It’s Memorial Day weekend. You live in a city, sold your car because it’s useless in urban life, and prefer to utilize public transportation because it has become a way of life. You want to go to a beach, but you don’t want to spend hundreds of dollars on getting there. Instead, you decide to research cheap options of getting out of a concrete jungle to decompress.
I tried to do that very thing. Here’s my story:
The day before my departure (because I’m responsible and like to plan far in advance), I googled “car rental” in Philadelphia and Delaware. I wanted get to Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, but I wanted to do it the cheapest way possible. I pride myself on being able to navigate, without fear of getting lost, effectively and efficiently. I declined to rent the car, and looked at bus transportation from NYC to Philadelphia. Megabus was an option, but not liking to do things the conventional way, I declined that as well. Instead, I hopped on a city bus and roamed the streets of Chinatown in search of the perfect ride for me.
If you have never heard of the Chinatown bus, I’m going to let you in on a little secret. It is a magic carpet ride of pure excitement and entertainment. It is what us class acts choose for travel. It is nearly divine. The accomodations are incomparable to any I’ve ever seen. And, I’ve been to Third World countries. You have not lived a complete life if you have not done this once. I like to be close to the “people.”
Upon being directed by a lady, who had a real handle on the English language as she leered at me through a plate of squeaky clean plexi-glass, I continued on my way down the street where a man driving a forklift nearly unloaded his wares on my head. So sweet: he wanted to share. At last, I found a corner where it looked like a group of people were waiting for an autobus (ow-tow-boos). Above their heads, written in Mandarin and English, I saw it: Philadelphia. Sweet, sassy, love-saturated Philadelphia. Another lady behind plexiglass pointed across the room to a different window where an invisible person was selling tickets. I stood in front of said invisible person for a few minutes before I became foot-tapping impatient. My future travel buddy (a Philly rapper who will remain nameless) and I started mumbling incoherent swear-words at the empty chair. Suddenly, a short black man with few teeth whose warm up jacket stretched tautly over his generous abdominals poked his head through the open doorway to the street and began hollering, “Philly! Philly? Philly.” He turned and swung his arm high, beckoning us to follow him. I looked at my new rapper friend, and we silently followed suit. My logic? Follow the tall guy with the biggest bling: he knows what he is doing.
“Go to where the sign says fifteen.” Right. Obviously.
I knew only at this point that jokes were the best ingredient to make this trip complete, “I know I’m listening to Bossman. Why wouldn’t you listen to him? He seems like he’s the one in charge. There is no uniform or nametag, but I trust him. I do. I really do.”
A few Russian girls approached us (we became an ‘us’ quickly). I told them to listen to Bossman, because he knew things Then, while I was contemplating changing careers to Chinatown Bus Street Director, the “bus” pulled up. I know I’m short, and so were all the Asians getting on the bus with me, but this was taking stereotypes to a whole new level. Rapper and I jostled our way past six rows of seats to the back of the bus. I paid my thirteen dollars to the kid walking around demanding money. I crossed my fingers. I am so in love with adventure.
Two hours and thousands of raindrops in the face later (from the nice woman who let fresh air into the vehicle) my chosen mode of transport bounced to a halt in front of a strip mall on Broad and Olney. I know I’m crazy, but when you think of Chinatown buses, don’t you assume Chinatown A to Chinatown B? I should’ve asked Bossman. He might have told me that the last stop was to be the most dangerous part of North Philadelphia. Rapper was nervous, and so told me we “need to get out this hood fast. I got too much bling on me to be on the streets in this hood. Need to find a yellow cab.”
I am not afraid.
Another man, one that looked strangely like Bossman, approached “us” and offerred to take us to Center City for “twenty-five.”
My travel companion responded, “Yellow Cab?” He started to walk towards an ATM. Bossman II began walking towards a well worn, black town car.
In my head I saw my death in a stranger’s car next to an abandoned building full of squatters. And so, I cheerily declined and ran down the stairs to the subway, calling for Rapper to follow me. I like to think I saved a life yesterday. And for that, I am teeming with pride.
Amtrak is fast. New Jersey Transit to Trenton with a transfer to Septa to Center City is not as fast, but efficient. Chinatown buses are epic. What will you choose?
Find @funnychristine on Twitter or making Lupus patients giggle somewhere in New York City. There’s probably someone with Lupus in every audience.