>> If you have to leave New York City by bus, the 42nd Street New York New Jersey Port Authority is the place to go. But if you're walking around Midtown and you just have to "go," the Port Authority just might be your first stop.
While free restrooms are rare in Manhattan, the Port Authority hosts numerous stalls in a sweet, clean, air-conditioned atmosphere. If your kids pull you through Times Square, screaming "Mommmm, daaaad, I have to go," go here.
But I'm getting behind myself. There are many reasons to visit the Port Authority besides personal urgency and a desire to get out of town.
This particular location serves New Jersey commuters via the Lincoln Tunnel and is a depot for major bus lines, such as Peter Pan, Grayhound and Trailways. It's also the place where you catch airport-bound buses, including one to Newark.
Still, on a hot day with no travel plans in mind, visiting the Port Authority's rest rooms can well become a "must do." Once here, you'll be treated to far more than terminal gates.
Let's start at the doors. Under a system of multi-floor bus ramps are two, huge buildings that back against 9th Avenue and front on 8th. The north building is between 42nd and 41st Streets and the south building, between 41st and 40th Streets.
When it isn't busy, you can clearly see the buildings' black, shiny glass doors, pictured here. When it is busy, people are packed from the doors to the curb, with individuals entering or leaving the facilities, walking up or down the street, or waiting hopefully in snake-like lines for cabs. On 8th Avenue, people stand under ever-present scaffolding, protected from potential falling tires, and behind barricades, protected against road-rage drivers.
Both buildings offer special things to see, but the south building is more interesting. There, you're greeted by a statue of Ralph Kramden, a New York Bus Driver made famous in the 1950s by Jackie Gleason in his popular skit "The Honeymooners."
Once inside, you'll find numerous places to eat, all clean and many, excellent.
Zaro's Bread Basket, for example, is a family-run chain that was founded in 1925 by an Eastern European immigrant. Today, it's located at several prestigious locations including Penn Station and Grand Central Station, all featuring fresh bakery from Zaro's Bronx kitchen. It sells exceptionally high quality, crisp breads, unusually decorated cakes, crunchy cookies, a wide range of rolls and rich coffee. Their bakery makes excellent gifts and office party treats. Highly recommended.
Other shops inside of the south building include numerous bakeries, card shops, Radio Shack (surprise!), a vitamin shop, a drug store, a hair dresser, a flower shop, a candy store, news stands, a lottery ticket booth and vending machines, and a bowling ally. And, of course, on the concourse are bus ticket windows.
You might ask yourself what a bowling alley is doing in a bus terminal. Improbable as it seems, there are commuters who love to roll a few games before heading home. If, however, the Lincoln Tunnel leading to New Jersey is backed up, commuters can either stand in line for hours or bowl. Easy choice under those conditions! Note that the nearby theaters on 42nd Street are also a convenient blessing during poor travel conditions.
The best art in the south building is in the main concourse by the ticket agents. This is a life sized group of three plaster cast commuters, dressed in 1970's casual, walking through a door. The doorway is a replica of the type you use to enter the bus area from a glass depot hallway or from a large loading hall at the top of the Port Authority.
Even if you don't plan on taking a bus to, say, New Jersey, you should see what these areas look like. I find the busy garages on the third floor fascinating. Check out the speed at which buses navigate the narrow alleys.
In the north building is a fabulous kinetic sculpture that loudly gongs, bings, chimes and clanks as balls roll around on slides, skid through shoots, and drop into buckets. A portion of it is pictured here. Simply put, this is a huge contraption, featuring memorizing silliness that appeals to kids and adults alike.
Except for the kinetic sculpture, however, the north building is strangely empty. Both buildings, however, lead to the subways and a mass of tunnels that extend for blocks. There are also pushcart merchants throughout the establishment, some with exceptionally good imported merchandise.
Local New Yorkers are very familiar with the 42nd Street Port Authority, remembering it from a distant, seedy past. Today, it's quite grand and an interesting place to visit even if you don't have a pressing need to go or go anywhere.
Note that on a bright, sunny September 11, 2001, 75 members of the Port Authority staff lost their lives in the destruction of the World Trade Center. Click http://www.panynj.gov/index.html for their memorial.
NY NJ PORT AUTHORITY
ALIAS JACKIE GLEASON OF THE HONNEYMOONERS
ZAROS BREAD BASKET
LIFE-SIZED PLASTER CAST TRAVELERS
SOUTH BUILDING, CONCOURSE
CLANG, GONG, RATCHET, BANG
COMMEMORATING 75 EMPLOYEES
WHO DIED ON 9/11
IN THE WORLD TRADE CENTER