ve been through the tollbooths a few hundred times, honestly, you don’t notice the difference.

The Whitestone is just as bumper-to-bumper across the span as it was getting on it, which gives me another ten minutes to examine my lot in life. Dave calls in on the Nextel to ask how it’s going when I’m just about dead center on the bridge.

“The Whitestone is attempting suicide, right at the moment,” I reply. There’s a few seconds of silence.

“Okay, well, let me know when you get there. These guys have been calling like every twenty minutes.” I bite back a few quality expletives and key the radio.

“Copy. 10-4. Will do. I’ll letcha know.”

Dave mumbles something and clicks off. I toy with the idea of flinging the Nextel over the side of the bridge and into the river. But then I’d have to pay for it, and the $75 I’m making on this run probably wouldn’t cover it.

Traffic becomes my constant companion over the bridge, down the Cross-Island Expressway and onto the Grand Central Parkway. I find myself slotted in behind that Red Excursion and can’t get away. I watch the temperature gauge on the dash climb and fall, climb and fall, find myself deep in reverie imagining the thermostat opening, the cooling fan kicking on, stinky-sweet coolant coursing through the engine block stealing heat out of the pistons, the lifters, the valves, picture waves of waste heat evacuating out from under the hood, convince myself that I can see it floating off into the atmosphere. I can feel myself slumping lower and lower behind the wheel. I have to keep tilting the rearview mirror down to see anything in it.

And then it breaks. At the Little Neck Parkway exit, just like that. Suddenly I’m going 90 mph, that red Excursion just a blip on the horizon behind me, traffic all around me blazing down the road, all of us with the hammer down, fast wind blowing the memory of stalled traffic out of our heads. We just go and go and go, miles down the road without a hiccup or the slightest tap of the brakes.

I make twelve miles of expressway in ten minutes and come slamming down Glen Cove Road like an Andretti, weaving, bobbing, left lane, right lane, left lane, charge into Garden City like an invading army, blow through four yellow lights and one that might have been red if I’d been looking, and screech to a stop in front a big glass-and-chrome number on Hamilton Street. I get the nose of the wagon even with the sign that says ABSOLUTELY NO PARKING and jump out of the car, heading fast for the lobby.

There’s a security guy, blue blazer and a crewcut sitting behind a desk. He sees me heading across the lobby, a whirling dervish with a gray polo and a clipboard. We both have our badges of office; we know why the other one exists. The conversation is only for the sake of civility. Our business could almost be taken care of with nothing but the simplest of hand signs.

“Heya, man. Looking for,” squint at the package, “Evergraphics.”

“They’re on the seventh floor. Sign here, please.” A cheap ballpoint and the sign-in ledger.

“Sure, no problem.” Scritch-scratch with the pen.

“Is that your car out front?”

“Yeah. Okay to leave it there for a minute?”

“Sure, don’t worry about it.”

“Thanks, bro. Seven?”

“Yeah.”

A mirrored elevator and a ride up to seven. A tiny TV above the control panel that shows me the market scores and headlines from MSNBC. The info society never stops. On seven, a quick dash through beige corporate hallways, a receptionist behind a mahogany desk, smiling, blonde, bland, a question about the weather, a joke about the missing paychecks, a signature on the ticket clipped to the clipboard, verifying the spelling (“That’s J-o-h-a-n-s-s-e-n?” “Uh-huh.”), and I’m gone. Down the stairs, triple-time, almost going headlong more than once, hitting the lobby at something just short of a full sprint, a wave to my bro the security guy (“Thanks, man. Have a good one.” “Yep. You too.”), the wagon, keys, peeling out onto Hamilton.

Keying the Nextel. “Bill to Base.”

“Hey, Bill. All set?”

“Yep. On my way back. Heard anything about traffic?”

“Uh…not really.”

“Shit. I’ll have to take my chances.” I’m grinning. It’s patter. It’s me sharing my relief at getting clear of the package with my boss, who’s sitting in an office in Stamford, not really caring that I’m this relieved, just happy that he won’t have to field any more calls about this run.

“All right, then. We’ll talk to you back in Stamford.”

“Copy, copy. 10-4. Talk to you then.”

Clipping the Nextel back into my belt, radio up, hammer down, Glen Cove Road, heading for the LIE. Weave, bob, honk, grind, gone.

Yeah, anyway, I kinda liked it. There's some better driving stuff in the last part, and some shit about Buttons, but that's about it.

All right, I'm out. Sleep well, children, and I'll talk to you soon.

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