Brussels vs. Hellhole


(google images – Brussels)

According to the Merriam Webster online dictionary, a hellhole is defined as “a place of extreme misery or squalor.” The urban dictionary defines it as “a place you dread or hate.”

How Donald Trump equated Brussels with “hellhole,” I’ll never truly grasp.  Here is a blurb from his anti-Brussels rant:

“You go to Brussels. I was in Brussels a long time ago—20 years ago—so beautiful, everything’s so beautiful. It’s like living in a hellhole right now,” Trump told Fox.

Brussels has not fared well since it is believed that part of the November 15 attacks on Paris were planned there.

Nevertheless, a “hellhole”?

Apparently Trump hasn’t spent any time at Port Authority Bus Terminal.

PA 9-3-14

Gate 224 (2) 9-3-14

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

As comedian John Oliver said, it is “also known as the single worst place on Planet Earth.”

It’s not so funny for those of us who commute on a daily basis, but it is our personal reality.

If Trump ever spent a week commuting via NJ Transit to and from Port Authority, I believe he would understand the true meaning of hellhole. That is my wish for him: a week commuting like the rest of us working slobs.

(all Port Authority photos by E. Herd)

New York Values


(photo by Jeffrey Zeldman)

New Yorkers don’t
eat pizza with a fork

New Yorkers will
give you directions if you
ask and don’t look too

New Yorkers don’t
smile all the time
but do
when it counts

New Yorkers don’t
like bull shit
and people telling us
who or what we are:
“socially liberal, pro-abortion,
pro-gay marriage, and
focus on money and the media.”

Some of those things are true
for some of us
but we don’t like
being labeled.
Do you?

We can do without you too,
Mr. Cruz
Don’t do any stumping
on our shores
or we’ll get our skankiest
Port Authority pigeons
to shit all over you


Jesus Hates Commuting

I thought it was only me and thousands of other working people, but it turns out that Jesus hates commuting too. How do I know? Well, he appeared to me on the NJ Transit bus the other day.

He was a tall African American with chiseled features, wearing jeans, a button down white shirt and Birkenstocks.

Before sitting next to me, he removed the soiled coffee cup and food wrappers wedged in beside his seat.

“How can you stand this?” He said.

“I don’t know, Jesus. I guess we just get used to it.”

“And the mildew and dust?” He said, coughing.

“The same. If you don’t mind me asking, Jesus, why are you in New Jersey?”

“Trying to convince Governor Christie from running for president. Not sure I succeeded.”

We sat outside the “teardrop” NJ Turnpike toll plaza for almost thirty minutes. It was 9:00.

“I have to be somewhere at 9:30,” He said.

“So do most of us,” I said. “Can you fix it?”

“This is beyond my powers,” He said, shaking his dreadlocks.

I thought to myself, If that’s the case, then we are royally fucked. I didn’t think Jesus would approve of profanity.

Jesus sneezed.

“God bless you,” I said.

He looked at me quizzically.

“Oh, sorry,” I said.

“Are you late for work every day?” Jesus said.

“Not every day, maybe every other day.”

“How do you accomplish anything ?”

“It’s a challenge.”

Jesus started to sweat.

“Hey, Jesus, do you want to listen to Pandora or read the paper? It’ll pass the time.”

“What’s Pandora?” He said.

“It’s a radio station on the iPhone.” I pulled out my phone to show Him.

“Oh, cool. Sure.”

He was rocking out to the Five Blind Boys of Alabama singing “I’ll Fly Away.”

It was 9:26 when we arrived at Port Authority Bus Terminal.

“Where are you headed, Jesus?”

“I’ve got to be at the Brooklyn Bridge to stop someone from doing something stupid.”

“You won’t make it, Jesus.”

“Shit! I mean, shoot,” He said.

“It’s okay, Jesus. Commuting’ll do that to you.”

“I don’t know how you stand it, Erica. I hate commuting.”

We shook hands before exiting the bus; then Jesus flew down a flight of stairs.

A Bucket of Water

bucket of water

photo by Dave Lawler

A bucket of water stood on the ramp leading from the Port Authority Bus Terminal to the 7, N-R and 1-2-3 subway lines. It was the kind of bucket that holds several bunches of flowers at the florist’s or outside the Korean delis.

Odd place for it to be, half-filled with water. I looked up to the ceiling. No leak.

Yesterday morning I found a small pool of water in front of the stove near the cat dishes. I looked at the ceiling, but no leak. It wasn’t cat pee.

Lorin found a pool of water in front of the refrigerator. He opened the fridge door–no leak.

Are these signs like the crop circles? Are aliens leaving pools and buckets of water as a message to us humans? If so, what does it mean?

Buckets of water and small pools, but no leaks.

This morning Samson puked on the Spiderman collapsible Frisbee that came in a box of Apple Jacks cereal. I saw it happen. He throws up every day, in different locations. No mystery in that.

yoga cat

Samson, not vomiting (photo by L.E. Swenson)

Mysterious, those leaks.

