Hector had been a bike messenger before he started Top Notch in this tiny little office on Clinton Street (where there really was music all through the evening). He was a bigger than life latino dude who had once killed a bike by ignoring all of the “men at work” signs and riding his bike into wet concrete. The workers pulled him and his bike out and pressure washed them down, but by the time Hector had ridden ten minutes down the road he claims the concrete chemicals had started to corrode everything, the cables, the chain, everything. And yeah, he still delivered the package. When he started Top Notch he founded it on the belief that people needed to get paid, regardless of how much work there was to do. His was the only company I know of that pays per hour instead of per package, and he gives regular raises to the people that work the hardest.
I liked Hector, and although I spent a lot of my time being a little overly cautious (read as slow) while trying to get used to NYC traffic, he was still nice to me.
On one of the last days I was in New York it was overcast, but I didn’t think much of it. I rolled over the Williamsburg bridge with Bambi and called in, did some running around downtown and eventually got something heading for mid-town. As soon as I stepped out of the flat I was picking up from it started hailing, massive chunks of ice that made me feel a little smug that Zach Trackstar and Bambi had made me start wearing a helmet. That smugness wasn’t going to last. By the time I delivered that package to midtown and started heading further north for the next one, a flurry of steroid-taking snowflakes started piling up on the streets, making it difficult to control my 21c from tyre, but I though “what the heck, I never get to see this kind of stuff in London”. It was beautiful and it made me feel like Woody Allen and Miracle on 34th St all in one.
Then the freezing rain started, and I had another seven hours of riding to go.
The only thing I can say about the rest of my day was that it was the second hardest day I’ve ever spent on a bike, the hardest being when I rode the Paris-Roubix route in a lightning storm, covering over a hundred kilometres of cobble stones that had been covered with over an inch of water. The day in New York was so cold that I ended up going into wholesale glove shop and terrifying the Pakistani men who worked there by refusing to leave until they sold me a new pair of gloves. The gloves that I had started the day with had gotten so wet that I had to abandon them, my temporary relief at having dry hands quickly faded when the sun went down and the whole world, including my fingers, turned to ice.
I don’t know how I made it through the day, but I was too worn out to feel triumphant when I finally made it back to the office with my day sheet. Locking my bike to Will Tang’s bike across the street, I saw that the office was filled with other workers and riders. Hector had gone out and gotten each of us a dry pair of socks and had tucked a twenty dollar bill into the cuff.
I stayed in the office for a good hour, drinking beer and revelling in dry feet before I headed back to Brooklyn with Will. Crossing the Williamsburg bridge that night with all of the other cyclists who were laughing and falling over on the elaborate ice rink that was the cycle lane made me feel like maybe I had cracked it, maybe I was part of something.