On Port Authority Bus Terminal

A horror story

(Photo/New York Magazine)

I take the bus to work. Every single day. I go to my stop in New Jersey, hop on the bus, ride up the Turnpike, through the Lincoln Tunnel, and into New York City.

That part is usually fine.

New York City is the greatest city in the world. I have no doubts about that. There’s something charming about the weird mixed scent of halal and urine. Seeing tourists gaze from atop a Megabus in amazement at the Wine & Spirits shop owner opening up a half-hour late, while a line forms down the sidewalk. Those tourists are paying a premium fee for what amounts to the live feed of a colonoscopy of western civilization. The green sidewalk ooze. Getting rubbed down in Times Square by Batman and Spider-Man — the DC/Marvel crossover you never wanted. And the monks passing out fake coins when they should be setting themselves on fire.

It’s all fantastic and I love it to death.

But it’s hard to remind myself of that fact as I’m strolling through the Port Authority Bus Terminal.

While the rest of New York’s quirks — and, dare I say, faults — are oddly endearing, PABT is a different beast.

It is an awful place, as if a homeless man had a kid with a warehouse, and then abandoned it, and then it was raised by a Sears. It is full of people, but it makes you feel empty. Your soul exits your body once you walk through those doors. Everything you love about the city disappears.

They just built a Dunkin’ inside, but it’s hard to eat your sausage, egg, and cheese on a croissant when a rat-pigeon hybrid is staring at you. Both of you are contemplating the course of events in your life that led you to be there in that very moment. Dreams are dead. Life is fleeting.

There’s no wonder in the building. It’s the complete opposite of the rest of the city. All of the excitement you experience outside fades away as soon as you enter. It’s so… ordinary. Dull. Gray. Every now and then, a sad, lonely voice hums over the loudspeaker, asking for somebody by name. It’s always the same name — probably an apparition, a figment, a desperate cry for help, as the speaker is clinging to the naive hope that this non-existent individual will one day answer his call.

And don’t get me started on the fans. They’re running constantly — summer or winter. Of course, the designed purpose is for air circulation and to keep things cool. But all they really end up doing is blowing homeless dust and rat shit into my mouth. Have you ever felt strep throat enter your body? Have you ever opened your mouth to breathe, right in front of a fan, and just known immediately, “Yep, that’s strep”? And I don’t even blame the germs for attaching themselves to me. They want to get out of Port Authority, too, and they see me as an escape.

The dreadfulness of the building makes the people equally dreadful. And I’m definitely not saying people in the city aren’t assholes — most are — but this is a different kind of asshole. It’s reminiscent of the Scooby-Doo movie, when (spoiler alert!) Scrappy plots to take over the world, and uses some type of voodoo magic to take over the island inhabitants’ souls and make everyone evil. There’s no doubt that some of those people were already evil. But Scrappy makes them take it to the max.

What I’m getting at is that Port Authority has the same voodoo magic going for it. If you’re not an asshole, you become an asshole once you walk through those doors. And if you’re already an asshole, then you’re assholiness is amplified tenfold.

I don’t know what causes this shift in persona. Does the need to catch a bus really drive people to become so selfish? So insane? More so than catching a plane or train?

Could it be the smell? Does the nose grow so used to the halal/piss scent of the city that, once it catches a whiff of the drying paint/feces of Port Authority, it causes a chemical imbalance in the brain that drives us mad?

A few months ago I had to run to the restroom before catching an 11 p.m. bus — the last bus of the night. If I wasn’t able to catch it, I’d be sleeping in Port Authority, which would have been a nightmare. I hear if you sleep there, you become a part of the building, your body merging with the crusty benches, à la Bootstrap Bill Turner in Pirates of the Caribbean.

I walk into the bathroom and do my business. It had actually just been cleaned, so there were only two puddles of piss, and one streak of shit on the wall. A win in my book.

But then a gentleman stops me as I’m trying to exit. He tells me he’ll give me a blowjob for only $20. (Admittedly, a pretty good deal.)

But if that doesn’t tell you everything you need to know about Port Authority, I don’t know what else could. It is a cesspool. Mad Max drove through it in Fury Road but you didn’t even notice because it’s already such a wasteland.

It’s crowded yet lifeless. It’s loud yet draining. It’s large but insignificant. And the people suck more than usual.

And what’s worse is, when the gentleman finally finished, he tried charging me $30. What a scumbag. What an awful fucking place.


Jared is an award-winning (that’s not true) writer who has published featured articles (also not true) in Playboy, Maxim, and Entertainment Weekly (no, no, and no). In his free time, he donates his time to help (don’t know where this is going, but it’s probably not true) inner-city youth learn how to read (yeah, not true). If you enjoyed this piece or would like to troll Jared on social media, his Twitter is here.