Welcome back to New York.
Did you fly out and back in the space of brief days, so that TSA agents are practically family? Did you drive or hitch a ride and live to regret the traffic? Maybe you stayed in New York and had the empty place to yourself for once. Or did you come through the Port Authority Bus Terminal, where you might have met Jeff Boss, who spent some of Thanksgiving week campaigning in its environs.
Boss is a 15-plus-time candidate for public office, including runs for New York City mayor, New Jersey congressman and U.S. president. He claims the NSA is responsible for 9/11. His just-beginning campaign for NYC mayor includes calls for legalizing marijuana, increasing the housing supply with modular homes, and a $20 minimum wage.
He now lives in Harlem, says he runs a cryogenics company, and hands flyers to passers-by curious, polite or touristy enough to outstretch their hand. The flyers read, in part, “A lot of people are saying, THIS PAPER IS WORTH $20,000 TO THE NSA TO GET BACK,” a reference to his belief that the NSA is hunting him and has planted a tracking device in his flyers.
As I said, welcome back to New York.
Trains, planes, automobiles. And buses.
Welcome back, maybe, through LaGuardia’s dank corridors or across the Kosciuszko Bridge’s ramp of eternity. Or squeezed through the chutes at Penn Station. Or, best of all, welcome back to the Port Authority Terminal, whose officials call it the most heavily used in the world.
Oh Port Authority Bus Terminal, where the line for the New York Lottery shop is longer than the Starbucks’. Where a traveler or visitor can find not just Hudson Booksellers or Heartland Brewery, but a post office and New York Blood Center.
Where multiple jurisdictions of law enforcement roam and watch, from Port Authority Police with long guns to National Guard in camo. Where the smell is, at the best of times, a mix of Au Bon Pain and Jamba Juice. At the worst of times . . . well, never mind. Where the police let you linger, even if you’re not traveling, at least for a while.
The Port Authority board had been moving forward with welcome plans to upgrade the terminal, now somewhat stalled. Some officials had pushed to move some of its operations to New Jersey. But for now, it’s still here and an emblem of NYC.
“Here it’s just rush, rush,” Clarissa Bain said last week while guarding her bag in the south terminal. Bain, 20, attends the University of Scranton in Pennsylvania and appreciates the quiet and scenery there.
Even still, she says she misses home when she’s away — the accessibility of the subway, restaurants and bars that don’t close ridiculously early. She figures she’ll be back after graduation.
“I don’t like big cities. I love New York,” said Kevin Quail, 67, a retired police officer from Western Canada who passed through before Thanksgiving on vacation, standing guard over leopard print luggage while his wife finished shopping.
Quail said he comes from a small town, population 120. Here, there was so much happening, he said, and yet people were surprisingly willing to be helpful — just take out a map and wait for assistance.
Welcome home, where everyone has a hustle
Welcome back to New York, where “you have to be vigilant,” said Steve Graham, charging his phone next to that strange statue of shadowy figures going through an open door.
Born and raised in Bed-Stuy, Graham said his bag was once stolen at the terminal just the week before. He’d been playing around on his phone.
“As I’ve gotten older, I’ve grown to appreciate the tranquillity” outside the city, Graham, 47, said. In NYC, “everyone has a scam. Everyone needs money.”
But he said he’d always felt generally safe: the city’s strict gun laws, for one, limited the chance someone would pull a weapon on you. And in general, he felt comfortable. Why leave? Plus, he just has a few more years in a city job before qualifying for a pension.
Welcome back to New York, where the vast majority are doing their best to hustle, sometimes getting help from New Yorkers or the powers that be, sometimes not. Like the jacketless woman in the north terminal on a cold day asking for 85 more cents to get on the subway, receiving mostly pained expressions.
Or Boss, the NSA-fearing perennial candidate hawking flyers near the building’s 9/11 memorial. “The city needs a lot of help,” he said — not the wealthy, but the regular people. They needed housing and higher wages, and also wasn’t it annoying that restaurants didn’t allow dogs or other pets inside? And that the city lacked Walmarts. That would change in a Boss administration.
“I’m gonna win this time,” he said, noting that it was just a matter of reaching enough people. You could do that in New York. “Everything’s at your fingertips.”