Monday, May 28, 2007

You Are Not My Lucky Star

I'm cheap. Despite what my credit card balance may say about me, I really don't enjoy parting with any more money than absolutely necessary. Which is why, when my friends brought up a last-minute trip to New York City this weekend, I championed the cause of taking one of the Chinatown buses. Since we didn't want to die or end up with third degree burns on the side of the Pike, we decided to take Lucky Star, a bus line that doesn't feature so prominently in the local news, but was still cheap.

Let me tell you this right now. Never again will I take a bus that has a schedule with the appearance of a Chinese takeout menu, no matter how many of my eggs I must sell to pay off my trip.

The ride down to New York wasn't bad. When we boarded the bus, everything appeared to be in order. The bus reeked of disinfectant at first, but faded as waited for everyone to get on. No new funky smells overpowered us, and the bus backed out of the dock. As it jolted forward, the bathroom door swung open and hit my leg. My friends laughed uproariously as I kicked the door shut. The driver navigated the frightening curly-q ramp down to the Pike and the door kept swinging open. As I tossed my bag against the door to keep it shut, the guy sitting in front of us pointed out there was a bungee cord hanging on the side of the loo to keep the door from swinging when someone wasn't inside.

"Of course it's a bungee cord," I said, "because a bus' bathroom door is just like my Mom's garbage cans."

But we all had a good laugh, the bus stopped once at a Roy Rogers in Bumblefuck, Connecticut (quoth I: "I hate Connecticut."), and we arrived in Chinatown, New York almost exactly on time. We went to our hotel, walked around, met up with a friend, went shopping, had an amazing dinner in Little Italy, got picked up by the sailors' pimp at a wine bar, walked through Times Square at 1am, and went to bed. At an entirely unreasonable hour, we got up to head back to Boston. We waited by some trash cans in Chinatown for the bus to pull up.

The first sign of trouble was the bus itself. While our Boston to New York bus was emblazoned with the Lucky Star logo, this bus had an '80s-inspired aqua and hot pink brushstroke design, with no company logo. It was dinged up in the back. As its driver attempted to execute a three-point-turn in the middle of Chinatown, we got a little nervous.

Once the bus circled the block and pulled into its spot, we boarded. Unfortunately, this bus didn't have three seats next to each other in the back, so someone would end up in their own seat, ready for any freak that had $15 and a desire to see Boston in the springtime to sit next to them. We went toward the back of the bus, but I had everyone turn around due to a a funky human waste stink in the back. There was not even a hit of disinfectant. And where there were shopping-bag sized trash bags on every aisle seat on the bus the day before, there was just litter bouncing around on the floor on this bus. We grabbed some seats, with A sitting alone near a window so she could sleep.

As we sat, I began to notice things were not as good as they'd been on our trip down. The seats were ripping apart. The roof safety hatches appeared to be caulked shut. There was a pronounced odor of piss throughout the bus. There were a greater number of freaks on our bus from New York. There was the girl who is always on her cell phone and never turns it to vibrate. There was a homeless man who added to, but was not the cause of, the piss smell. An old Chinese lady yelled at the bus driver as he helped her store her belongings in one of the few overhead bins with a protective string to keep things from raining on passengers' heads. A ended up with a guy who could easily play football he was so big sitting next to her. Fifteen minutes late, the bus jerked out of its stop and on its way out of Manhattan.

I refrained from donning my headphones until we hit Connecticut. I looked around at the Bronx as we left the city, mentally sang "Jenny From the Block," and watched the old Chinese lady flip through her newspaper and tried to guess what the stories were about. I didn't breathe too deeply so I wouldn't gag from the overwhelming stench of urine. I stopped breathing entirely when the homeless guy wandered his way down the bus and started telling the bus driver something, and didn't take another shallow breath until he got back to his seat. Finally, we stopped at some rest stop on 95 in Connecticut (I fucking hate that state) with a McDonalds. Grateful for the chance to breathe some relatively fresh rest stop air, I got off the bus. After peeing and buying a coffee, we went back outside to where the bus was.

"Where is the bus?" Steph asked.

"Over there," A said, pointing to the one sad diesel pump with our one sad bus next to it.

We stood around and I sipped my iced coffee. The homeless guy wandered around, looking to make friends. He would mumble something, a nicer person than me would try to talk to him, and the homeless guy would say "No hablo Englais." He drank a Fanta he'd begged off someone.

I noticed I was about halfway done with my coffee, and saw that our bus driver was still pumping gas into the bus.

"We must have been on the fumes," Steph said. The bus driver removed the pump, then started fiddling with the gas cap.

"He's little," A commented. "Look, he can't even get the gas cap closed."

I was three-quarters done with my coffee. The driver was still unable to close the gas cap or the door to the gas tank.

"Come on, righty-tighty, let's go," Steph said.

"This delay is because I fibbed," I said. I've told a greater number of fibs this week than I usually do, and I think karma kicked my ass with this bus trip. Duly noted, karma. I'm sorry I fibbed.

Finally, the bus driver drove the bus back over to the waiting passengers. As he pulled up, we noticed the door to the gas cap was swinging freely open and closed. Someone went to the window and pointed this out to the driver.

"Surely he must have some bungee cord on this bus somewhere," I said. We climbed the stairs back into the bus that smelled like piss as the bus driver grabbed a pair of pliers to keep the gas door shut.

