Pit Stop

7 11

google images

This morning I saw my friend across the street and waved for her to come quickly: the bus was coming. The New Jersey Transit buses run on their own schedule: the 7:56 comes at either 8:00 or 8:01, the 8:09 doesn’t seem to come at all (unless it’s invisible), and the 8:22 arrives at about 8:15, so you see the importance of catching the bus right away especially when waiting at a bus stop with no shelter, and it is friggin’ cold outside. When I boarded, I said to the driver, “There’s someone coming from across the street.”

Wool cap pulled down, looking down at me from behind his shades, he said, “I can’t wait for somebody across the street.”

“Okay,” I said.

Guess my buddy will have to wait for the 8:22, I mean, 8:15 bus.

She made it! Not sure if he had second thoughts, or if she got lucky. Either way, I was happy for her. We exchanged smiles.

The driver was racing, stopping short, and I started feeling nauseous. What’s his damn hurry?

At the Passaic and Esplanade stop, he turned off the ignition, turned to us and said, “I’ll be back in a minute.”

I felt like a kid on the way to a field trip being abandoned on the side of the road. I remembered the time Mrs. Nesi locked us in the classroom in third grade. She pulled down the shades and put a sheet of black construction paper in the square window in the door. She said she was leaving us because we had misbehaved, and this was our punishment. Some kids started crying; some laughed and threw paper airplanes or fired spitballs. Others sat obediently on their hands as instructed, staring into space—Catholic school will do that to you. An airless room, no AC, in June 1970.

The bus sounds were amplified: the businessman on his cell phone more obnoxious than ever, throat clearing, a fitful sneeze. Then radio silence.

Our driver abandoned ship for an excursion to 7-11, apparently to take a piss, because when he returned, there was a spring in his step. I guess that’s why he was in such a hurry.

His driving continued to be jerky, but less so than before. Thank God for small blessings. I still felt nauseous and shut my eyes, figuring what I would use for a vomit bag. The plastic CVS bag that held my lunch would do fine. Hopefully it wouldn’t be necessary.

Reading on my iPhone was now out of the question, so I put in the earbuds and tuned into Pandora radio, which now wants me to connect with friends on Facebook. But I don’t want to!

I simply want to hear a soothing refrain to get my mind off puking. The Monteverdi station, that’s good, no, how about the Django Reinhardt station. “Minor Swing” was making me dizzy so I switched to the Thomas Newman station which features film soundtracks like The Road to Perdition, The Hours and Battlestar Gallactica—much better. I was starting to feel less sick.

Oh no. As we approached the toll plaza, the driver opened the door and said to the driver to our right, “Do you want one? Do you want a problem?”

Oh my God. Is there going to be a bus drivers’ duel? What the hell?

I shut my eyes, and continued listening to The Hours by Philip Glass, burrowing snugly into my happy place. 

The bus door shut. Then it re-opened. “Hey, catch you later!” our driver said, laughing.

Hallelujah, he’s happy again, and he’s not going to get into a rumble with the other guy and abandon us again, and we may all make it to work on time!

We pulled into Port Authority at 9:05—not bad at all.

“Thank you,” I said to the bus driver.

He did not respond, and that’s OK.

World Trade Center Transportation Hub: A Greed Odyssey

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(J.C. Rice)

Neo-futuristic Spanish architect Santiago Calatrava designed the glimmering new, not-yet-completed train station at the World Trade Center. Its estimated cost, a mere $4 billion, twice the amount anticipated during the initial planning stages in 2004. The WTC station services about 40,000 commuters a day, in contrast with the Port Authority Bus Terminal (PABT) at 42nd Street, which averages 250,000 commuters a day.

The centerpiece of the WTC train station or “transportation hub” is called the Oculus and is larger than Grand Central Station’s main concourse. It has a roof with two movable wings that are meant to open to the sky, like a “bird taking flight,” says Calatrava. At first glance, it looks more like a stegosaurus to me.

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(Kordite)

“The hub is a project driven by institutional ambition, and once begun, the decisions that have made it so costly became irreversible,” said Lynne Sagalyn, director of the Paul Milstein Center for Real Estate at the Columbia Business School. She is, funnily enough, writing a book about the WTC redevelopment. Ah, to have endless streams of money for boondoggle projects . . .  Patrick Foye, PA’s executive director, envisions the hub as a “world-class transit gateway” that would “help transform Lower Manhattan into a thriving 24/7 neighborhood.”

interior of WTC transit hub

(skyscraperpage.com) Brave New World?

