Cars jockeying for position. Pedestrians dodge and run amongst cabs and cars from Jersey. Cop cars parked on side streets. Eighth Avenue, always bright and shiny.
The Port Authority building. A giant space filled with eateries, bars, newspaper racks, overflowing toilets, newcomers, and old timers. A mop is in constant use.
He got off the Greyhound in 1986. Stayed inside, didn’t leave the Port Authority for the first twenty-four hours. Walked it from bottom to top. Saw the hookers blowing men in cars from Connecticut. Watched the junkies nodding off in the bathrooms. Avoided the cops walking their beat.
The teenage boy sat in a coffee shop reading The Post. He didn’t actually read it; just looked at the big colorful pictures of crime bosses, celebrities, sports heroes, checked the daily numbers even though he had no skin in the game. Heard music playing; pop tunes lingering ’round the air. But, in his head, Rhapsody In Blue kept playing over and over. It was like a fantasy of New York coming to life.
And the heavy made up waitress asked if he wanted more coffee. She poured it into a blue and white cup with Greek letters on it. The boy smiled.
Where you from? she lit a menthol, waited for his answer. He didn’t know what to say. He didn’t want to come off as some hick from the Midwest.
Chicago, he lied. I’m from Chicago.
Ohhhh. I know that town. Went through it on my way to Los Angeles years ago. I was going to be an actress out there. Movies. Came back here a year later. Heart broken. You an actor? He shook his head no. What are you then?
He paused. Looked at her. Nothing, he said. I’m nothing.
You just get off the bus? he nodded yes. You aren’t from Chicago are ya? Quietly he said no. She smiled. How much cash you got?
He pulled out a wad and counted it. Seventy-five bucks, he said. The bus ticket was ninety-five.
Your parents know ’bout this? He told her no. You better call them. Let them know you wanna come back.
But, I don’t want to.
You can’t make it on no seventy-five bucks.
I s’pose not.
I see your kind everyday. Breaks my heart. I don’t know what your running from, but, it can’t be worse than this. Don’t let all these lights fool ya. New York is a dark place when you don’t have money.
The kid ordered another cup of coffee. Poured cream and sugar into it. And sat there till sunrise. He offered to pay for the coffee, but, the waitress said she had it. She told him to take care. And, to come back and see her sometime.
He opened the big glass doors downstairs and walked out onto Eighth Avenue. Cars drove past. Food carts rolled down the streets. A couple argued on the corner. He walked out onto Eighth Avenue and just kept walking west. Sat by the river and contemplated. This was home, he whispered. This was his home.