Times Square underground is like Sigil, the City of Doors, in that it can take you anywhere, often when that is not where you want to go.
For the unwary, Times Square is a time sponge. You ride the #2 train (say) into the IRT station with the clock at 2:47 (say), perfectly lubricated for a sober 2:55 arrival at your 3 p.m. meeting four blocks away. But the clock reads 2:51 when the train doors open, 2:52 when your feet touch the platform. You swarm up onto Broadway at 2:56 – nine minutes? who sets these clocks, anyway? – and sprint the distance, dodging traffic, collapsing into the building lobby at 3:02. When you lurch out of the elevators at 3:06 they are waiting for you, crisp and faintly vague. “No, you’re not late, I was just having a cup of coffee.”
You are a blotchy streaming mass of discomfiture, and a pen has broken in your right pants pocket. You will not know this until you reach in and streak ink along your fingers. The gods hate you. You will sneeze, and wipe your face with the pen hand. Later, at home, you will discover what your cat/ dog/ bird/ snake/ otter (choose one) has done on the couch. On the book you left on the couch. On the library book you left on the couch. On the overdue library book you left on the couch.
But in skilled hands, when your heart is pure and your quest is worthy, Times Square can act as a sort of time machine: thus the name. You ride the #2 train (say) into the IRT station with the clock at 2:47 (say), which looks grim for your 3 p.m. bus from Port Authority, a long avenue-stretch tunnel away and the ticket still to buy. But take the stairs up, to the headwaters of the escalator down to the #7 tracks, not down to the tunnel, and when you rage up the joining stairs halfway along the clock says … 2:48. It’s 2:49 at the exit.
Ignore the crowded Greyhound ticket office, of course. Duck into the empty Peter Pan terminal next door, where the sign says “ATLANTIC CITY CASINO BUS LINES.” Glance at the clock as you settle into line, two scant riders away from the ticket window. It’s 2:49 still. The round trip to Boston is a trim $30, unexpectedly on sale. The ticket is time-stamped 2:51, and Gate 84 is right downstairs. The world, last sunny Friday, is my erster.
Time was, Greyhound seated every passenger at major stations along their route. If the bus held 40 and there were 41 passengers, number 41 got a bus to himself. It might not have been the soundest policy, but once upon a time in America the customer was king, and if you sold a ticket you had to honor it.
But it’s 2004, even counting the effects of Times Square. Two dozen people already in line, along with my time-traveling self, have to make do with the 3:30 bus. These days, when the bus fills up the waiting rest are out of luck, at least until the next scheduled departure. And the in-drive movie is Bringing Down the House.
Thinking fast, I take the pens out of my pocket.