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I am in the Port Authority -- a transit hub that ships commuters via bus across and through the states surrounding New York -- in midtown Manhattan. The Port Authority, located on 42nd Street and Eighth Avenue, the only area of town left that has peep show booths for a quarter, is the crossroads of all that is grimy, swarthy and addicted. If you were to take every citizen loitering around the Port Authority and counted their cumulative teeth, you'd have a number roughly close to the batting average of a slap-hitting utility infielder.

The Port Authority is also where you buy bus tickets. In three hours, I will be on a bus heading to Newton, New Jersey, to my girlfriend's lakehouse, where we are entertaining friends and cohorts this weekend with mountains, rafts and mosquitoes. But right now, I am in line. I am in a long line.



Most people hate lines, particularly people in New York, where a line is a sudden, shocking halt to an otherwise pleasantly uninterrupted mad dash of daily rigmarole. But I must say, as impatient a person as I am, I enjoy lines. It is rare that you have a moment here where you are simply by yourself, alone to meander, nothing going on, just standing around. This city is packed with strange humans, and the art of simply remaining stationary and observing them is a vastly underappreciated one.

I'm in the longest line. I need three tickets. There are 15 people in front of me. This line is like any other.

  • You have your businessman who simply can't believe that he has to lower himself to something as debased as standing in a line. Lines are for people who have nothing better to do! Not him! Don't these people know he's supposed to be out doing Important Things? He has not the time for this, not the time! This line's Important Man has the standard gear: white shirt with empty tie, Blackberry in his back pocket and appropriately located pitstains. He checks his watch every 30 seconds and taps his foot and shakes his head furiously. It's like watching a short film on endless loop. Watch, tap, shake, watch, tap, shake. Sigh. Watch, tap, shake. Mutter. He notices me watching him, and he thinks, probably because I'm the only other white male in line, that I'm with him. His eyes meet mine, and then he rolls them overdramatically and mouths, "Un-fucking-believable," before finishing off with a grunt and glance away. But, Important Man, you are mistaken. I am not complicit in your misery. You will wait with the rest of us, Important Man, and you will like it. Sorry. Not feeling you. You can take it out on your dog when you get home, if you wish, or simply take solace that when you are out of line, the planet will remember how important you indeed are.
  • You have your clueless Asian man. Of all the nationalities represented in this great mosaic, no nationality looks more consistently clueless than the tiny Asian man. He is talking to the woman behind the counter, and he is trying to explain to her that he needs to go to "New Jersey." "New Jersey, yes, New Jersey? I need go New Jersey." The cashier, exasperated, asks him where in New Jersey he needs to go. "New Jersey, yes, yes, New Jersey, that's right." This goes on for about two minutes, with the cashier waving her hands and pointing at a map, and the man nodding and smiling and bowing, "Yes, yes, New Jersey," while Important Man punches himself in the head. Eventually, still unaware of any attainable destination, the cashier just gives him a ticket and says "Gate 423." I have a feeling the tiny Asian man is somewhere around Utah by now, all excited and giddy about going to New Jersey.
  • You have your joyrider. For some reason, there's a guy in any mass transit line who doesn't seem to know where he's going until he reaches the window. He's instantly recognizable by the glazed-over eyes and his tendency to sway back and forth on the balls of his feet and say, "Hmmm … well … let's see …" This line's joyrider asks the cashier if any buses go "near Philadelphia." When she explained to him that some go to Trenton, which is close to Philly, he says, "OK, how about Boston?" The joyrider is a odd duck. Apparently, he was just walking by Port Authority when inspiration struck. "Hey! Let's take a trip!"
  • You have your nun. Nobody messes with a nun. People might be grouchy and late and ready to implode, but nobody breathes a peep when waiting on a nun. I have a feeling the nun could fall asleep at the ticket window and no one would dare to rouse her. It is also difficult, I've noticed, to resist the temptation to give a nun your spare change, even if she's not asking for it. The only time I see nuns, by the way, is in the Port Authority, whatever that means.
  • You have your outsized family. Inevitably, there will be a haggard-looking attempting in vain to corral six screaming children into a straight line while simultaneously: 1.) Avoiding the stares of passerby. 2.) Resisting the temptation to slap her children. 3.) Doing what she can to keep her stroller from falling over while carrying about 10 grocery bags. 4.) Trying to look like everything's completely under control. Keeping children organized and well-behaved in an endless line, in a public place, is like trying to push an elevator button with your flaccid penis. I have no idea how parents can take it. Thank God for birth control. Seriously.
  • You have your guy who tries to pay with a check. Honestly, man. It's 2003, and you live in New York City. Nobody takes checks anymore. Didn't you get the memo?
  • You have your talkative guy. This is the one who decides that, while the line behind him stretches into another area code, he will try to make friends with the cashier. He makes jokes about the weather, he tells her why he's going where he's going, he comments on the news of the day. Everyone in line, including the cashier, is desperate for him to just get out of the way already, but on he goes, chattering away, seeking to make a friend. Eventually the cashier just stops looking at him and yells, "Next!" (Note: I am usually this person.)
  • You have your heart attack guy. Every line has one guy who looks like he's about to pop. His face is all red, he's slightly bent over, he appears to be breathing heavily, and you just know he's not gonna make it to Plainsboro before an aorta gives out. You tend to subconsciously switch lines when you see this guy.
  • You have … hey, you know, I just got my tickets. Three please. Thank you, ma'am. Have a good weekend.

There. That line wasn't so bad, was it?


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