Feature Series

NYC Hometown Heroes: Chris Peterson


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  I’m not particularly special or a hero in this story. I’m just someone who decided to get out of the house and run food and some PPE around the city for my own sanity. The people who are running these organizations are the heroes. I’m just a helper. And, a Johnny Appleseed of information.   

-- Chris Peterson
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May 5, 2020 | Kirsten Midura

While NYC is replete with heroes in the medical field, tackling the battle against COVID-19 head on, the local moto community has also stepped up with some creative and resourceful ways to help out: production and transportation of medical supplies – masks, hand sanitizer; rides for medical support staff; and even photojournalistic documentation of the city’s efforts.

We’ve partnered with Kirsten Midura from Engines for Change to talk with a few of these local moto icons about what they’re doing for the city, how they’ve been personally affected by the pandemic, and, literally, what keeps them going day to day.

Having felt the financial sting of previous downturns in the economy in her younger years, Chris Peterson can fully empathize with the hard times people are going through during the COVID-19 crisis ... worrying where the money for rent, food and all the essentials is going to come from as jobs evaporate and public social institutions are taxed beyond their means. Then there's the fear, depression and health issues a pandemic brings with it. But in true NYC fashion, the NBC 30 Rock stagehand and 20-year veteran of the city has stepped up to help deliver food to those most in need, and to disseminate information about food resources and distribution to those communities that have been hit the hardest.


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1) First of all, thank you so much for taking the time to talk with us. To start, tell me a bit about yourself.

[By profession] I’m a stagehand: IATSE Local One. Currently, I work for NBC at 30 Rock for all their cool shows. I’m lucky. I love my job and it’s super fun.

I’m originally from Southern California. I went to college in Santa Cruz, CA (UCSC). In 1998, I came to New York on a road trip with a girl in a VW Bus. The girl left and I stayed. I’ve lived in Brooklyn for over 20 years now.

My passion is wrenching and figuring out stuff. I’m a motorcyclist and bicyclist with various 2-wheel vehicles since high school. I love building things and watching a million YouTube videos of making, fixing, wrenching, music, sewing, gardening and painting. I bought a two-family in East New York, Brooklyn, six years ago, and I have a little shop in my basement that is full of tools and magic making. I have virtually every size engine, from 20cc up to a liter, and I can’t wait to get an electric bike; I love combustion engines, but ecologically, I’m ready to move away from them.

2) What makes NYC special for you?

Queerness. My community is here. I’m fanatically obsessed with the Brooklyn queer scene; it is my longtime beacon of safety, the love of my life. There is no greater city in the world to be a dyke. That is singularly what keeps me here instead of running away to green pastures.

I’m also madly in love with summers in NYC.

3) Tell us a little about your chosen causes during this pandemic. What projects have you been working on?

Food insecurity — food for seniors and immigrant families. Weekly, I do delivery for Encore Community Services. I’ve made food runs with The Sirens for Xavier Mission and PPE with Motoveli for Masks for Docs. I’ve done a bit with the local mutual aids; I’m less plugged into that right now, but I applaud their work efforts. There are so many amazing people working in that realm right now, in just about every neighborhood in the world.

I’m not a religious person by any stretch. But, I have to say many of the churches and religious organizations in this city do the heavy lifting with food service for the hungry. Encore Community Services is connected to a Catholic Church. They are organized and very happy doing the work. I really like all the ladies who work there, and I’ll pretty much work with anyone who does not proselytize and who is not homophobic.

I also work to get information out to different communities and chat platforms I’m in, mostly about food resources and distribution. Luckily, I already have some connections in my immediate circles that give me access to information, which has helped me hit the ground running when the consequences of this pandemic started to reveal themselves. So, I try to connect dots and spread information to those who need it. I find that to be critical work: the distribution of resource information. A good part of my week is centered around that.

But I’m not particularly special or a hero in this story. I’m just someone who decided to get out of the house and run food and some PPE around the city for my own sanity. The people who are running these organizations are the heroes. I’m just a helper. And, a Johnny Appleseed of information.

chris peterson (left) and cheryl stewart (sirens mc nyc) on the front lines during nyc's covid-19 response | kirsten midura
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  People who have never been hungry or poor, they just really can’t know what that terror is, what kind of affect it has on the mind and body. If they did, I think there would be a lot more empathy and work toward making sure every person goes to bed with a full belly and access to healthcare, education, housing, and income parity.   

-- Chris Peterson
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4) Can you just describe to me what the experience has been like doing this work/working with these organizations?

I’ve lived through at least two significant financial downturns in my adult lifetime. So, I’ve gone through some aspects of this before — particularly the food and income insecurity.

This time around, it’s been a lot different for me simply because I’m in a better place financially. I don’t feel all of the anxiety, but I have a visceral understanding of it. People who have never been hungry or poor, they just really can’t know what that terror is, what kind of affect it has on the mind and body. If they did, I think there would be a lot more empathy and work toward making sure every person goes to bed with a full belly and access to healthcare, education, housing, and income parity.

