You are in a maze of twisty little passages, all squalid
August 27, 2009 12:47 PM   Subscribe

An essay on the horrors of the Port Authority Bus Terminal, in the form of a Choose Your Own Adventure® story. posted by mhum (40 comments total) 31 users marked this as a favorite
Haha nice. I was expecting something completely different. But I like the really stark, plain design. Lets the words do the talking.

Also: yeah, how about that Port Authority Bus Terminal, eh? And airplane food, huh?
posted by Askiba at 12:54 PM on August 27, 2009

As someone who passes through the PABT regularly, as I work in Manhattan and it's sometimes easier than the trains to get in or get home that way,I find this.... not really all that funny.
posted by mephron at 12:56 PM on August 27, 2009

That's a very, very apt description of Port Authority. But it terrifies me that someone would voluntarily spend the time and effort to record in such detail the vertiginosity of the place.
posted by kittyprecious at 12:56 PM on August 27, 2009

Yeah, this is pretty awesome. And accurate!
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2009

(I went into Au Bon Pain immediately, just like I always do.)
posted by PhoBWanKenobi at 12:57 PM on August 27, 2009

This is awesome. I used to work a job that periodically required catching an early morning bus out to Jersey. I remember the first time I had to go, I arrived at PA 25 minutes early, plenty of time, right? I made the mistake of stopping for coffee, then got turned around and wandered aimless. I knew my group was meeting outside the bowling alley, but where the heck was the bowling alley??? And why is there a bowling alley in a bus station anyway? I've hated the place ever since. Apparently, so has everybody else.
posted by philotes at 12:58 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

This is not that accurate if you've lived in NYC for any length of time or been in the PABT frequently, but it is funny.
posted by Damn That Television at 12:59 PM on August 27, 2009

For reference, if anyone wants to sit down at the Port Authority, you could just go downstairs to the Greyhound bus terminal.
posted by jdotglenn at 1:03 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Man, this is actually really fun. Whoever wrote this (assuming a guy named Rudolph Delson) has that rare accidental talent where sure, he overwrites, but in a way that is charming and still brief.
posted by Damn That Television at 1:06 PM on August 27, 2009

But I like the really stark, plain design. Lets the words do the talking.

Do you remember the books? That's just how they were laid out--"If you want to follow the creepy guy with the peg leg into the alley, turn to page 41." So you turn to page 41. "The creepy guy was waiting for you behind the building and beat you over the head with his leg. You're dead now. Too bad." Pretty simple stuff. It was great.
posted by njbradburn at 1:07 PM on August 27, 2009

I very much like "Your feel your soul sicken as it absorbs this knowledge; you wonder whether you have trespassed upon the forbidden protocols of the elders of American franchise cuisine. You feel swollen, sour."

It is definitely like a Choose Your Own Adventure in that I always end up getting whacked in those things.
posted by adipocere at 1:07 PM on August 27, 2009

This is great. I have been perplexed in Port Authority trying to find things like a bus, or a restroom. I have also given blood in Port authority. AND this post has reminded me that they have a farmer's market there on Thursdays, so maybe I'll go there on my way home from work. If I can find it.
posted by yarrow at 1:13 PM on August 27, 2009

I wonder if he has the air hockey table, can't seem to find it... of course half the time I can't find it when I'm there physically either.
posted by rottytooth at 1:16 PM on August 27, 2009

If I could just get that cop to stop laying his hand upon my shoulder.....
posted by caddis at 1:23 PM on August 27, 2009

"You did not make a choice, or follow any direction, but now, somehow, you're reading about Choose Your Own Adventure® books on Metafilter."
posted by bondcliff at 1:24 PM on August 27, 2009 [4 favorites]

Oh my god. This bastard. I went to NYC a couple years ago for work, and I was stuck in a hotel out in Jersey, and had to take the bus into Manhattan every day, and I always had to walk down that hallway. That damn poem just made me want to eat a bullet every morning. Who on earth ever apporved that piece of soul-sucking misery to be placed right where it is most depair inducing?
posted by rusty at 1:25 PM on August 27, 2009

That's fantastic.
posted by sixswitch at 1:25 PM on August 27, 2009

God, I love Leisure Time.
posted by dirtdirt at 1:37 PM on August 27, 2009

does it mention the super-fun kinetic sculpture that obviously involves bocce balls running around on a roller coaster, but that is always broken, the motor spinning aimlessly, all covered in dust, the balls lodged in the tracks or laying around in the bottom of the greasy scratched-up glass case?
posted by sexyrobot at 1:45 PM on August 27, 2009

While it's hard not to like the character of Ralph Kramden...