In June, my husband and I attended a public forum regarding the state of New Jersey Transit (NJT) bus service and the state of PABT. Senator Loretta Weinberg (D-NJ) and officials from PA and NJT were on hand. Senator Weinberg seemed in full support of the commuters’ plight, but it was more of a pep rally for the PA and NJT officials, who, judging by their statements, must never ride the buses. PA “has set aside just 0.002 percent of its $27 billion, 10-year capital budget for improvements at the bus terminal.”

PABT was last renovated in 1979, when it was a hot-bed of prostitution, drug dealing and general sleaziness. Honestly, not much has changed: I see a whole cast of characters lined up every night outside the sliding glass doors who are clearly not living the Dream.

Ralph Kramden statue at rush hour (evening) (Erica Herd)

(E. Herd)

For those of you who aren’t familiar with the Terminal, it is cramped and filthy; the buses often do not run on time; the gates service up to 5 or 6 different bus lines, making overcrowding commonplace. However, I must give credit where credit is due. Since the District 37 bus forum with Senator Weinberg in June 2014, the bus lines have been shorter and the wait more bearable–due to the installation of “starters” (dispatchers) at the gates.

Gate 224 (2)  9-3-14

(E. Herd)

The ceilings are leaking and damaged, covered with makeshift tarp-like material from which garden hoses spring and empty into filthy yellow trash cans.

trash can

(E. Herd) Trash can at gate catching drippings from light fixture, 12/3/14

Sometimes you’re fortunate enough to get dripped on while waiting for your bus to arrive. The escalators leading up to the gates are caked with grime, food and other unidentifiable filth and generally non-functioning. AC is non-existent, although industrial sized stand up fans have recently been installed. The inside of the buses are filthy too–but that’s another story. There is no garage-type facility to house the buses, so they must wait in New Jersey, and circle around Manhattan streets (they are not permitted to “stand”), or drivers risk being fined by the police. Not an efficient system, to say the least.

PA has spent $7.7 billion to rebuild the World Trade Center (that includes the train hub), and was then sued by a citizens watch group because they refused to disclose financial information regarding the re-building. The $7.7 billion is borrowed money. Due to their enormous debts, PA lacks funds for much needed infrastructure and transportation projects in NY. It was prepared to give Silverstein Properties a $1.2 billion loan guarantee for construction of the 72-story 3 WTC, but that deal fell through.

In July, former NJ attorney general John Degnan was appointed new PA Chairman and immediately pushed through funding of $90 million for “emergency” repairs of the bus terminal. A drop in the bucket compared to what’s been spent on the WTC and deals with Silverstein.

I have nothing against progress, but I wonder who is truly benefiting from this monstrosity, I mean train hub. I don’t imagine that commuters using the WTC station will be frequenting the high-end underground shops, but hey, you never know.

Selfishly, I might not mind so much if some of that money were being spent on the 42nd Street bus terminal. After all, the working slobs’ (me included) bus fare and tolls (yes, we drive sometimes) keep Port Authority alive and kicking.  Hey, and the tolls just went sky high.  Where is our “bird in flight”? I want a giant, winged airy structure / stegosaurus to amble through morning and night, and expensive store windows to press my runny nose up against, Oliver Twist-like. Throw us a bone, if not a bird in flight!

The next Bus Rider Forum with Senator Weinberg and officials from Port Authority and NJ Transit is scheduled for December 11 at the Rodda Community Center in Teaneck on December 11. I’ll let you know how it goes.

 

Why Does He Sit Next to Me?

commuter on bus

(photo: Mo Riza, flickr)

The man in a trench coat
who smells like pencil shavings
makes the sign of the cross
three times during the trip to NYC
I wish he wouldn’t sit next to me

He fidgets and clears his throat
loudly,
never reads
I know he wants to talk
but I don’t
Why does he sit next to me?

He used to have a bus buddy
they chatted the entire way
never see her anymore
now he drifts from seat to seat,
hoping for camaraderie (I think)
I want to read or listen to music,
clear my head for the work day
Why does he sit next to me?

He tells the bus driver to “Have a safe day.”

