Sunil Singh

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Financial District Messenger

I'm a messenger - slightly different from a courier. I work for a brokerage company, which is an arm of a bank.

When I first started, there were a lot of physical deliveries. Ten years ago - even until five years ago, till 1996 - when someone bought or sold T-Bills, they had to be delivered physically. There was a guy like me going from one brokerage company to another across the street. Most of that took place at the intersection of King and Bay. Now, a lot of that stuff - the vast majority of securities - is online. That means when you deliver them, you don't need a guy like me. It's done by computer. It's kind of like e-mail.

One of the perks of the old-fashioned method was, they'd have these tellers - but underneath the regular banks. So you'd go there, and one delivery could take you an hour even though it was across the street, because there'd be ten other guys in line. And you had to wait. It was just like going to the bank and waiting in line for half an hour. Now it wasn't that frustrating most of the time because you could read the paper, chat with your fellow messengers, or you just had time to think. Now that things are online, it's no longer like that. When you go to these places, there's no line-up because most of the stuff is online. I'd say about three-quarters of the messengers have been eliminated.

I've changed companies. But when I've talked to other messengers, it's similar. At other places you're in and out, which is not good, because it's great to get an hour. Now that's not the system. So they're giving you mail-oriented stuff. They could give you ten deliveries in an hour, not one.

In an ironic way, I'm a little fitter. Because where I used to walk five miles a day now I walk ten miles a day. You get a cost-of-living increase. It's a couple of percent. It's around the inflation mark.

There are benefits to the job. It's still pretty good. "Here are ten packages. Go deliver them. Reload. Go deliver them. Go walk for an hour." That's the upshot. The downside is you're the low guy on the ladder as far as status, position, compensation go.

A lot of people think they have the authority to treat you - not like a piece of property, but an instrument to use. Sometimes people can treat you like servant.

The messengers can be run over, can be squashed. It's us and the mailroom workers who are considered about even on the status/power scale.

The worst case is when you have a set route and then they add to it. A certain run has a set number of drops. Then they add to it and they still expect you to be back at the same time. Then the job loses its fun. Instead of enjoying the walk, you're rushing, you're jay-walking in circumstances where it may be dangerous, you're going across red lights when you think no one's coming but someone could be veering around a corner. Stuff like that can be scary. I don't know a single messenger who hasn't had a close call with a car or a cab.

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