"one of these days...Pow! Right in the kisser! One of these days Alice, straight to the moon!"

Yeah, a real role model, that guy. I'd totally have him over for brunch.
posted by Antidisestablishmentarianist at 1:51 PM on August 27, 2009

For those who like Choose Your Own Adventure mixed with Autobiography, a professor of at Waterloo had a very cool website. (Sadly, he seems to have taken it down. So it only lives on He replaced it with something almost as interesting, as far as far as professors bio pages go anyways. He went to Waterloo himself, and sounds like a dick. He was kind of a dick as a professor, if I remember correctly. Interesting enough fellow though. This is a big derail. My bad.)
posted by chunking express at 1:53 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

It is pitch black. You are likely to be eaten by a queue.
posted by Rhaomi at 1:57 PM on August 27, 2009 [5 favorites]

"You did not make a choice, or follow any direction, but now, somehow..."

Thank you. Those words just reached across nearly three decades and punched me right in the brain.
posted by phooky at 2:08 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

oh my god, that's perfect. the number of times I've been in Port Authority and thought "where the fuck do I go? oh! an Au Bon Pain! Wait a second... didn't I JUST pass one of those? Where the fuck am I?"
posted by shmegegge at 2:27 PM on August 27, 2009

(After eating at Au Pain)

"As you stand in the Main Ticket Plaza, you turn to a solid cake—the color of flour-paste, the shape of a haggard commuter..."

That part was worthy.
posted by Hardcore Poser at 2:36 PM on August 27, 2009

About five years ago, when I was living in Brooklyn, I convinced my Grandpa in North Jersey to come see a Knicks game with me. He got a ride into Manhattan with a friend. It was a mild night, so after the game we walked from Madison Square Garden to the the Port Authority. We walked in towards the main ticket plaza.

"This place is different than the last time I was here."

"When was that, Grandpa?"

"Nineteen sixty-five."
posted by HeroZero at 3:14 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

So is there a winning path? I couldn't find it.
posted by PercussivePaul at 3:56 PM on August 27, 2009

The main disorienting oddity of PABT is the building's slight east-west tilt, so the Eighth Avenue entrance is one floor up from the Ninth Avenue entrance. The east elevators also have a trap for the unwary--there is a button marked S (for subway, the level below street) but it does not work. The escalators or stairs must be used to get to the Subway level. This is also the lower level, and if you walk the length of the building on it, you will emerge on Ninth Avenue (see first sentence).

It's not really all that complicated:

The gates numbered <100 are on the Lower Level. These host most of the longer-distance buses (Greyhound & etc)

The gates numbered 2xx and 4xx are on the fourth floor, but are mutually inaccessible. The elevators go to the 4xx gates, but only escalators from the second floor go to the 2xx gates.

The gates numbered 3xx are in the north building, accessible behind the quadruple escalators on the second floor, and also from Eighth Avenue (between 41st & 42nd streets).

Many buses do not actually enter the terminal--they pick up and drop off passengers on nearby streets. Most of these seem to be small buses serving nearby New Jersey locations, but the important member of this class is the Airport bus. The Airport buses are on 42nd street.

Many years ago, to make the terminal less attractive to the homeless, the PA system was switched from popular music to classical. Today was Vivaldi and some Mozart piano sonata, but I have heard unidentifiable baroque solo flute--they get pretty obscure. Sleeping or being homeless (defined as being without a bus ticket) will get you rousted by the PA police (the Port Authority has its own police force, kind of like the NY Housing or Transit police). The police are polite but firm. They also 'check out' kids who may be runaways (defined as hanging around and not looking like they know what they're doing). Again politely but firmly (at least that I have ever seen).