I’ve focused on getting food to seniors and immigrants. There are so many places to plug in. But for me, emotionally, when I used to be poor and vulnerable during those downturns, I would worry so much about being old, queer and poor. I’d think about when I would be too old to work paycheck to paycheck, and ask myself, “How am I going to eat? How will I be able to see a Doctor? How will I afford rent?” I see parallels of this with the immigrant community, and I can connect to both of these experiences deeply.

I’ll say that doing this work has helped me cope immensely. It’s essentially what has gotten me through. Also, witnessing the amount of people who have stepped up to volunteer, it’s really incredible. It pushes me to do better and do more. It makes me proud to be a New Yorker. I’m proud to stand among them. I just applaud everyone, particularly everyone who’s staying home and engaged in the process to stop the spread of COVID. That is a huge sacrifice people are making, and that should never go unrecognized.

It hasn’t been easy for anyone. Most of us have people we’ve lost to COVID. I’ve lost two of my immediate co-workers/friends. We’ve lost a good number of people in my Union and at NBC. Many of my friends have lost family and close friends. It’s made it all the more difficult because we can’t come together and grieve these losses. So, I find a lot of solace doing this work because it helps keep my mind off of that.

5) For those who want to do their part, what are the ways that people can contribute? And why are motorcycles a good mode of assistance?

More so than the vehicles, I think motorcyclists in NYC — particularly women, as the demographic grows — have massive potential to do a great amount of work and organizing. Most of us are strong-minded, successful in our ventures and adventurous. A lot of us are very independent, but we also seek out our community and find friendship through this activity that we wouldn’t otherwise find. That can build unconventional coalitions, which could just be strong enough to make some dents in lots of areas that need work done. In my lifetime, I’d like to see us pull together more to make changes in this city and beyond. I’d like our city to see us as contributors, not outlaws or 'gangs'. Mischievous, to be sure, but worthy of respect. And, ease up on over-policing us.

If you’re a motorcyclist and want to pick up the baton, ask Kirsten Midura to add you to the Corona NYC WhatsApp chat and jump in. There are delivery requests almost every day.
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  I’ll say that doing this work has helped me cope immensely. It’s essentially what has gotten me through. Also, witnessing the amount of people who have stepped up to volunteer, it’s really incredible. It pushes me to do better and do more. It makes me proud to be a New Yorker.   

-- Chris Peterson
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6) What are some of the important messages that you think people need to keep in mind during this time of the pandemic?

I’d say be good to yourself right now. Compassion cuts two ways. You must have compassion for yourself along with compassion for others. This is hard on all of us right now, and it may be time to look at yourself and ask, "Do I need help?” Ask for it, if you do.

I wake up every day and I check myself to make sure I’m okay. I check my temp. I check my oxygen. I check my head. If, I'm a 'yes', I do my rounds and check in on everyone else. If, 'no', I try to go for a walk or work on a project for myself. If someone asks you if you are okay, try to be as honest as possible, with them and yourself. Doing the volunteer work is helping me, but only because I’m starting in a place where I feel strong enough to do it: health-wise, financially, and emotionally.

From there, I’d say food, food, food. At any other 'normal' time there is an extraordinary amount of people in this city. Remember that some of your neighbors, maybe a friend, many seniors, and most children are food insecure. COVID and this economic downturn are making this reality worse right now for many people. And the people who were teetering on the edge have a good chance of slipping into this abyss.

For the long-term outlook, this work needs to continue. There’s a massive movement in New York with urban farming, community gardens, and other efforts to promote food and ecological justice in low income neighborhoods. East New York and Brownsville are on the forefront of this: East New York Farms, United Community Centers, Project Eats, Universe City, Brownsville CCC, and Collective Fare, to name just a few. There are dozens and dozens of community gardens and organizations in this area that are working to provide access to fresh vegetables and food in neighborhoods neglected by conventional food chains. foods. Find them. Support them. Advocate.

I can’t tell you how frustrating it is to me to see so many women in my neighborhood getting off the train lugging grocery bags from Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s. I just don’t understand why we can’t have direct neighborhood commercial access to organic vegetables, vegetarian staples, and non-sugar and non-preservative-laden foods. We won’t see affordable retail availability of these items until the neighborhood gets 'gentrified'. It’s infuriating. I could spin out on this topic.

I also want to also add here that income disparity is staggering. Right now, billionaires are continuing to pull in massive profits. The top 1% is raking in a significant amount of that stimulus money — money that we are ultimately going to be paying for. Money that will sit in a billionaire’s account, not yours. The stock market is going to soar and the rest of us are going to be f*****. And, Our Dear Leader will play the fiddle. So, we need to continue working politically and holding our elected officials to account on this right now. It’s a complicated issue that’s been happening for the past 40 years for the working class. And forever, for people of color.

