From tech bros to armed robbery,
what it’s like to deliver weed by bike in NYC
In the latest installment of our anonymous interview series, we spoke with three bike messengers who brave cops, robbers and inclement weather to deliver your weed.
Author, as told to
Messenger A is a current messenger who’s been at an upmarket company for three years now.
Messenger B is a former courier for a mom-and-pop service where he worked for two years.
Messenger C just quit the small-scale operation that employed him after a year.
MESSENGER A: I was a bike messenger for three years. I got the job through friends who had started out using the service and eventually got jobs. That’s how most people get into it. They mentioned it to me, and I was like, “Well, I don’t want to be a waiter anymore. This seems pretty good.”
MESSENGER B: I was a bike messenger in New York for two years, from 2010 to 2012. People I know recommended me. It was sort of an inside crew. I did it full-time. I was freelancing here and there, but this is what mainly paid the bills. Truth be told, I wasn’t a typical bike courier, in that the stuff I delivered was drugs, mostly weed. I worked mainly in Manhattan and Brooklyn. I would bike all the way up to Harlem, or all the way down to Prospect Park. There were days when I would bike 40 to 60 miles in a single shift.
MESSENGER C: I had a couple friends who worked for a service. One of them was there for a year already. I was like, “Hey, I need a job.” They were like, “Get a bike and a BlackBerry. And you’re good.” So that’s what I did.
MESSENGER A: Most of my customers were upper-middle-class twenty-somethings. Our service was a little more upscale and expensive. They’re paying for a service. They’re paying for a delivery. They’re paying for the convenience of having a nice, clean-cut, youngish guy come to your door. They could feel safe. They didn’t have to go to the park or into the projects. It kind of eliminated the danger aspect of it.
Some of them were, like, stuck-up Jewish American princesses who loved to gab at me. A lot of them were jocks or bros. Oftentimes, they didn’t have the exact bills. The price was $50, and they’d give you three twenties. We had to inform them that we weren’t able to give change. Mind you, these are people living in beautiful Upper East Side and West Village apartments, probably spending upwards of $1700 on a room. But when it comes down to losing $10, they’ll freak out. They’ll yell at you like it’s your fault. To be fair, most of my clients were nice, but there were a few rotten apples.
I once got into an argument with this one guy for that exact reason: he owed $50 but only had $60. I didn’t have the change. He was living in this loft on this cobblestone street. The elevator doors open directly to his apartment, which takes up the entire floor. He’s this baller guy, obviously very wealthy. Usually, in those situations, you’re in and out. But this guy was looking through every single one of the bags. Asking so many questions. I was already pissed off, because I had to run to my next delivery. I was trying to be polite, and he starts screaming at me: “I’ve been using this service for two years! I’ve never had this happen!” I calmly explained: either I can come back in three hours or you can just eat your loss. I wasn’t about to go to an ATM with this guy and exchange money outside. That’s the reason we come to you.
MESSENGER B: Our clientele was all over the place. The average customer was a twenty-something kid. But you’d be surprised. I’ve delivered to doctors. I’ve delivered to lawyers. I’ve delivered to old ladies with cancer. I’ve delivered to Wolf of Wall Street-type guys. It was a super wide variety of people who used our services.
MESSENGER C: The average customer for this service was your fucking wealthy white dude. Maybe it was a finance guy or maybe it was a tech bro or maybe it was just a kid who came from money. Every now and then, you’d get your creatives: artists, musicians, other cool people. But for the most part it was just bros. A good indicator of the nature of the clientele is that the product itself was, in my opinion, priced far too high for the quality. And, of course, it was only this type of people that would pay for it.
These weren’t people I’d ever want to hang out with outside of my job. That said, I had about 10 regular customers that were older, in their fifties, sixties, seventies. They would always buy in bulk: the larger quantity was a better deal. I loved these people because they were super nice and super interesting. One, in particular, would tell me how he relied on our product to manage his chronic pain. He’d say: “I have back problems. And this helps more than anything has.” That always made me feel good, and almost made up for all the bros.
An illegal business
MESSENGER A: The way it works is, you check in with the boss in the morning to see if you’re working that day, and he tells you where to go. You pick up your packages. The beginning of the day is usually slower. You don’t have any runs right away. You hang tight and go hang out in a prescribed certain area. Then, you kind of just wait around until you get your run. On the weekends it gets really busy. But during the week there’s a lot of downtime. I usually bring a book with me. Or listen to podcasts. Around 5:00 or 6:00, it gets really non-stop. You’re riding around all over the place. You don’t have time to chill anymore.
We handled the deliveries one at a time. They’ll never give you a bunch of appointments all at once because you could just steal the business. If you get the client list, you can be on your way to starting your own company. It’s the kind of setup where you have people who you can depend on more or less, but you can never really fully trust anybody because it’s an illegal business. So it’s easier to lie, and easier to manipulate, easier to steal. Overall, in the end, I think the pros outweigh the cons. And, because of the changing political situation, it’s not going to be around forever. Think of it as the last days of Prohibition: so you may as well enjoy it while you can.