Night Crawlers

marbles at PA 

Wally Gobetz (Port Authority Bus Terminal Subway Station, “Losing My Marbles” by Lisa Dinhofer)

10 p.m. It’s the bewitching hour at Port Authority Bus Terminal. It’s when the changeover occurs, from Commuter-land to Weirdo-ville. Even the gate numbers change. Bus 163 now arrives at Gate 409 instead of Gate 224. An endless corridor leads you to the 400 gates, or maybe it feels like that because you’re more tired. There are more tourists, young people, revelers, down-and-outs and oddballs.

It was Friday night after seeing a show. I thought the next bus was at 10:50, but that was the 164. The next 163 came at 11:05. Twenty minutes till then. The line was long.

“Can you take my jacket off? I’m like sweatin’, oh shit!” said a woman sprawled on a couple of those plastic pull-down plastic seats that can barely accommodate a toddler’s ass.

She was a dead ringer for Roseanne Barr, but much younger, in gray leggings and a loose black blouse. She was soused and loud.

Her boyfriend or the guy with her was a lean Latino of average height wearing a baseball cap. She addressed him and seemingly anyone in earshot.

She commented on a woman passing by, “A white girl got ass, what? Damn! I tell everybody to shut the fuck up.”

I could not hear what her boyfriend was saying, but I think he was trying to quiet her down.

“This be gettin’ some tonight,” she said, pointing to her crotch. “I’m gonna fuck him tonight.”

“What, you don’t like it?” She cackled, Roseanne Barr-like.

Finally the 11:05 pulled in.

The boyfriend led the girl to the back of the bus. I sat 3/4 towards the back.

A woman with two small children sat towards the back of the bus.

A white guy and the drunk girl continued shout-talking, every other word punctuated by “fuck” or “fuck you up.”

A 20 to 30-something African American man said, “Please, man, there’s children in here.”

“Fuck you!” the white guy said.

“Hey, I’m trying to reason with you, bro.  Have some respect.”

“You wanna take it outside?” 

The bus driver seemed oblivious to the back room antics. 

“Come on, man, take it easy,” the African American man said.

“You gonna have to bail me out,” the loud guy said.

I fantasized about the bus driver stopping, letting the two guys off to settle their differences, bloody mayhem ensuing.

It felt like an eternity of back and forth, one guy shouting threats and curses and the other trying to stay calm and reasonable. 

Sanity prevailed. By the time the African American guy was exiting the bus, the two had settled their differences.

“I’m just trying to get home,” the African American man said. 

“Me too, bro. It’s all good,” the other guy said. 

Peace, aside from the intermittent cackle from young Roseanne Barr.

Then she, her boyfriend and the white guy disembarked as well. 

Heaven. I closed my eyes and relaxed for the rest of the ride home.

Preachers on Parade


42nd Street Subway station preacher posters (a bit out of focus because I was afraid the screaming preacher was going to rip my iPhone out of my hand. He and another one were screaming “Abortion is murder!”)

Every day on the ramp from the #7 subway to Port Authority Bus Terminal at 42nd Street is a kind of mini-carnival of preachers, but last night was a full-fledged parade! They were coming out of the woodwork, I mean, tiles. Everywhere, all ethnicities and ages and temperaments. They almost outnumbered the commuters. Was it annual Preachers Day, and nobody told us?

Among the preachers were:

(1)    An unintelligible Korean woman holding a placard and shrieking Bible quotes or condemnations at the passersby.

(2)    A Latino man who approached a girl no older than 5 walking hand-in-hand with her mother. He got in her face and said in an admonishing tone, “It’s never too late.” Are you kidding? What sins has she committed? It reminded me of going to confession as a young girl and running out of things to confess. One of my “sins” was interrupting my dad when he was on the phone in his study. If I were that mother, I would have told the guy to leave my kid alone, or perhaps used stronger language.

(3)     A white stringy-haired guy standing against the wall, mumbling sotto voce. Too shy to be a preacher, I think.

(4)     A young African-American man wearing a brown hoodie with block yellow lettering on the back, “TRUST AND BELIEVE IN JESUS.” He hovered near the pamphlet / chachka table and said nothing. I wonder what his sales are like.

Tons of plaques and posters painted with scripture verses in primary colors, and one of Jesus, head bloodied by thorns, with an ocher backdrop, lined the walls. A painting depicted what looked like a man being lured by a prostitute (oversized woman, smaller man – you get the point) sitting in a come-hither pose.  I wasn’t able to make out what it said, will have to check back again tonight.

In the morning, there’s the African-American preacher in Frye boots and cowboy hat and bolo tie, who says, “Do not reject Jesus. Jesus will not reject you.” Listen here: 

The energy of these preachers on parade is palpable. If only it could be harnessed and used for the greater good, to solve world problems, or help the poor, homeless and mentally ill and other disenfranchised people. If only they were DOING and HELPING, instead of preaching and accosting the innocent. I guess I could say the same about myself; only difference is, I’m not a preacher, but still, no excuse.

(audio – E. Herd)

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.

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)

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:

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.