New York City, 7.June.1974 - 12.August.2006
Killed in traffic on the job
"Bronx Jon is in the hospital in critical condition" The instant message came in on my computer screen from Ken in NYC just after 11am this past Thursday. "He had a real bad accident last night at S4th and Roebling." My heart skipped up into my throat. This didn't sound good. "What's the deal??" I typed back as fast as I could. "I haven't heard anything since this morning but he's not in good shape whatsoever." The words flashed on my screen and my breakfast suddenly felt like a ton of dead weight in the pit of my stomach. "Is he gonna pull through???"
"We don't know" Ken wrote. Those were not the words I wanted to see. Bronx Jon was one of the old school messengers. He'd been around since long before I ever was and he was always present on the streets of New York and in the community. He'd been working as a messenger on his bike for over 10 years and was truly one of a kind.
I got Squid on the Nextel radio. "What's the word on Bronx Jon?" I asked. Squid radioed back right away. "Not sure - I gotta call the doctor back at five. We gotta find his family" Weird how you can know someone for so long and not know how to reach their family. I guess no one really thinks of it until they have to.
I spoke to Squid again a few hours later. "They're going to do another scan tomorrow." He told me. I wasn't sure what that meant but it sounded bad. Still, I was sure he'd eventually be OK, even if it took a while. Other people got into bad accidents and pulled through OK and in my mind Bronx Jon was one of the invincibles. He was the type of person you thought could probably sleep through a nuclear attack and wake up looking for the beer he left by the side of his bed. Except in Bronx Jon's case he would probably be looking for a can of Sparks.
My head raced back to the last time I saw Bronx Jon. I can't remember when it was, maybe at Monster Track 7 cuz that's the last time I was in New York. I remember thinking he looked really good. Better than usual. His face looked clear and he seemed as relaxed and grounded as I'd ever seen him. He gave me a gross sweaty hug and a signature cracked-lip grin and called me 'Shakira' on purpose, like he always did, just to see me smile. His energy was high. I was happy to see him like that. He looked light.
I called Mike Dee on Friday. He was at the hospital visiting Jon. He was still unconscious and in a coma. "Lemme call you right back." Mike said. "I'm about to go in." Mike Dee had just had a bad accident himself a couple weeks ago and cracked his scull open. He called me a few minutes later. "He looks broken." That's not what I wanted to hear. "Like he took the windshield out with his body." I was trying to remember to breath. "You're so fucking lucky you didn't fuck yourself up worse than you did." I told him. "You know, I didn't feel lucky about my accident until I saw Jon just now." His tone was quieter than usual. "Listen." He told me "People have pulled through worse."
I used to see Bronx Jon all the time when I delivered food to the hipster-yuppies in Manhattan's trendy meat packing district. He'd always shout me out from across the street or down the block on 9th Ave or around 14th St. Sometimes he was smiling, sometimes he wasn't. But whatever his _expression was, it was always from his heart. He'd cryptically fill me in on blips of his life but never with much detail. It was always about the now. He didn't want to talk about the past.
Jon once told me that he was raised orthodox Jewish but he wouldn't tell me much more than that. I'm not religious anymore but my Dad is. I gave him Jon's name and asked him to say a prayer at the synagogue for him. He did. I asked the friends I was camping with all this past weekend to stand together in a moment of prayer for Jon on Saturday morning. We did. When I left the woods on Sunday and got service back on my phone I had six messages. Before I had a chance to pick them up my phone rang. It was Chris Kim. His voice broke and my heart sank. "Bronx Jon is gone... they took him off life support yesterday." Chris told me that they finally found his Mom, that the doctors said he hadn't improved since they brought him in Wed night, that he'd have been a vegetable even if he did ever wake up from the coma, that his Mom had no idea of the extent of his messenger family or that he was loved by so many.
The shock of losing someone so vibrant, in such a sudden manner, is hard anywhere. But to lose someone like this while living across the country in LA with no one who knew him to share this grief with is harder. Doesn't everybody know Bronx Jon? I wish I could curl up on the couch in Mike Dee's apartment and cry into his shoulder. I wish I could join the memorial ride tonight for him and the other bike messenger who was killed last week, Darren Lewis. I wish I could hug all the members of my messenger family who have been there over the years and whose hearts I know are so heavy right now.
I spoke to Amy Bolger last night. I was grateful just to talk to her. She told me Jon's Mom said they'll give him a Catholic burial. This confused me because I thought Jon was Jewish. Amy said that there were a couple things that Jon said that didn't seem to match up. I found myself laughing when I heard that. For some reason it struck me as funny and not out of character for Jon. "It's Jon." I heard myself say. "It doesn't even matter."