MESSENGER B: I generally worked an eight-hour day. I would start in the early afternoon and keep going until about 10:00 at night. I wasn’t delivering legal packages, but outside of the protocol to account for everything that could go wrong with that, it was pretty much like a normal bike courier job. You had a phone. You had a list of addresses. And you just rolled.
MESSENGER C: I would wake up at noon and make it into the city by 1:00, when I’d receive my “product,” which was a big ol’ box of weed. Sometimes you had a prior schedule set up, so you’d have to be on call those days. And if you weren’t scheduled but you wanted to work, you could check in and see if they needed you. Someone always told you where to go and primed you on anything else. Sometimes it would get really busy immediately. As soon as you loaded up, they’d be like, “Okay. Here are your first five deliveries.” First, you’d receive name and address of the client. Then, you would confirm with the operator that you’d received it. Then, you’d make the delivery. Finally, you’d confirm that you’d made the delivery. The whole time, you would only be working in a specific neighborhood.
in New York City
The total distance of NYC’s network of bike lanes as of 2015
The total distance of bike lanes added in NYC since 2009
The number of bike lanes built under Bill de Blasio’s administration
The number of bike lanes in Brooklyn, NYC’s most bike-friendly borough
The year NYC’s first bike lane was built on Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn
MESSENGER A: Usually you have a designated area. If it gets really busy, they might spread you out a little more, but essentially you’re just in the one area. You can be in a different area every time. One day I’ll be on the Upper West Side. Another day I’ll be in the Financial District. Another day I’ll be in North Brooklyn. I prefer downtown to uptown. My favorite area is the West Village. It’s safer. It’s cleaner. There’s book stores and coffee shops and stuff like that. Overall, it’s a nice place to work. A beautiful Saturday morning in the West Village, drinking your coffee and reading your book and watching the fucking leaves change. That’s a nice day.
Sometimes, I’d see the other employees around. They were similar, mostly white Cali-hipster bros. But they were typically more creative and came from humbler backgrounds, which made them more tolerable than some of the customers.
MESSENGER B: There were times when I would go all the way up to Harlem and all the way down to Prospect Park in a single day. There were days I could ride a total of 40-60 miles in a shift. I liked the variety of riding through different neighborhoods every day. I liked the novelty of riding through a neighborhood I wouldn’t normally be in under ordinary circumstances. Like, if I was up on the Upper West Side on a nice summer afternoon, that’s not something I would see every day. I was living in Brooklyn at the time. I didn’t want to be confined to one neighborhood.
It was a bunch of different young dudes. Most of them had tattoos. Some had piercings. They were kind of hipsters, I guess. I recently watched the show High Maintenance, and thought it was pretty on point. It’s written as a comedy, but it was surprisingly accurate in terms of depicting the kind of clients and coworkers you have.
MESSENGER C: We were dispatched all over the place. I’ve worked in virtually every neighborhood of New York. It operated more or less like any small company. There was a team. All the delivery guys were pretty much like me.
Highs and lows
MESSENGER A: When Bill de Blasio became mayor, he temporarily suspended “Stop and Frisk.” So for a little while, the crime rate surged because people were like, “Oh, we can do whatever we want in the streets right now.” That was the mentality. Suddenly, we started getting robbed at a rate we’d never seen before. Usually, it would happen once every six months, once a year. But for a while there, it was going on, like, two, three times a week. It was a dangerous time. One day, I was doing a normal run. I felt totally safe. I always have my wits about me. Nothing seemed strange or out of place. I was getting off the elevator after my last delivery. All of a sudden, I feel an arm wrap around my neck. I’m like, “Holy shit!”
My first instinct was that a friend had followed me into the building somehow. You know how your friends will surprise and manhandle you as a prank? But it was 9:30 at night on a weekday; there’s no way. The guy pushed me down to the ground and started trying to rip my backpack off. He was screaming: “Give me the drugs! Give me the drugs!” Meanwhile, I start yelling for help as loud as I could. So, this other dude jumped on top of me. He had a box cutter in his hand. He put it right up to my throat.
So, one guy’s choking me and and the other guy is threatening to cut me. This must’ve went on for a minute or so, but it felt like an eternity. Time stood still. Eventually, I realized no one was coming to my aid. Which was crazy. The building was fully populated. Then, out of the blue, they jumped off of me. One goes: “You don’t have any drugs, man?” I’m like: “No! I live here!” They’re like: “Okay! Just go back to your apartment!” I’m like: “Okay! Bye!” And they run out of the building. I just went back up to the apartment I had just delivered to, and chilled for an hour. I never went back again.
A lot of guys would’ve just given up the bag, and I’m not like brave or anything. I don’t know why I didn’t just hand it over. What did I have to lose? It was one of the scariest things that’s ever happened to me, but it’s given me a lot of hindsight. It’s made me hyper-vigilant of my surroundings.
