Benjamin is a bike messenger, and he is something
of a celebrity to dispatchers in the city. Benjamin
has only one leg.
first time I saw him was on an escalator leaving the
subway at Grand Central. I was standing next to a
fat man, and the fat man was whining because Benjamin
was on the escalator with his bicycle. "Have
some consideration for other people."The
fat man did not seem to notice that Benjamins
bicycle only had one pedal. Nor that there were two
hooks attached to it holding a pair of crutches. Nor
that Benjamins right leg stopped 6 inches above
where the knee should have been.
you have a bicycle you should take the stairs. You
should be more considerate."
Benjamin is tall and muscular and he moves so gracefully
that many people never see his stump. I caught up
to him a week later and asked him what his frustrations
are too expensive$1.49 for one mango. In Trinidad
you pick them off the ground for free."
prodding, he said it upsets him that hes not
allowed on city buses with his bicycle. He also said
that he is often asked to leave museums and restaurants
because of his bike.
you are disabled, people want to put you in a box.
If I used a wheelchair, everyone would understand.
Because I ride a bicycle they get confused."
in Trinidad in 1962, Benjamin was a carpenter and
amateur boxer before he lost his leg. He was bicycling
to his cousins house when he saw a small boy
run into the path of an oncoming truck. He dove off
his bike to knock the boy away from the road and the
truck hit his leg.
was no pain, and I didnt lose consciousness,
but even the truck was disabled. My leg went through
the grill and snapped the engine belt." The leg
was amputated and Benjamin sold peanuts for two years
at the local bus station.
1985 Benjamin came to New York through the sponsorship
of the Achilles Track Club. He ran the marathon on
crutches and finished in seven and a half hours. The
following year he returned to the city on a one-way
ticket, intending to start an athletic career in the
States. Benjamin was relying on the help of his mentor,
another amputee runner from Trinidad named Anthony
Phillip. Phillip lived in New York and promised to
find Benjamin a job and a place to stay.
had no money," says Benjamin. "And I was
morning after the marathon, he met Phillip on the
street and they walked over to Grand Central. Phillip
handed him a shoebox and told him to stand in the
started putting coins in the box. Then I realized
that was my job." At the end of the day Phillip
pocketed half the money and took Benjamin to a shelter
on 125th St.
best day for panhandling is Friday, and after that,
Wednesday. I made friends at the shelter, but you
have to know that everyone is a thief. They even stole
months later Benjamin met a good samaritan who offered
to let him live with her. "I think she was in
love with me," he says. He painted her house
and saved money to buy a bicycle. He wanted a bicycle
because a friend had told him about a messenger service
downtown that might hire him. "This friend of
mine was called Rastafarian and he told me it was
crazy with girls at the job. There was only two girls
and 30 guys, but I really wanted to work."
earned just $17 his first week as a messenger but
still recalls payday as the happiest day of his life.
He has been a messenger ever since. "Panhandling
is very bad for you. I cant say Ill never
do it again, but I hope I dont have to. It hurts
years ago Benjamin married a girl he met on the subway.
"I just looked at her and said, I love
you. It took more than that."
and his wife have three children together, but they
have since separated and Benjamin now lives with his
girlfriend on Roosevelt Island.
By Lincoln MacVeagh