Forget It, Jake, It’s the Chinatown Bus
Feb 28 2013
This week, the Fung Wah Bus company got shut down by the federal government after its buses failed safety inspections, which didn't surprise anybody who has ever been on one. Fung Wah, like the other Chinatown bus lines, is not for those who want to have ordinary or particularly safe journeys. The drivers rarely speak English, act like they're unfamiliar with speed limits, and make unscheduled stops for gas or to pick up passengers. The buses have been known to break down or leak gasoline, and the companies are sometimes owned by criminal syndicates who set fire to their rivals’ buses. But these outfits provide a valuable service for people who don’t have cars and need to go between Boston, New York, Philadelphia, DC, and other eastern cities for cheap—an Amtrak ticket from Boston to New York is $71, while the Fung Wah charges $15. In honor of the crackdown on one of the worst and best bus lines in America, we decided to compile some true stories about traveling on Chinatown buses.
RIVER OF SHIT
I was going to DC, and right when I got on the bus, there was this real bad smell permeating everything—it smelled like shit, basically. I sat in the front to be as far away from it, 'cause it was inescapable. They announced that the bathroom was out of order, so on top of dealing with the awful stench, no one could take a piss for the duration of the hours-long ride. The smell kept getting worse and worse, until it was stifling—it was all you could think about—and everyone was complaining and putting their hands over their mouths, but what could they do? Near the end of the ride, this poop-colored fluid starting leaking out of the closed bathroom door and trickling down the aisle, real slowly, until it was near the front. We had to pick our bags up off the floor to avoid getting shit and God knows what else on them.
I was living in Boston, and my plan was to go to a Halloween party in Brooklyn, so what better way to get there than taking the Fung Wah the day of the event? I'd ridden that bus, like, 100 times by then and never had any problems. It was always lightning fast, too. This ride, on the other hand, was ten hours of hell thanks to the horrific amount of traffic. And the driver never got off the freeway to stop. Everyone was in costume, and by hour seven, when we knew we were still a long ways away from NYC, it had turned nightmarish. I recall an enormous black woman in pink mesh, who looked like she was going to shit herself and have a heart attack at the same time: She was sweating and moaning, and the sweat made it look like she was crying glitter. A couple dressed as bacon and eggs near the front of the bus started arguing about which party to go to now that there was no way they'd be able to go to both of the ones they had planned to attend. It was like watching a Raymond Carver short story unfold before my eyes. A guy who I can only describe as thug plus Dracula was smoking cigarettes in the bathroom. Everyone was on their phones going, “I don't know when we'll get there.” People started asking the driver what our ETA was, like he's a fucking pilot or something, like he knows, like he isn't just an irritable Chinese man on an ephedrine binge who has probably already done this trip twice that day. He started screaming at people, telling them to calm down. It was pandemonium. Being trapped on the Fung Wah for nearly half a day will rip you apart mentally. By the end of it, I was so delirious, I could hardly speak.
I was on my way from Boston to New York with my girlfriend at the time, and one of the passengers, a woman in her 20s, who was on crutches, was having some kind of medical issue. She was pretty calm about it, but she apparently needed to be dropped off ASAP—the problem was, thanks to the language barrier, the bus driver and the other staff on the bus had no idea what she was saying. The other passengers were pretty tense, and I think we were all hoping nothing awful was about to happen. She kept imploring the driver to please take her to a hospital, and finally, he just pulled off the freeway at a random exit and told her to get off. She got thrown off in the middle of Connecticut, in need of medical care. I hope she’s OK.
-Frank Ojeda, who would like you to check out his band
CHICKENS AND MYSTERY PASSENGERS
I used to go from New York City to Albany to visit a girl on weekends, and I’d stay as long as I could, which meant I’d ride my bike from her place to the bus at 8 AM Monday morning, get into NYC at 10:30, and ride my bike to work. I’d put the bike in the storage space under the bus cabin, and one time when I was putting it down there, I discovered a bunch of live chickens in cages. They didn’t look mistreated, but there were a LOT of them. And it wasn’t legal to have chickens in Albany back then. Another time, I was on the bus, and the driver was blazing down the highway at like 90 mph (as usual), when he stopped really suddenly in the middle of nowhere. The doors opened, and an Asian dude in a baseball hat, a black T-shirt, and ratty jeans got on. He didn’t have any luggage and didn’t pay the fare. Sometimes, you don’t really want to know what’s going on.
-Andrew Franciosa, who runs Keep Albany Boring
WORST HIJACKING EVER
I was sitting on the bus in DC waiting for it to leave, when this guy who looked like he was homeless—not just without a place to live for a bit, homeless homeless—got on and pulled out a gun. Weirdly, the driver seemed cool with this and talked to him like she knew him. This guy was like, “I’m taking over this bus! We’re going to go to my house!” and paced back and forth in the aisle while the driver reasoned with him. Looking back on it, everyone should have been much more freaked out about the situation, but we just calmly sat in our seats until the guy got off the bus. Then we drove to Philadelphia.
We got picked up in the dead of the night for an all-night ride to New York from North Carolina. At like three in the morning, suddenly my friend clasped onto me with the force of a thousand suns and said she's having a panic attack and needs water. So, I gave her all my water, but she said she needed more; she really thought she was going to die or something. I told her to hang tight and went up to the front to ask the driver to pull over, but the guy flat out refused. I told him that my friend was having a panic attack, but he just screamed at me. An hour later, we stopped for gas, and my friend got some water and did not die. Oh, and there was a dude who smoked a joint in the bathroom when he got on with us, then proceeded to drink a 12-pack of Bud Light through the course of the night, and when we got to New York, he called his friend up and said, “Get Facebook out! I want to poke some bitches!” Charming.
We're sure there are worse/better stories out there. Feel free to leave them in the comments below.
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