As you raise your kids in this world, remember: No one is free unless we all are. Your kids should not be competing with other kids right now, they should be building coalitions. Support public education and integration. Build bridges to fight racism and income inequality. We saw with this crisis how much we need workers who are predominately women and people of color to get us through. And, we also know communities of color are being hit the hardest with COVID. So, let’s fight to make sure these essential workers are not making a dime-to-your-dollar or dying to bring you your deliveries or to work in the grocery stores. And let’s fight to keep the working class in our city. Support Unions. Support products made in New York. Support our local shops and restaurants. Fight and vote for income parity, food justice, and affordable housing.

chris peterson participating in the ticker tape parade for the us women's soccer team | kirsten midura
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  Life is so fragile and precious; it’s magical that we exist at all. You gotta' appreciate every second you have here, the time you have with the people you love and have as much fun as you can.   

-- Chris Peterson
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7) In the midst of this crisis, what do you do to keep positive every day?

I wake up every day and remember how lucky and privileged I am in the face of this COVID pandemic and all the craziness on the horizon. I’ve got money. I’ve got food. I’ve got a roof over my head. I’ve got friends. I’ve got community. I’m damn lucky.

It wasn’t always this way. My predominate adult experience is of financial dire and unstable working situations. Freelancers take the first hits in the downturns. In my work in theatre, as a woman coming up in the industry, I wasn’t protected when the economy soured. I was someone who had to choose between food and rent sometimes (I always chose rent). I remember going to an ATM once — and this is a time where $20 was a lot of money for me — and I saw the transaction receipt of the person who had been there before me. Their balance was $40,000. I was shell-shocked. I now laugh at my naivety at the time. To me, it felt like so much money to have readily available in the bank. Don’t get me wrong, it is. But, I just thought, “If I had $40,000 in the bank I would never have to worry about money.” And now, I am kind of that person. But, I still worry about money. It’s the D.H. Lawrence story, The Rocking Horse. It’s never enough. However, I have the context and understanding of genuinely having nothing, living paycheck to no-paycheck and how terrifying that can feel. I’m very thankful to not be feeling that now, on top of the anxiety created by COVID.

Other things keeping me positive, my wonderful little dog and cat. They fill me with happiness. And, I have a million projects on deck. All of these things help me stay distracted. When I’m reading or watching too much news and I start feeling shitty, I pivot and get my hands or feet busy. Walk the dog. Play with the cat. Make something. And, so on.

The volunteering also allows me to see some of my friends and co-workers who have come out to work with Encore. So, it is definitely a highlight. It’s something to look forward to — seeing everyone’s smiling faces (behind a mask).

I’ve experienced depression to one degree or another over the years. I’m going to say something that works for me and not meant to minimize anyone’s depression or feelings they are working through. But, I feel like I’m able to wake up every day and make a decision. I decide if I want to be happy or not. It’s like a switch now. I have pretty good control over it. I’m happy to be alive. Life is so fragile and precious; it’s magical that we exist at all. You gotta' appreciate every second you have here, the time you have with the people you love and have as much fun as you can.

8) If you're looking for that light at the end of the tunnel, what is the first thing that you want to do when this is crisis subsides?

I really like my job. It’s a lot of fun. That sounds geeky, but I do. I can’t wait to go back to work and see my work buddies. I miss a lot of them.

I love summer in NYC. Hot. Gross. Cyclones games. Late nights in The Rockaways. Free outdoor movies and concerts. Night-out bicycle rides home from Bushwick. So, I’m kind of curious to see how summer plays out. By September, I may have a different answer. You might even hear me say, “I miss motorcycle camping.” (J/K. No, you won’t!). I’m still crossing my fingers and hope I get to say, as I do every year, “This will be the best summer ever.”

(Also, I really want someone to write in the comment section of this “tldr”. That will make me laugh.)

chris peterson at home wrenching on one of her bikes

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Comments

  • Yeahhhh @motopunks !!! 💜💜💜💯💯💯

    @alessandra_milena
  • Yeah buddy!!!!!

    @crederear
  • Fellow "one-z"!

    @robemmet
  • I'm surprised that this article about NYC moto icons doesn't acknowledge Cheryl Stewart who shares the image on the front lines during NYC's COVID-19 response; Cheryl is a founding member of SIRENS MC NYC, which is the oldest and longest running women's motorcycle group in NYC. Great to see women motorcyclists being featured.

    Sheila L Holmes
  • Thanks for your comments. This is a series, with each article focusing on a different 'hero' in NYC. We are not done yet, by far. On a side note, the Sirens MC were asked to participate but politely declined. We do have several other women riders on the list, but some of those features are proving harder to finish due to those women's schedules ... they will get done though. I will add Cheryl's name to the cutline info and will contact her to see if she would like to be involved.

    NYC Motorcyclist

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