The Anti-Preacher

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)

‘Twas All Hallows’ Eve

‘Twas All Hallows’ Eve and all through the bus
commuters were stirring, but no one threw up

A passenger clipping his nails behind me
another jerking and clearing his throat beside me

I put on my headphones to block out the sound
until in Port Authority we were safely aground

The bus driver said, “Have a good weekend;” we wished her the same
“Thank God it’s Friday” was our refrain

On the streets of Manhattan, a bracing autumn day
a man spat right in front of me and blithely went on his way

I look forward to tonight with the trick or treaters—
costumes and candies and toilet paper streamers
I welcome hobgoblins, zombies, Spiderman and ghosts,
witches, Frozen, Miley Cyrus with a big foam finger and other weird folks

What I won’t abide are the Rude Ones, you know who you are–
elbowers, seat jerkers, nail clippers, hummers, near and far
people whose seats drop in your lap, those who shove you with mighty thighs
open-mouth coughers, loud cell phone talkers, you who play videos without earphones– fie!

No candy for you, this is my decree
a pox on you Rude Ones—begone with thee!

Zen Bus Driver

Ralph Kramden statue at rush hour (evening)

Ralph Kramden statue at rush hour (evening)  (photo by Erica Herd)

I took the early bus to work this morning, the 7:45 which arrives at 7:43. I wasn’t feeling great – have a pinched nerve in my neck, I think, but I hunkered down in my seat, and continued reading Gone Girl on my iPad. My seat mate wore a floral dress and crocheted black shawl and big dark glasses, her mop of dark bangs curtaining the lenses as she read a paperback. All in all, a serene and uneventful trip.

The New Jersey Transit bus drivers are a varying lot: some are gruff, some friendly, some unintelligible. Our Christian driver says over the intercom, “Enjoy the grace of God” and wishes us a “blessed day” as we depart. One driver acts as a tour guide, remarking on the forsythias on the side of the side of the turnpike and how they only bloom in spring. When she was our nighttime driver, she announced each stop (which not all the drivers do) in an erotic, bordering on pornographic purr: “Summit Avenue and Prospect, Summ-iiiit Aaav-e-nuuuue.” Commuters giggled and laughed out loud, but she didn’t seem to notice or care. She would give some of the male passengers a “ come hither” ogle as they departed. I haven’t seen her in a while, perhaps she retired.

Today the driver was silent until we reached our destination, Port Authority (aka “PA”). As we pulled in, he announced over the intercom, “Please remember to take all your belongings and have a peaceful and mindful day.”

Now that’s a first! What a refreshing change from the Big Brother announcements in PA and signs that say “If you see something, say something,” and the “TEXT AGAINST TERROR” campaign: “NJ TRANSIT Reminds Customers to Report Suspicious Activity at 1-888-TIPS-NJT.”

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(photo credit: KnowAddiction.nj.gov)

There’s also a NJ marketing campaign to fight heroin abuse. Some buses tout the sign, “Your medicine cabinet could be the gateway to heroin.” More fear, another “war” against something. I’ve made it a personal crusade to fight against the Fear Campaigns. I’m not living in denial. I know there are terrible things going on in the world, but I’m tired of the Fear Bullying. I agree with the bus driver, let’s not have a “safe” day as they say on the MTA, but a “peaceful and mindful” one. We can be aware without allowing ourselves to be terrorized by another “war” or campaign.

The Dispatchers

Definition of “dispatch” according to the Merriam Webster online dictionary: 
“(1) to send off or away with promptness or speed; especially: to send off on official business, (2)  a :  to kill with quick efficiency, b:  obsolete :  deprive, (3)  to dispose of (as a task) rapidly or efficiently, (4)  defeat”

As you can see from the number of posts I’ve written on the subject, New Jersey Transit is a big part of my life. After 7 years of using the system on an average of 10 times a week (weekdays a.m. and p.m.), I guess it would have to be, or else I have no life: you decide. To truly appreciate the “NJ Transit Experience,” one must first know The Dispatchers.

