Note: This is an encore post from 2006.
Technology has changed, but people have not. Simply because they lived nearly a century ago doesn’t mean Angelenos were unable to indulge their vices, they simply procured them in a different manner.
One of the main staples was the throngs of young bicycle messengers who traversed the city in packs.
Rivalry was intense and the groups frequently fought with one another. However, an attack on one messenger was an attack on them all, as one hapless teamster discovered when his horse trampled a youth’s bike.
On their errands about town, the boys quickly learned to answer the most popular questions: where to buy drugs and where to find women of easy—if any—virtue.
Of course those who trafficked in drugs and women found that the easiest reward was a sample of their trade. The Times said: “I want a wise kid,” is one of the most frequent instructions women of the half world telephone into messenger offices. And so in short time the most unsophisticated boy becomes close-mouthed and open-eared.
“Temptation comes and he grows suddenly from a raw boy into an immoral man. Then begins his training as a panderer. It comes through association and big tips. Many women hire messenger boys each night to take them to places where they room. They do this in order to avoid interference by the police. ‘Wise’ messengers get fees and favors through turning the footsteps of men in certain directions.
“Thus, handling trays [of food being taken to criminals], carrying notes, doing confidential errands, procuring opium, helping make assignations and in practically all their work, these boys are simply aiding in some form or other of vice.”
There were, according to The Times, two destinies for such youths: Hopeless drug addiction or prison.
“One of them, ‘The Gopher Tooth Kid,’ hangs about a North Main Street pool hall, getting odd tips from players for errands. He uses the money to buy morphine, which he snuffs.
“Of the other class, there are many examples. Irving Long, now serving sentence in San Quentin for passing bad money, was formerly known to the police as a highwayman. The Power boys, George and Pat, are others. There is Goldie Herbert, who did time in Folsom, and Kid Humphries, who served a prison sentence from a northern county, where he committed burglary. All these started as Los Angeles messenger boys.”
Once cars became common and Prohibition was enacted, taxi drivers and bellhops were the go-to boys. Still true, at least in the 3rd World. So I’ve heard.