New York Tales from Curious Borough Dwellers

007 : Khoi Vinh around Port Authority Bus Terminal, Manhattan
Born 1971 in Gaithersburg, Maryland. Khoi Vinh currently works as a graphic designer. Why New York? Superman: The Movie. He digs the following Gotham bits: The Past Nine Years, New Yorkers, the New York Times, off-leash hours for dogs at Prospect Park, the first sign of spring. Khoi Vinh's favorite meal in New York is lunch at the Red Hook ball fields. For more info on Khoi Vinh you should send an email or visit www.subtraction.com.

image: Mark Chang

“Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.”

If you look out the windows on the West side of the building where I work, you get a wonderful, almost epic view of what is surely a perpetually front-running contender for the title of ‘least loved building in Manhattan’: The Port Authority Bus Terminal. Like some sort of disheveled, petrified behemoth, it looms over Eighth Avenue with its monstrous gaze, its banged-up, iron frontispiece, its crush of queued up taxi cabs, and its relentless ebb and flow of passenger foot traffic. If there are paeans to any hidden beauty the building might possess, then they’ve lingered on the lowest rungs of our cultural history’s hit parade.

Port Authority is an ugly building[1]. About that there can be no debate[2]. It has the kind of facade people can’t bear to stare in the face of for very long, like a scarred victim. But that perceived repulsiveness is rooted, I’m sure, in the services in which it deals.  Is there a form of transportation known to Westerners that’s held in lower esteem than the bus?

To many of us, there’s something discomfiting about paying a fare for just a fraction of a trip, then riding shoulder to shoulder with men and women of indeterminate origins, economic statuses, and stations of life. We take the bus because we have to and only as long as we need to. If we’re able to afford planes, trains or automobiles, then we leave the bus behind; we don’t return to it romantically the way we do with these other modes of transportation. And in New York, even walking—renouncing the American right to motorized transport—commands a greater respect than boarding a bus.

I’ll be honest that I’m not above the easy disdain one can feel for Port Authority. But I can’t speak of it derisively without at least a little bit of guilt. For years, Port Authority was my gateway to the city.

When I was living in Washington, D.C. and could afford only a $50 Trailways[3] line ticket to New York City, Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms. With its almost hourly departures to and from D.C., it gave me a freedom to come and go as I pleased—a latitude that not even a plane or a train ticket would afford me.

And, nine years ago, when I quit my job and quit my apartment and left D.C. with no specific employment prospects and only the vaguest of plans for establishing a life in New York City, I got off the bus at Port Authority. I had one large suitcase with me, and I walked through the throngs at the bus terminal, past the loiterers asleep on the benches, the Port Authority police officers, the venders, the long lines of agitated, over-packed passengers waiting for their departures—and out onto Eighth Avenue as a resident of the city of New York for the first time. Port Authority was the beginning for me.

referenced works

  1. Built after several politicians pushed in the 1940s to have a centralized bus station, rather than the eight littler stations in Midtown. Construction was completed in December 1950. Pricetag: $24 million.
  2. Not surprisingly, the Port Authority itself does debate this. Sayeth PA: "The Bus Terminal's usefulness was rivaled only by its beauty. Marble wainscoting, aluminum finishes, terrazzo floors, beautiful lighting fixtures, granite and limestone were incorporated into its art deco design."
  3. Competition from Chinatown bus services has pushed bus ticket prices down. Khoi could get this ticket now on Greyhound from DC to New York for just $20 (or $35 round-trip), if he booked his ticket online. Of course, lower prices mean that they spend less time cleaning and maintaining the buses, if that kind of thing is important to you.

location information


017That's when I knew I wanted to live in New York: in the midst of those fragile bralets and bodysuits.— Ling Ma

016The guns, we tell the police later, were black like ice.— Tara Deal

015...my own talisman against the folly of my youth.— Andrea Jarrell

014Y'all in a band'r somethin'?— Abraham

013Perhaps it was the lanky teenager with the bright red book-bag that made me think I saw Adam.— Carrie Teicher

012I remember flattening myself against the streaky windows of the PATH train like an insect.— Erin Fisher

011I glanced up to see another shape hit the sand.— Ken H. Judy

010Vibrating almost imperceptibly in the breeze like a woody tuning fork.— Rob Giampietro

009Then the jazz stopped and the radio said the war had started in the Middle East. — Roland Kelts

008Shirtless Boris Yeltsin’s skin reddens as he reads a book.— Michael Maiello

007Port Authority was there with open, non-judging arms.— Khoi Vinh

006His almost-loss was my almost- nonexistence.— Matthew Rand

005On the cold hard floor of the orphanage, I sang, longing for the day that they would come and rescue me.— Jen Egan

004He was a lawyer, after all.— Kristin Gardner

003The parking lot gate was open, and we ran in with the skateboard.— Lorraine Martindale

002We arrived on completely Russian streets, with Russian signs and a familiar rudeness.— Kseniya Melnik

001...the hourly clicking of Oxfords and high heels across the parking lot.— Tam Nomgum


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