Monday, May 09, 2005

Chinatown bus: you get what you pay for (a true story)

Guess who's back, back again. In one piece after another DC trip, but just barely. Rode the Chinatown bus there and back, and I was going to post some lame anecdote about how the driver on the way there took some country-ass two-lane road through the backwoods of Greenbelt to avoid traffic and he talked on his mobile half the time, but on the way back (Behind The Music narrator voice) disaster struck. Okay, not really, but the bus did break down like a motherfucker.

I board a Today's Bus/Apex Bus departing DC's Chinatown at 5:00 pm Sunday, scheduled to arrive at East Broadway at 9:30 pm. The trip is going smoothly until around 6:30, when the bus makes a sudden "bump" sound. Not good. The driver pulls onto the shoulder, checks out what's up. He doesn't really explain anything, per Chinatown bus driver policy, but there's oil spilling and shit. Not a good sign, generally.

The bus needs to get to a service station but we're not close to an exit. So after a failed attempt to get back onto the highway, we inch up the shoulder, the engine failing a few times along the way. Against all odds, the bus manages to get to a little BP station in Aberdeen, MD, which is apparently as close to middle of nowhere as one can get in the Mid-Atlantic (below).

Looking out from the bus

So the bus isn't going to move any time soon but the word is, they're sending another bus to pick up all the passengers. It'll take another hour and half but at least we'll make it back to NY sometime tonight. Awesome.

Not what you want to see your bus driver doing
Stuck in Middleofnowhere, MD

As far as I can tell, Aberdeen, MD (I think) really is in middle of nowhere but I try to make the best of it. I go on a trek and find a little strip of fast food restaurants. Yes, food. Restrooms too. I figure I won't be going to a BK again any time soon so I get myself a Whopper. Yum.

An hour later, an actual moving bus pulls in. But it's 30 minutes early and it's already carrying passengers. And they are only 6 seats? Man, I'm not going to fight people to get on that. I may be a New Yorker but I'm too civilized. They're still sending an empty bus, right? So I sit tight.

Another hour later, a little past 8 o'clock, a bus pulls in. This one better be empty. Oops. This one's carrying passengers too. You know what? I'm getting on this motherfucker. Lucky for me, the bus pulls up more or less in front of where I was sitting and I find myself near the front of the line. Glad I didn't have to throw a Karl Malone elbow, but I would've, ya know?

There are a few seats open and I set my ass down on the first one I find. The bus fills up pretty quickly but no one's getting off. People standing in the aisle? Not good. So the driver comes up with a solution - they can stay on if they sit in the aisle, because if they stand, he'll get pulled over by a trooper. Safety first and whatnot.

I am again on the move after a delay of almost 2 hours, with probably about 10 passengers sitting on the aisle and about 30 still sitting out on the grass outside the gas station. Oh, and this bus is showing a movie? Granted, it's that bad Nick Cage movie with Tea Leoni and Don Cheadle but I can't believe the 7 pm passengers got a bus that doesn't break down AND a movie!

The rest of the trip was uneventful, though I don't quite understand why the Chinatown buses don't all use EZ Pass. With all the tolls you pay along the NY-DC route, why wouldn't you? It's gotta save you like 20 minutes each way plus whatever discount the pass gives you. Whatever. I'd never been happier to see the Empire State Building lights from the Turnpike. 11:30ish, I am back in Chinatown NYC.

Will I ride the Chinatown bus again? Oh, sure. Mishaps or not, you can't beat the price. I know Greyhound and other majors are trying to compete but I live like 5 minutes away from the drop off/pick up point. Will I ride Today's Bus again? Better question, but I probably will. I'm a firm beliver in the law of averages, and if a rare occurence strikes me once, it most likely won't happen to me again. If breakdowns become a regular occurence, I will reconsider of course. In any case, as I wrote in the title, you get what you pay for, which is one-fifth of what you would pay to ride on Amtrak.

Otherwise, I had a great time this weekend. Hit the National Gallery and they were doing an exhibition on Toulouse-Lautrec and Montmartre. Good times.

I like the museum, especially the newer East building and the connection between the two sides. I took this picture of Maureen on the moving walkway between the East and West buildings. I like how the lights came out.

National Gallery, DC

Also, I totally forgot to call my DC people. I should plan better next time. Also need to catch a United game one of these weekends. My last trip to RFK was 4th of July, 1997. Damn, that's a long time ago.

I hope nothing important happened while I was gone. I'm so out of it.

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