Those of you who travel the highways and byways of Port Authority Bus Terminal (“PABT”) may be familiar with its plethora of preachers. For those who aren’t familiar with PABT, let me set the scene. After you enter NYC from New Jersey on one of the many NJ Transit buses, take the down escalator and go through the turnstiles to catch the A-C-E, 1- 2-3 or 7 subway line, you enter the Land of the Preacher, with a musician here or there. The first preacher you may encounter is strident and severe, an African American man wearing a bolo tie and Frye boots. “Do not reject Gee-sus. Gee-sus will not reject you,” he says.
Turning right, heading down a never-ending ramp with a steaming mass of fellow commuters chugging along like a human freight train, you may witness the joyful Bible-toting woman of indeterminate ethnicity: “Alleluia, Alleluia, Alleluia. Praise him, praise him, praise him, praise him.”
Further down, when you are sliding or tiptoeing in your heels, trying to negotiate the precipitous downward slant of the concrete ramp, you may encounter the hyper Asian woman who carries placards that weigh more than she does, “Repent! Repent! Repent!” She wasn’t there today. There is often a table set up with pamphlets, posters, buttons and bumper stickers of a religious nature directly above the staircase to the #7—my train. Sometimes there’s a yelling preacher at the table, who must terrify the children. I can’t believe no one’s complained about him yet.
This morning, a newcomer had usurped the Asian Lady’s turf: it was the Anti-Preacher. He was a John Belushi lookalike, a little thinner perhaps, with a messy shock of dark hair, wearing a black sweatshirt, sweatpants and sunglasses. Kind of a beat poet / John Belushi, come to think of it.
“Do they tell you, ‘Do you accept Jesus Christ as your personal Lord and Savior?’ ” he said.
“Do they talk in your face as you’re going to catch your train? Do they tell you Jesus will solve your problems?”
Then he began to stagger, “Don’t believe them!”
He was standing next to the guy handing out the free paper, amNewYork, who was talking to some other dude; they didn’t seem to notice him.
This is a new, and rather refreshing development. I envision a battle of the Preachers vs. Anti-Preacher(s) like Alien vs. Predator, X-Men vs. Avengers or Republicans vs. Democrats. Don’t we all like stand-offs and battles as an easy way to compartmentalize and label each another and make sure someone always wins?
The pre-election commercials are a prime example of this. Every morning I wake up to a TV face-off between Rob Astorino and Andrew Cuomo. One of the silliest ads has Astorino accusing Cuomo of being a “unicorn killer.” And Cuomo accuses Astorino of racketeering and fraud and stripping seniors of prescription drug coverage.
Maybe there won’t be a standoff between the John Belushi lookalike, aka “the Anti-Preacher,” and the Other Preachers. Perhaps they can co-exist peacefully on their bit of PABT turf. I wonder if the Anti-Preacher would sing “Rubber Biscuit” if I asked. Can’t hurt to try.
(audio recordings by Erica Herd)