The bowling alley has been undergoing renovation for years. All construction work in PABT proceeds with unbelievable slowness.
posted by hexatron at 4:37 PM on August 27, 2009

I was hoping this would help me figure out how to find the Newark Airport bus from Port Authority, which I have to do in a few weeks. I still haven't figured out the best (cheap, but quick) way to get there after hours of research. Anyone?
posted by greta simone at 5:19 PM on August 27, 2009

Fact: The Port Authority Bowling Alley is a relic from the plane of Negative Energy, sent here as punishment for deeds too monstrous to utter or even to think about lest the memory of the crime allow it's horror to re-enter the Collective Unconsciousness. Avoid.
posted by The Whelk at 5:23 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]


Take one of the airport buses that pick up from Park Avenue just outside of Grand Central Station. If you must leave from the west side I think Newark Liberty Airport Express picks up at bot locations, but the Grand Central pickup is loads easier- no Port Authority to torture you.
posted by TSOL at 6:44 PM on August 27, 2009

A winning combonation for PercussivePaul:
pyvpx urer
nh oba cnva
vasb obbgu
frpbaq sybbe
jvtf naq fhatynffrf
vasb obbgu
posted by xorry at 8:15 PM on August 27, 2009

combonation ? combination
posted by xorry at 8:19 PM on August 27, 2009

greta, forget buses, they are for the weak and confused. go to penn station, get a ticket from the numerous, pretty easy to use, automated ticketing machines near the nj transit terminal on the 7th ave side. you can get tickets to the airport, and then you get an airtrain ticket. get on any nj transit train that has an EWR next to it on the departure board. simple! just do NOT attempt this between 4:45-6:30 on a weekday, or you will hate life (same as port authority).
posted by Mach5 at 8:46 PM on August 27, 2009

So is there a winning path? I couldn't find it.

The only winning move is not to play.
Take the PATH.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:54 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

Oh, you wanted to go to Newark?
No, you want to go to Hoboken. Don't go to Newark.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 11:55 PM on August 27, 2009 [1 favorite]

I really enjoyed this guy's work, thanks for pointing it out to me. I read some of the other things on his site which were part hilarious, part thoughtful, part strange. I especially like his way of teasing out the images of America suggested by various bits of everyday flotsam. What kind of America is suggested in the GED exam? What kind of America is presented in the design of a US passport? He's some kind of cultural theorist who... isn't quite there. It is unsettling and unusual, and funny. I like it.
posted by marmaduke_yaverland at 1:02 AM on August 28, 2009

No, you want to go to Hoboken. Don't go to Newark.

Yeah! You can get shitty street drugs right here in the 5 boroughs.
posted by The Whelk at 6:51 AM on August 28, 2009

An article I read recently noted that you can get a pretty good feel for pre-Disneyfication Times Square just south of the PABT.

Between about 37th street and 40th street on 8th Avenue there are the smells (urine, pot, Burgerking), sites (electronics, porn and kung fu video stores) and sounds (horns, muttering) that once blanketed the whole entire Times Square area until the middle of the last decade. Nothing to get nostalgic about but one gets the vibe from an earlier time.
posted by otto42 at 7:15 AM on August 28, 2009

Yeah, I miss old New York. I remember the first time I visited the city... it was in the eighties and I was probably around ten or eleven years old. I was with my parents who decided it would be cheaper to drive up from Florida in our ancient Plymouth Valiant than fly. The car was held together by duct tape and will power, and when it inevitably ended up breaking down, it was in the center lane of Broadway around Union Sq. I mean it just flat-out dies on us, with a hundred million billion other cars all trying to get around us. They're all honking, yelling, cursing our ancestors and the like. I'm doing my best to try and blend in with the fabric of the back seat.

And this one guy, he's walking along on the sidewalk like he's got his own backup band. And in the midst of all of my parents' harried oh-my-god-what-are-we-gonna-do with my mom yelling at my dad and my dad yelling back at the traffic honking at us, this guy yells out from across the street, "Hey! Hey!" and I guess my parents were thinking maybe he's got some good advice for our situation, so everyone temporarily stops screaming to listen to him and he says, "Welcome to New York!"

Fantastic city.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 4:09 PM on August 28, 2009 [1 favorite]

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