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This is not L.A.

[Note for all of you stumbling upon this page because you are looking for the address of the Bieber bus stop/park-and-ride in Hellertown: on Route 412 when you reach the junction with Route 78 there is a road opposite the ramp for 78-West, between a gas station and a Wendy's. Take that road; it is called Silvex Road. The park-and-ride is immediately to your left after the Wendy's; the entrance is before the road turns and goes under the highway. To get tickets you need to stop first at the Exxon gas station near the Route 78 East ramp on Route 412. If you are coming from Bethlehem, the gas station is to your right after the 78-East ramp. You need a photo ID to buy the bus tickets. Have a great trip to New York! And now, on to the column...]

I had been warned not to come after seven and showed up at five-thirty just to be on the safe side, and by that I mean five-thirty in the morning. What else could I do - I needed to go to New York City on a weekday, I needed to leave the car at the park-and-ride, I needed to find a parking spot; I didn't have much of a choice. Or at least that's what other people had told me, and I didn't quite understand what they had been talking about until a couple of weeks later when I pulled into the lot around noon. I had come to pick up a friend and slalomed between Chevy Cobalts and Hyundai Accents, left and locked in the middle of the way, outside any white marking on the ground but also away enough from the cars that were rightfully parked, so that their owners did not have to fret about getting towed. SUVs checkered the grassy slope nearby; the side of the road also proved popular, and a stretch of gravel across the street.

It looked like pure chaos. I could almost feel the rage of the commuter about to miss the bus, get into trouble at work, because he couldn't find a place to leave his car. This time of day the bus runs every half hour and thirty minutes make a big difference if you don't beat traffic to the Lincoln Tunnel. On a weekend morning it takes one hour and twenty-five minutes (I timed it) for the bus leaving Hellertown, Pennsylvania, right off Route 78, to reach the Port Authority Bus Terminal in Manhattan, but if you get stuck with too many other commuters entering the city on a weekday, you might as well double that. Until a couple of years ago this did not matter to Pennsylvania residents at all, because they did not drive to New York City for work. Three, four, five hours spent in a car, day in and day out? They would have laughed out loud - this is not L.A. But the sky-rocketing home prices in New Jersey have pushed middle-class families farther east, and the Lehigh Valley is looking more and more like an exburb of the Big Apple. The park-and-ride supposedly started overflowing about two years ago, maybe because new residents recognized that three hours a day on a bus meant three more hours of sleep. (Really, this is not L.A.)

That morning at five-thirty I parked and walked to the boarding point. When I came closer I noticed the bags. They were lined up in one row, stretching along the curb, one satchel after the other, almost evenly spaced. I frowned: there was nobody around. A car pulled into the lot and stopped near me; a woman opened the passenger door and, without getting out, placed her handbag at the end of the line. Then she closed the door and the sedan pulled away. That's when I noticed the cars idling on the parking lot - drivers were dropping off their spouse, but the next coach would not arrive for twenty more minutes and that was time they would wrestle from their schedule, they would spend chatting about the kids or listening to the radio. The children would grow up in a big house with a yard and the parents had done the right thing, but there remained twenty more minutes before the official start of the day and no one would take that from them. Their bags were holding their place in line because the coach might fill up and they didn't want to wait for the next one if they could avoid it. (First, the struggle to find a spot for the car; then, the struggle to find a spot for oneself.) After five years in Boston I stared at the satchels in disbelief: didn't it occur to these people that someone might zoom by and grab a bag? Weren't they worried their belongings could get stolen? But it wasn't even six in the morning and the thieves were asleep. This isn't L.A., this isn't New York either, just a small town getting swallowed by the big city seventy-five miles away.

The Bieber bus rumbled down the street; the commuters emerged from their cars and waved their spouse goodbye; they recovered their bags, exchanged greetings with one another and took their place in line. Then they smiled at the driver, the same as the previous day and many days before that, whom they viewed by now as an old acquaintance, a friend maybe, a family member. "Good morning! Good morning!"


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