Porky.
When Lorin and I first started riding the bus, the dispatcher at our gate, Infamous Gate 224, was a fellow he nicknamed “Porky” after–you guessed it—Porky Pig. But a mean Porky Pig. Porky had a face resembling a frying pan–flat, inert, with dull brown eyes. He sauntered up and down the bus passageway, seemingly without purpose and would disappear for minutes or hours at a time. We joked that he was on a perpetual French fry break. He never communicated to us commuters what was going on when there were significant delays. One time a commuter asked him where the 6:15 (you fill in the time) bus was and showed him the bus schedule. Porky said, “The schedule is a guideline, there are no guarantees” in a deep gruff voice. Mystery solved. Porky vanished several months ago and no one seems to miss him.

porkypig

Suave.
Suave is dapper, well-groomed and sleek, and has the air of a Miami nightclub owner. You never know when he will appear, and when he does, you can be sure he will be looking fine–never breaks a sweat. He saunters even more aggressively than Porky, never communicates with us and when a bus finally appears after waiting, say 45 to 60 minutes, he talks to the bus driver for what seems an eternity. The express line may be snaked around 4 times with no breathing room, but he’ll probably dispatch another local bus. A couple weeks ago after we had been waiting for over an hour, a commuter started banging on the plexi(?) glass barrier, “Do your fucking job! Send us an express! Do your fucking job!” I was gratified to see someone up in arms at Suave’s incompetence. Suave did not respond to the commuter directly, but he did switch the bus from local to express. Suave never speaks directly to any of us. He’s far too . . . suave.

Man Mountain Dean.
Man Mountain Dean, so-named after the famed wrestler born Frank Simmons in NYC in 1891. Suffice it to say, he is a mountain of a man. MMD gets the job done. Strong and silent. He bellows into his walkie talkie for buses, and the buses do come. He lets you know if it’s an express or a local and keeps the lines moving at a steady clip. God bless MMD! He has not been seen in a while. Perhaps he has found another calling, a higher mountain. We may never know.

MamMountainDean

O Captain! My Captain!
Last, but not least, is O Captain! My Captain! (OCMC). A 20-year veteran of NJ Transit (former bus driver), he is at Gate 224 two to three nights a week and fills beleaguered commuters with hope for a brighter future. He communicates with us, he barks orders into the walkie-talkie, he cracks a joke here and there, he helps old ladies onto the bus. He is our hero! From time to time he says, “163 bus to nowhere!” and we all laugh. We understand. Where are we going after all? With him we feel safe. We know he will lead us on to victory or at least get us on a musty bus to Hackensack. God bless our Captain!

“O Captain! My Captain! our fearful trip is done,
The ship has weather’d every rack, the prize we sought is won,
The port is near, the bells I hear, the people all exulting,
While follow eyes the steady keel, the vessel grim and daring . . .”

– Walt Whitman

Rush Hour

Transcript of announcement (female voice):  Please be advised that the Port Authority Bus Terminal is experiencing both inbound and outbound delays due to heavy volume. We apologize for any inconvenience this may have caused. (I recorded this at PABT)

The reasons for delays are always one of three:
(1) heavy volume,
(2) inclement weather (even when it’s sunny) or
(3) police activity in the Lincoln Tunnel.

PA 9-3-14photo

Gate 224 9-3-14Gate 224 (2)  9-3-14

(above photos: Erica Herd)

The National Guard is often on duty, but, unfortunately, they are unable to speed the passage of buses into the terminal.

National Guard at PA

(photo credit: http://www.army.mil)

For more info on the Port Authority Bus Terminal (if you dare),  check out this article.

And here’s comedian John Oliver’s take on PABT.

 

Port Authority Ramp Preacher #1

For those of you who commute via Port Authority / 42nd Street, Times Square, you are sure to have seen and heard a variety of preachers. They are situated from the top to the bottom of the ramp that leads from Port Authority to the No. 7 and other subway lines.  

Preacher #1 is a middle-aged Latina in colorful clothes. She speaks rather quickly, kind of reminds me of Cal Worthington in the old TV commercial, “Go See Cal.”

If you need money, go to God.

If you need a job, go to God.

If you need a boyfriend, go to God.

If you need a new car, go to God.

If you need a doctor, go to God.

If you are sick, go to God.

If you are lonely, go to God.

 

Gimme Candy, I Scan

werther_original_roll

“Gimme candy,” said the Pakistani clerk
with a long silver and white ponytail
and thick lenses in plastic pink-blue frames
―a throwback to the 70s―
at the Port Authority newspaper/candy stand.
I looked at her quizzically
and then at the package of
Werther’s Original hard candies
that I gave her two dollars for,
waiting for change.
“Gimme candy, I scan,”
she said, this time more emphatically.
“Oh,” I said, and handed it over.
She returned the candy
with seventy cents change and receipt,
no thank you.