JEFF UNDERWOOD, 37, EAST VILLAGE
JEFF UNDERWOOD, 37, EAST VILLAGE
WORD ON THE STREET: To your mind, what is the greatest misfortune?
JEFF UNDERWOOD: Of modern times? Bike lanes in New York City. They’ve caused an uproar.
You’re talking about the bike lanes that are now separated from traffic by a corridor of raised medians and parked cars?
Yeah, and the NYPD is cracking down now by ticketing cyclists, and what they’re doing is making people not want to ride their bikes anymore. I have friends who say they’re not going to ride today because they don’t want to get stopped for, say, not using a bike lane. Personally, I think it’s dangerous to ride in the bike lane, so I choose to ride in the street. People ask why, but I’ve never been hit by a car in the middle of the street. I’ve never been doored in the middle of the street. I’ve never hit a pedestrian in the middle of the street. I’ve been honked at, sure, but whatever. I’ve had a lot of accidents but they never happened in the middle of the street.
Do you think the bike lanes are making cycling too accessible? Should some people who don’t have the chops just not ride?
This is an elitist standpoint.
Yeah, but I do feel that way. The problem now is that everyone is learning how to ride in the city at once. I think the turn of the century is the one time that’s closest to now in terms of the number of bikes in the streets and in the way the public perceives them as a nuisance. Things were getting so bad back then that Sears & Roebuck made a gun and a gun-mount to go on your bicycle.
Google it, I’m sure you’ll find it. [WotS: I tried and couldn’t.] What was happening was cyclists—on their fixed-gears!—were scaring the horses so the carriage-men starting shooting the cyclists. Sears & Roebuck came out with a gun-mount that would accommodate a rifle. Maybe we should do that, carry guns on bike mounts now–maybe then cabbies would think twice about running their mouths at us.
Arizonan cyclists wear guns legally. What’s the most illegal thing you’ve ever carried on a bicycle?
Like the thing that would have gotten me in the most trouble? I don’t know because I used to be a bike messenger for a Mafioso guy. The guys I would work for would wait for days to pick up from me, so I’d have all this money. Then when they would come they would give me a week’s worth to distribute to all the guys, so I would take a backpack full of $50,000 to $70,000 worth of weed to public housing in The Bronx. But then again I’m thinking whether I would have been in more trouble for carrying 50 bundles of heroin or a 9mm. Which would have carried the most jail time?
You carried all those things knowingly?
Oh, yeah. That and a dead body chopped up to fit in a messenger bag. [Laughs] Kidding.
On the scale of greatest-misfortune-ever, where does heroin addiction rank?
Like somebody being a junkie? Having no trust from people is probably the worst thing you could ever have. That was actually the first thing I was going to say. I mean, you may not have any money, a car, a bike or a house, but being a junkie and having someone think I’m telling them a lie—even though I’m telling the truth—is probably one of my worst experiences.
How long were you a junkie?
[Laughs] A long time until not so long ago. Recent years. Once I got better, I opened a bike shop.
Was your cycling affected by being high all the time?
When you’re a junkie you’re not usually high, you’re usually sick.
Would riding a bike make you feel better when you were sick?
No, I would lock my bike up because I wouldn’t want to ride. Especially riding a track bike, which is a lot of work. When you’re sick, your legs hurt and it’s like having termites eating your bones.
But when you did get high….
Oh, I’d jump on my bike and go crazy! I’d feel OK again.
What’s the funnest thing you ever did on heroin?
Nobody’s ever asked me that. Everyone asks about the bad things. You know, I used to have memories of these fun heroin moments in my mind and they all happened at the beginning, like, “Oh, we got high, it was nice, it was fun.” And now I can’t remember any of that because there are so many bad memories…. If you had said acid or mushrooms, however, I’d be able to think of something fun in an instant.
What’s the funnest thing you did on mushrooms?
Oh, snowboarding, skateboarding. I went swimming on mushrooms—that was really crazy. Jumping off a 30-foot cliff into a river is really fucking nuts. My friend pushed me off because I was too nervous. I fell really, really fast but I was in and out of the water before I knew it. The second time I was more comfortable, and it seemed like it took forever to hit the water. Then it seemed to take forever to surface.
And on acid?
I once rode jet skis which is insane. I was going so slow my friend was just laughing at me. Boats would come by and it would be like, “Ooh, my god!” I ended up taking the jet ski back to the beach because it was just too crazy. I also drove my Volkswagon bus into a lake when I was on acid. We were told Volkswagons float, but it was only the “Thing” model that floats! So my buddies and I drove the van into a lake and for a moment it was floating. We were like, “Yeaaah!” Then we start taking on water until it went up to our chests.
Did that ruin your van?
No. We called a tow-truck and they pulled it right out and parked it right there. My friends and I tripped in the woods all night and came back. The next day, I switched some wires and it started right up. We didn’t have any lights but we drove it. Yeah, that was fun. But heroin, no, I can’t think of fun things because when you’re a junkie you do everything on it. It’s not like acid where you’re like, “Oh, I tripped and did this!” It’s like, each day I woke up I did heroin. It’s like coffee…
… And trying to imagine all the things you’ve done after drinking some?
Yeah, that’s a good analogy.