NEW YORK — Lipstick in hand, women stand propped beside the counter. Every mirror is taken as mascara, eyeliner, and the occasional curling iron are pulled from bags. “How you doing, my ladies?” a singsong voice asks.
Sephora? A makeup counter at Macy’s or Bergdorf Goodman?
It’s the second-floor women’s bathroom at the Port Authority Bus Terminal, and it is one of New York’s favorite places to primp.
The salonlike atmosphere stands in stark contrast to Port Authority’s well-earned reputation as a hulking symbol of some of New York’s most intractable problems: homelessness, opioid addiction, and chronic transit delays.
But, as in life, beauty is often only skin-deep.
Every day, scores of women on the run stop by to groom, gloss, powder, and polish amid the cheerful hum of attendants responsible for keeping the hidden gem spick-and-span.
“I call it the beauty bar,” said Peninisular Rice, 53, who has been cleaning this Port Authority restroom for four years. Rice, who is better known as Miss Penny, acts as a cruise director, ushering the frequently long line of commuters and tourists into open toilet stalls. “Come on sugar,” she motioned to a woman on a recent morning. “Come on in, honey.”
During the busy morning commute, nearly every mirror is occupied. Residue of face powder coats the black granite countertops before an attendant swoops in with a cleaning rag. Women of all ethnicities, ages, and styles stand heel to toe, snaking along what may be the ultimate democratic experience: the bathroom line.
Many are regulars.
Zainab Khan, 27, who treks in from Carteret, N.J., said the bathroom had become a key component of her morning routine.
“I get coffee. I come here. I sip on it while I do my makeup. Then I’m ready for work,” said Khan, a product manager at Stash, a mobile investment app. “Every now and again, someone will come over and ask me how I did my eyeliner, so we’ll share beauty tips and techniques and commiserate over New Jersey Transit — that’s always fun.”
The bathrooms had a makeover of their own in the last five years as part of a larger effort across all Port Authority facilities to improve customer experience.
The agency added lighting and mirrors and assigned attendants to each of the terminals’ 14 bathrooms as part of a $110 million quality-of-commute program.
Cindy Young, a defense lawyer who specializes in medical malpractice cases and commutes from Parsippany, New Jersey, called the bathroom “a very equalizing place.”
“It’s like a snapshot in time,” she added. “It happens in the blink of an eye. And it’s just another day.”