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)

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)

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.