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Wednesday, December 10, 2008

IN DEFENSE OF THE CHINATOWN BUS

written by Tony

a conclusive analysis for travelers and seekers of true wisdom everywhere. originally published on the bwog.

Charles Lindbergh once said, "If I had to choose, I would rather have birds than airplanes." Today, we have essentially two options of bus to travel from New York to Boston/Philly/DC: the Fung-Wah Bus, classically known as "The Chinatown Bus"; and a new, flashier generation of MegaBuses, BoltBuses, and other Power Rangers-influenced vehicle names. Pragmatically, stylistically, and sentimentally, the choice is clear. The Chinatown Bus is better.

First, purchasing a Chinatown Bus ticket beats the process and costs of purchasing tickets from any other bus company. To buy a Chinatown Bus ticket, you exchange a straight 15 bucks, several feet from the actual bus itself. Sometimes, mere minutes from departure time. Occasionally, seconds. The Power Ranger buses universally demand that you buy online, requiring additional Internet and service fees, locating your credit card, printing shit, memorizing reservation numbers. In a word, the Power Ranger buses expect you to plan ahead. They flaunt the possibility of $1.00 tickets, but you have to know your exact time and place at least a month ahead of the fact, and even longer before for holiday departures, to reserve these tickets. If you don't know your precise schedule this far in advance, The Power Rangers can shoot up to $25.00. And we are college students with unpredictable schedules. One of my Wednesday classes was canceled this week. Then, a professor moved the due date of an assignment forward to Wednesday afternoon. Then, my parents moved to Canada. And won't tell me why. The Chinatown Bus respects the fluctuation of life, which is why it is always and forever fifteen bucks.

The Chinatown Bus is not really that dangerous. I've taken it to and from Boston somewhere upward of twenty times in my whole life, without even the slightest problem. But don't take my word for it: check out the Wikipedia page. It lists only six notable safety issues in the bus' history to take account of, and the last one sounds like it was totally that dump trucks fault. This number is reasonable, given the tremendous number of buses are driven. People exaggerate the minor mishaps they've encountered. And even though that's pretty legitimate because I like to exaggerate too, given the statistical likelihoods of these safety problems, you'll have a comparable experience with safety on the Power Ranger buses.

While the Power Ranger buses boast about having the Internet (most often used to spend another 25 minutes reserving your return bus ticket), the Chinatown Bus amenities are actually far superior and more unique. Right next to the Chinatown Bus ticket counter rests a hidden gem - the famed hole-in-the-wall hot dog stand Jumbo Hot Dogs, reviewed as one of the best and cheapest insider hot dog joints in the city. Perfect before a four-hour trip. On the trip to Boston, The Chinatown Bus reliably stops at the biggest McDonald's rest area in Connecticut. Always incredibly well timed to a ninety-minute REM nap cycle. And most importantly, people on the Chinatown Bus are intriguing and animated. You'll find people of all sizes, shapes, colors, and ages. Sometimes, people snore loudly. Sometimes, people talk loudly about the snoring. Often, the people are kind of weird. But they make you think.

Ultimately, we need to be reminded of why we are emotionally attached to The Chinatown Bus. I believe lyrics in Bishop Allen's song "The Chinatown Bus" aptly reflect some of this sentiment:

"I remember Shanghai, how I wasn't sure just what was safe to eat.

The chickens pecked and wandered at the barefoot of the children hawking figurines of workers smiling.

What's the Chinese word for cheese?"

More than any other bus today, The Chinatown Bus revives the childhood sense of adventure and curiosity. As Lindbergh feared, transportation -- and our lives -- have become overwhelmingly no-nonsense, slick, and ordered. And though there are certainly merits in that, life is far more interesting when it's a little chaotic, messy, and mysterious.

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