MESSENGER B: I’ve never really had issues or problems with this job. I know robbery is one big problem, and arrest is another, but luckily I haven’t been personally affected by either of those. I think it just worked out for me. On one hand, I’m male and over six feet tall. On the other hand, I’m a nerdy white guy who’s really inconspicuous. No one would ever suspect me.
MESSENGER C: The worst thing about the job is riding through blizzards and rainstorms. You had no choice; you really just had to become one with the weather. There’s almost a Zen aspect to it. You get to the point where you’re like: “I am the rain. I am the snow. I am the wind.” It was pretty hilarious. Aside from that, you’d have a lot of close calls with cars and pedestrians. There are drivers who don’t like bikers, so they’ll try to edge you off the road when they make a turn. You’ve got to hold your ground, otherwise, they’ll take advantage of you.
Robbery is another big problem. One time, l had just done a late delivery, and as I was leaving the building, a guy grabbed me from behind and another grabbed me from the front. They pushed me back into the building, into a stairwell. They forced me to give them my shit. I didn’t resist of course. I gave them my drugs. I gave them my wallet. One of them goes, “Hey, give him his wallet back. He’s going to need it.” Like, what? Give me my drugs back, I need those too! Then, they saw my BlackBerry. They tried to take it but I said no, so they left. It was a pretty half-hearted crime.
Free weed, good exercise
MESSENGER A: If you’re a stoner like me, one of the biggest perks is that you get free weed. The pay is also good, and has the advantage that anything you bring home is non-taxable. But you have to work for it too. You have to watch out for cops, for robbers, for motorists. The money is comparable to waiting tables. Maybe a little better, actually. Plus, you have less of a time commitment. You can make upwards of $300 in a single day. You might be working a 10-hour shift, but you only do three of those a week, as opposed to a waiter, who may have five. Not to mention, it’s just good exercise.
MESSENGER B: The money was good and the stress level was low. Aside from the job giving you a lot of freedom, I liked the physical activity of it too. It kept you in shape. It was constant exercise. I looked the best I ever have. It kept my mind sharp too. You end up happier.
I work a desk job now, nine to five. There are days where I’m sitting at my desk on my computer all day. Getting fatter. I miss it. I wish I was back on a bike. The simplicity of the job was liberating. When the weather was good, it was amazing. When the weather was bad, it was still not that bad.
MESSENGER C: Sometimes, you’ll be running around all day long non-stop. And other times, you literally sit in one spot the entire day. I would go to a cafe or a park or a book store. I’d check Facebook or watch something on my phone. Or, I’d just ride around. The downtime was great. It was one part of the job I definitely enjoyed.
MESSENGER A: The job was a great stepping stone for me. It’s the same thing as waiting tables or bartending or doing any other job that frees you up to pursue your creative dreams, like writing or music, or whatever. The money was great. I didn’t pay taxes. The hours were flexible, to the point that you could often make your own schedule. It gave me the freedom to pursue what I wanted to pursue. I’m not saying I’d ever go back to it. I’m just saying there are days when I’m stuck at a desk, and I think, you know, I kind of wish I riding a bike today.
MESSENGER B: The way it operated was like a small business. We got salaries. We got itineraries. It was more professional than some other (legal) places I’ve worked. I mean, obviously you got paid in cash, and stuff like that. But there was an owner. There were telephone dispatchers. There were baggers. Everyone had their place. It was a well-oiled machine.
Weed delivery people will give you an estimated time of arrival, like an hour or two, but sometimes you end up waiting the entire night. In all seriousness, it’s because we’re really busy or it’s just a miscommunication. Maybe they forgot about you. Also you’re not dealing with a legitimate company. This isn’t Amazon or Domino’s. We’re selling you drugs. So it’s not going to be the most reliable experience. But that’s why some businesses do well and are able to charge more than others. Because they can get there quickly and keep their word. If you want to be successful, you have to treat the customers well and give them what they want. The service has changed over the years. We’ve tried using cars. We’ve experimented with different varieties of marijuana. You learn to adapt like a real business.
MESSENGER C: I miss the exercise. I don’t miss all the other bullshit that goes along with it. The pay was great. I’m getting paid less now and working way more, but I’m happier. I would literally go out and party every single night because I needed to de-stress. I’m glad I don’t do that anymore. I don’t want to romanticize it or mince words because it’s very dangerous. Even if you’re working with good people, there are bad people out there who will hurt you. I’m very happy I did it. It was a very interesting period of my life for sure. It showed me an interesting side of myself, and an interesting side of the world. They ran a tight ship, in the sense that they accounted for all potential scenarios. The bags were completely sealed, so you couldn’t tamper with them in any way. You got what you bought. I was just a cog in the machine. I had no control over anything except handling the delivery, that is, exchanging the drugs for the money. I’m grateful for that experience, but at the same time I would never fucking do it again.
NYC bike culture by the numbers
The number of New Yorkers biking every day
The number of New Yorkers who use their bikes more than twice a month
The number of cyclist deaths in NYC in 2014
The increase in daily commuter cycling from 2009 to 2010 alone
The decrease in cyclist injuries after a major bike lane was installed in Ninth Avenue