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Gary Younge
Terminal illness

Arrows promising information point either to empty booths or each other. When you find a booth with someone inside they are incredibly unhelpful, dispensing their knowledge so sparingly that they might be rehearsing an interrogation at Guantanamo Bay .

"Where can I get the bus to Newark?"

"Gate 240."

"How do I get there?"

"Godowntheescalatorturnleftandit'sstraightaheadofyou. Haveaniceday."

"When are the buses?"

"When do you want to leave?"

"Do you have a timetable?"

"Here."

In short, unless you know what you're doing at the Port Authority it is an incredibly frustrating place where it is easy to get lost and end up spending a lot of money on stuff you don't really want.

All in all it is wonderful training for a trip to Ikea, which is just as well because it is from here that the bus leaves for Ikea. This is not a bus that is going somewhere else and happens to drop you off at Ikea, you understand. This is the Ikea bus, with all the relative privilege and absolute misery that goes with it.

Generally speaking, and with caveats for all exceptions, those who take the buses to outlying areas of New York tend to be poorer, darker-skinned and more marginalised. With an extensive subway system and suburban rail network, if you're taking the bus it's probably because you can't afford a car or do not live near a subway stop. After the rush hour, it is not uncommon to see people in the terminal lugging around huge boxes of belongings held together with string, wearing coats that look as if they barely made it through last winter.

In the middle of it all, there is Gate 222, which, compared with the rest of the terminal, offers a wealthier, lighter-skinned and more mainstream queue. It houses those who have generally moved to the city for a while, often from abroad, who are not rich enough to buy bespoke furniture but sufficiently wealthy and lazy to make their temporary dwelling look "nice enough". I speak with some authority, since I am one of them.

Gate 222 is the home of the globalised middle class, wearing Gap jeans and clutching Starbucks and a copy of the New York Times to while away the 45-minute journey on route 111 to the Easyjet of furniture out by Newark airport.

"We just moved here," says Claudia Schneider, from Stuttgart. "My boyfriend's got a job but we don't know how long we'll be here and we need something to sit on and eat off while we decide."

Did it not seem strange to come all the way to New York and end up in Ikea?

"Well I don't like shopping but I don't hate Ikea. At least you know what you're getting."

But not necessarily what you are getting into. The only sight more dismal than those going are those coming back. By that time most have had at least one blistering row with their partners and one with an Ikea employee. To save on delivery, people carry as much as they can on to the bus. Having overanticipated what they can carry - just as they did how much it would cost - they lumber it all on to the bus with neither grace nor good humour but at the risk of giving someone a serious head injury with a 4ft lamp with a name they cannot pronounce.

Overheard in a Brooklyn hardware store:

Shopkeeper: "Is it a Jewish holiday tomorrow?"

Customer: "Yes, its Rosh Hashana."

Shopkeeper: "Oh well, it'll be quiet then. Are you Jewish?"

Customer: "No."

Shopkeeper: "I didn't think so with that red hair. Two of my children have red hair and we're Italian I don't know where it comes from. Do your parents have red hair? Are they Irish?"

Customer. "No. There were a lot of milkman jokes where I was growing up."

Shopkeeper: "What's your nationality?"

Customer: "German. But on my mom's side it's all mixed up and they've been here for generations, so who knows?

Shopkeeper: "You know what? Whatever it is. Enjoy it."

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