Stabbings, Rim Jobs, And PCP: A New York City Mass Transit Survival Guide
“One can’t paint New York as it is, but rather as it is felt.” – Georgia O’Keeffe
GOTHAMIST: After several years of community board meetings and looking at 30 different options, the Port Authority of New York and New Jersey has decided to build a new bus terminal in the same footprint as the current one at 42nd Street.
Well there it is folks, the shithole that is the Port Authority Bus Terminal is finally getting a facelift. For those not familiar with Midtown Manhattan, the Port Authority is ensconced by Hell’s Kitchen, Times Square, and the Theater District. It’s a slice of New York City that plays host to teeming masses of commuters, crackheads, crack dealers, schizophrenics, muscle-bound twinks, and European tourists.
I commute through the Port Authority Bus Terminal, or Port Authority as it is known, on a daily basis and having traveled to a number of developing nations — places where indoor plumbing is a privilege — I can confidently call it one of the biggest shitholes on the planet.
It’s a shame really; New York regards itself as the most important city on the planet, but it welcomes its visitors and squires its citizens about town via transit facilities that, if I may repeat myself, are massive shitholes.
Transportation hubs are prime terrorist targets, and the terminal is just a stone’s throw from Times Square and the New York Times offices so there is a heavy police presence in and around the building. The cops are mostly there to prevent terrorism and other violent crimes, but pretty much everything else is in play. Remember the Isle of Tortuga in Pirates Of The Caribbean, where all the pirates would gather there and engage in wild, raucous carnivals of sex and violence? The Port Authority and surrounding area is kinda like that but with unshowered PCP users taking the place of Johnny Depp.
It’s not exactly Hamsterdam from The Wire, but the streets around the building have recently turned into something of an open air drug market. A hopeful New Yorker might say it’s the culture giving a nostalgic nod to the pre-Giuliani days of the 70s and 80s, but the reality is Covid lockdowns chased commuters and tourists from the area and the void was filled by people with serious mental illnesses and serious drug problems. The other day I was offered drugs on both my way to and from the bus terminal. One dealer offered me Adderall, which might sound weird, but from a business perspective makes perfect sense. Under normal circumstances the neighborhood is heavily trafficked by white collar workers coming in from Jersey. If you went to happy hour on Thursday, you may need a pick me up on Friday morning, and since the buzz kills in HR won’t let you knock back a line of booger sugar at your desk like the old days, Adderall is the next best thing. I’m sure that poor guy’s profits are suffering these days with everyone working from home. Another small business ravaged by covid. Very sad.
But I’m getting ahead of myself. Let’s say you’re a tourist coming to New York City via Greyhound. A terrible idea for many reasons, but let’s say you’re broke or simply have very low standards. As you step off of your bus and make your way through the terminal to the streets you’ll be greeted by an ecosystem that consists of pigeons, rats, and spaced out homeless guys shuffling around like zombies. Don’t let their sickly appearance fool you, these guys are dangerous and are known to cut a motherfucker. To be fair they’re mostly dangerous to each other, but the guys who hover around the departures board can get a little bit testy with tourists who don’t tip for lending a hand with the ticket machine. Either pony up a couple bucks for the service, or tell them to fuck off as soon as they start talking to you. If you need help that badly check with the information desk where you are slightly less likely to get stabbed.
You’ll run into all of this before you hit the sidewalk. The sidewalk is where the danger and adventure really begin. There’s usually about 6 or 7 cops standing right outside the front door because if they weren’t there then the riff raff that claim 8th Ave as their turf might come inside and defecate on the floor or slash a commuter with a razor blade (yes, really). Instead, they patrol the streets pacing in circles, hurling profanity and threatening passersby like non-player characters in an all too real arcade game. During last week’s commute I happened upon one of them being chased down the street, attempting to escape what his pursuers loudly proclaimed would be an ‘ass beating’ for repeatedly causing trouble in a nearby bodega — the Midtown ecosystem’s infinite tango unfolding before my very eyes.
Attached to the bus terminal is a subway station and an underground walkway that you can take to get to the Times Square subway station – it was inside this walkway that an ISIS inspired terrorist blew up his own dick with a pipe bomb right before Christmas a few years ago.
Upon arrival at the Times Square subway platform visitors will be delighted to see the bench on which a large black man got his salad tossed in a recent viral video. An incident shocking to some is de riguer in the city’s subway system, where like the streets surrounding the Port Authority, anything goes. Riders and taxpayers may fund the subway system but it truly belongs to rats, the homeless, and still more PCP addled non player characters.
Of late these men have made a game of shoving distracted straphangers from the platform into the path of oncoming trains. No, seriously, if you aren’t from New York you might not believe that this goes on, but people are shoved in front of subway trains here on a far too frequent basis. My advice is to stand as far from the edge as possible, don’t make eye contact with anyone suspicious, and keep your head on a swivel — Tik Tok can wait til later.
If you manage to board a train instead of being tossed in front of one, you might see someone masturbating. You might see someone defecating. You might see both. It’s not uncommon for men to take out their penises and pleasure themselves in front of women on the subway. It’s also common knowledge among New Yorkers that if there’s an empty subway car at rush hour it means a homeless guy took a shit in it, and a cleaning crew has yet to make their rounds.
So after seeing someone shit his pants while masturbating, you decide that a subway ride isn’t your cup of tea and hop off the train at Penn Station. You could take a train towards Secaucus Junction or stroll over to 33rd Street and hop the PATH train to Hoboken. Those are the only two well maintained transit stations in the area. Hoboken Terminal does have a few homeless guys kicking around but they’re mostly old, harmless, and just want to sit inside on a bench to stay warm. That’s the one upside to Hoboken’s douche bag yuppie population; they like things clean, I like things clean too, so on that we can agree. For its part, Secaucus is a monolith and in the middle of nowhere, those two factors have kept it blissfully free of the Angel Dust and schizophrenia crowd.
Should you decide to take a train out of Penn Station you’ll fist have to navigate the maze of sleeping homeless men and puddles of urine that lines the corridor between the subway platform and the train station — for some reason there’s also a seafood restaurant down there. Once inside the terminal you’ll have your choice of trains from NJ Transit, LIRR, and Amtrak. If you hop on NJ Transit, you might find yourself pulling into Newark Penn Station. Yes, there are two Penn Stations in the immediate New York City area, and yes it confuses the shit out of people from out of town.
New York Penn Station, like its fellow Manhattanite the Port Authority Bus Terminal, is a massive shithole, but Newark Penn Station though located in New Jersey, and smaller in size, may be the biggest shithole of them all. Disembark at Newark Penn and you’ll be greeted by the same amount of homeless men picking dried scabs out of their assholes in the bathroom stalls as there are at New York Penn or the bus terminal, but in a far more concentrated area. The train platform in Newark sits at a more terrifying height, gets incredibly crowded, and is passed not by plodding subway cars, but by the high-speed Acela Express which hits speeds of 150 mph. On top of all that there are usually fewer cops at Newark than at the rest of the area’s transit hubs, so in the eyes of this commuter Newark takes the cake.
Whether you think one of the Penns, the bus terminal, or a particular subway stop is the biggest shithole in the sprawling web that makes up the Port of New York and New Jersey, the greater point is they’re all pretty fucking disgusting. They say the work that was recently done on Penn Station looks pretty nice, and they turned the World Trade Center PATH station into a luxury mall, so maybe there’s hope for the others. For now though, let’s call these things what they are; massive embarrassments. Until someone does something to clean up these dumps, the ‘greatest city in the world’ will be greeting its guests under the banner ‘Welcome To New York, You’ll Get Stabbed On The Train Maybe!’