In truth, it's not like I can say Bronx Jon was all that good a friend of mine. In all the years I knew him, I never took down his phone number. If I didn't see him for a while, I didn't stress it because I knew I'd see him again sooner or later. Bronx Jon may not have been my best friend but he was my buddy and I loved him. Bronx Jon was like the crazy cousin who you thought would always just be there. Everyone knew he didn't fuck with alleycats or racing, but he'd always be at the after-race parties drinking Sparks or beer or whatever. If he was feeling playful, his curly black wig would make an appearance and it suited him fantastically. Bronx Jon would let out a freestyle flow of words on a whim, and I'm glad we have a glimpse of that to keep in the movie "Red Light Go". Bronx Jon would sometimes make people mad but usually he would make people laugh. Most importantly of all though, Bronx Jon was family, and I'm going to miss him terribly.
x Ashira Siegel
I remember Bronx Jon from my first messenger trip to NYC in 2000 for Metropoloco. He seemed kinda crazy but also incredibly welcoming in a town which I'd previously assumed would be even less friendly to new messenger faces. But even though I'm not a drinker, I couldn't help but stop and hang out on the Brooklyn Bridge when he and a bunch of other folks flagged me down. I remember thinking how odd this guy was, a guy whose name changed depending on where he was living at the time. There were a lot of a friendly folks at that event, but Jon's energy and efforts to break through the toughness and aloofness were really memorable.
Last time I was in NYC was for CMWC just after my friend Kristine had been killed working in Portland. I found myself already withdrawing from the messenger scene and it was tough to feel stoked about the job when it takes the lives of people we're close to. One the same note, it's times like this which remind me how lucky I am to be a part of this family.
Bronx Jon, I only knew you from race parties, but I know I'll miss seeing you when I'm in NYC. Thanks for the post Ashira.
i feel similarly to Ashira. i was struck hard with the news of Bronx John's accident, and even harder with his passing. there are just some people who you count on to always be around - who seem invincible cheerily by their enigmatic personalities. i find myself still feeling like i have a family in new york- even though i have been gone for a year- hodari, kevin, amy, marc, ashira, dan, bill, ken, jillian, mike dee, paul, josh, the list goes on and on. so many people who i have worried myself sick over- kevin's crash before the world's, bill's polo accident, josh's broken arm wreck, mike-dee's crash, spencerâ€™s awful head injuryâ€|. bronx is someone i never worried about. he was always there. steadfast. goofy. telling some odd ball story, or offhanded joke. i suppose in some ways i took him for granted, just like ashira said, your crazy cousin who appears and is always just there. anyhow, his death has made me terribly sad, and at the same time helped me remember to be grateful for all of you in the messenger community who have become a part of my life over the past 7 years.
when i heard about bronx john's passing, i felt an immediacy to get to new york and join all 300 of you riding in his honor. since i could not do that, ken was generous enough to read a thought for me at the vigil- the first memory that came to mind when i heard of his Bronx johnâ€™s deeath. i have pasted it below.
-sending my love to everyone in new york- I think of you all often. please be careful out there and let this be a reminder to take for granted the importance of the ones you love. ashira, thanks for writing. good to hear your voice.
much love from kansas
My first day as a messenger in New York was with Breakaway Delivery. Every hour for the first week, some strange thick accented voice kept harassing me over the company radio -| thinking he was smooth talking the previous user of radio 313, which happened to be Shea -- whom many of us probably know. Anyhow, after days of Bronx John's voice interrupting my runs on the radio, I finally broke down and answered him back, kindly letting him know that the radio no longer belonged to Shea. When he realized his mistake, and heard another young lady's voice on the other end, he immediately switched gears into trying to figure out exactly how cute I was by asking an artillery of questions. Not a week later, he found me on the street and followed me around on runs for a while. He noticed I rode a Vanilla track frame, and from there on out insisted on calling me "Vanilla Ice" and singing "Ice Ice Baby" when he saw me. Regardless of whether our encounter took place on the street or in an office elevator. Although wary of this forward stranger who chased me out in the streets, with time I came to appreciate Bronx for his strong and vibrant personality, and as such, could always count on him to pick me up on a bad day and entertain me with some wild tale on a good one. I admired him for his self confidence, and learned from him that it is not worth making excuses for who you are to people who may wish you were someone different. Even here in Kansas, Bronx John is missed. To all others mourning his death, ride safely on those streets and take care of one another. Much love, thoughts and prayers from Kansas.