Moving From Boston To New York On The Chinatown Bus


Due to an extreme lack of foresight, the Chinatown bus was the method I chose to move from Boston to New York. Renting a truck is expensive, and the employees on the Chinatown buses don’t seem to care what you do as long as the trip doesn’t exceed four hours. So, one is able to load a ridiculous amount of shit on the bus without catching a second glance. In the interest of starting anew and traveling light, I gave away everything that wouldn’t fit into two suitcases, two duffle bags, and a backpack (excluding my bike and the various instruments I’ve accumulated over the course of my four years in Boston).

The initial plan was to store the bike and instruments at a friend’s apartment (until I could figure out what to do with them – probably load them on a Chinatown bus later), load myself down with everything else, and trudge through the necessary public transportation systems until arriving at my stoop in Brooklyn. It would be hellish, but it would be one trip and then it would be over. In practice, this proved to be unrealistic, so the plan ended up looking something like this:

Day 1: Load myself down with half of the bags – take the bus to New York – track down the guy I’m subletting from to pick up my keys – drop everything off at the apartment – go to sleep.

Day 2: Wake up – shower (?) – take the bus to Boston – take the train to my apartment – grab the other half of the bags – clean – drop off my old keys -and sleep at a friend’s.

Day 3 = Day 1 (Minus picking up the keys – I got those on Day 1. Remember?)

Compartmentalized below are the reasons this was a terrible idea (in no particular order).

Boredom: This is obvious. That’s a total of ~12 hours in three days on the most ragtag bus ever. While I’m guessing a lot of people have commutes like this all the time (Rockstars? Bus Drivers?), I don’t. Considering that I also lack the foresight to do things like charge my phone and iPod, boredom played a pivotal role in the experience. The antics (see below) of other Chinatown bus travelers are only entertaining for so long, and nothing excited ever seems to happen to me on I-95 in Connecticut.

The only restaurant the Chinatown buses seem to stop at is McDonald’s: Normally, I have nothing against McDonald’s. If anything, I applaud them for constructing a business model that can withstand all the negative press they get. But, fast food from a rest stop tends to transform itself into a brick in your stomach. Further, the Chinatown bus normally smells like bathroom cleaner and air freshener. Combined with the smell of cheeseburgers, the stench can be a little overpowering. The whole experience leads to a state of forehead-sweating and stomach lurches.

The horrible bathroom: Of course the bathroom is disgusting. Why wouldn’t it be? The main problem, however, is its design. The only handle one has to balance himself is on the right. It’s hard to pee straight when being jostled, but doing so as a southpaw is even harder. I have to say I was pretty good at this, though, even when the bus slammed on the breaks while I was in there. This is lucky considering there’s no soap or hand sanitizer in there, so any slip-ups would have unpleasant consequences.

When there’s traffic, Chinatown bus drivers take detours that lead to being lost in places like Danbury, CT: As mentioned before, the Chinatown bus’ MO is to make the trip in 4 hours. This doesn’t mean that they’re always successful. On the upside, I got to see a lot of CT’s great Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s.

No one is happy on Chinatown buses: Self-explanatory. A lot has been written about Chinatown bus passengers, so I won’t go too far into it. In short, most people just complain loudly on their phones about things like being lost in Connecticut. Most interestingly, there was a guy who looked almost identical to Chris Farley’s character in the “Da Bears” sketches who was clearly hammered, but he mostly just slept.

The realization that if I had paid a little more I could have moved in one trip and avoided public transportation: I’m not used to taking public transportation; Boston has the benefit of being compact, and one can bike virtually anywhere in town in ~30 minutes. So, spending sweaty hours on buses carrying around heavy bags was an unpleasant experience I’m not accustomed to. The thought that I could have moved in one trip and avoided all of this a powerful one.

In the end, everything made it in tact. Now I’m free to get lost in Bushwick whenever I want. If anything, I rediscovered my love for Orange Juice and Beatles For Sale while my iPod still worked.

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image – holycalamity