"We're never going to make it home," Steph said.

"We can call my Mom to come get us," I replied.

"Do you even know where we are?"

"No idea."

After a half-hour layover, the bus started back on its way to Boston. My iPod decided to play a funny joke by locking up on me. "Oh fucking no," I said to it, rebooting it. It then forgot that it had 1800 songs on it. I rebooted again, it realized the gravity of the situation, and it started playing my music. During the lull in music, I heard the homeless guy talking to someone behind me.

"No hablo Englais. But I don't speak Spanish either." Steph cracked up.

About forty minutes later, I noticed the bus was slowing down and merging to the right for an exit-only lane.

"Oh hell no," I said.

"What?" Steph said. "I just fell asleep. Are we stopping again?"

"Yeah we are."

"What the fuck?" A said, opening her eyes.

"Why do we need the Roy Rogers?" I asked. "Weren't we just at a McDonalds?"

But we had not yet stopped at the China Buffet. We got off the highway and pulled in to some strip mall in Northern Bumblefuck, Connecticut for a food break. After we'd all just eaten. Some people got off the bus, but most remained on board. Some sadists brought take-out back on board, giving the bus a nasty smell of urine and fried rice. It was horrendous.

"Never again. We are taking the train next time," Steph said.

"Agreed," A and I replied.

"I'm sorry I lied," I added.

To add insult to injury, the bus that left New York an hour after ours left pulled up while we sat in the lot. It was one of the newer models, and it appeared to be in better working order. We contemplated a mutiny, but stayed on our pee-stink bus. After twenty minutes, the driver found the one straggler and started the bus. We headed for the exit of the plaza. The driver attempted to exit from the "entrance only" lane. Steph jumped up in her seat, flung her hands in front of her face, and exclaimed "Oh my God. We're going to die on this bus" without a hint of irony or exaggeration.

The driver backed up, in theory to aim for the correct exit lane. But no. Instead, he just straightened out and headed for the entrance lane. I just started laughing hysterically as a Jeep headed for us, stopped, and let us go. Even the guy driving the Jeep was laughing his ass off. I thought about asking him if he'd mind a trip to Boston with three pretty girls. I wasn't laughing because I didn't think we were in a bad situation; I was laughing because there was nothing else I could do. We tried contacting every person we could think of who could get us at the plaza and bring us to another mode of transportation to Boston, but no one was around.

After unsafely getting back on the highway, the bus continued on. The bus shuddered so hard that every inch of fat on my body jiggled, making me horribly uncomfortable. After speeding at what easily could have been 100 miles per hour, the bus driver started slowing down quickly. When I looked to see why, I saw a Connecticut Statie sitting on the side of the road. Somehow, he didn't pull our hot mess of a bus over for speeding and generally being a cesspool on wheels. After the slowdown, I noticed the bus was shuddering even more and moving really slowly. The hills had been a problem for both buses to handle. On the downhill, we flew. When climbing uphill, all I could think of was the Little Engine That Could. "I think I can. I think I can." After we slowed, the bus barely made it up the hills. The engine sounded off, but I couldn't tell if the driver didn't know how to downshift, or if it was a mechanical problem. After going thirty-five miles an hour for about two miles, the bus started slowing down even more on a flat section of I-84.

"We are not going to break down," Steph said.

"Yeah we are."

"Perfect. That's just great." Steph jumped as we were nearly hit by a large truck. The driver, who apparently couldn't admit when the jig was up, remained in the travel lane until he had no other option but to pull over. My fat jiggled violently as the bus went over the rumble strip and ground to a halt, much to the vocal chagrin of the passengers.

"I want my money back," I said. "I am so not even kidding." I said this a bit too loudly, and the other passengers laughed at my riotous declaration.

Vehicles whizzed by our pee-stink bus as we sat idle for the first time in the whole trip. Even when we were at the China Buffet the bus stayed on. Either the driver was ignoring the law that you can't idle a bus for that long, or if he'd turned the bus off it wouldn't start again. After standing for a minute or two, the engine roared to life, and by some miracle the bus sloppily merged back into traffic, nearly getting hit by another shipping truck.

"We are going to die. It is going to happen," Steph stated.

"I am sorry for everything I've ever done wrong in all of my life. I am not a praying woman, but I am about to become one. I'd call my Mom, but I don't want her to worry."

Somehow, some way, our piss- and Chinese food-scented bus made it into Massachusetts. After sitting in tollbooth traffic because the bus didn't have an EZ Pass (how is that even possible? A friend of mine has an EZ Pass and she doesn't even own a car) we powered our bus with hope. Just outside Newton, we saw another Lucky Star bus on the westbound side of the Pike that wasn't as lucky as our shit bus, and had all its passengers in the woods and the hood of the bus was open.

"That was a gift that we didn't end up like that," Steph commented.

Buddah, Allah, God, Jeebus, Pan, whatever deity it took to get that horrible bus into South Station with all of us alive: Thank you. I'm sorry I did wrong. Ever. I have learned my lesson. I also learned never to take a Chinatown bus again.

My friends and I grabbed our stuff and hauled ass past the hordes of people waiting to get to New York. I sat on the T, thankful to be back in Boston, aware that I looked an absolute fright and almost had to smell like I'd pissed myself. I got home and showered immediately. I washed myself with antibacterial bar soap, then gel soap, then a body scrub. I used a ton of shampoo on my dirty hair. I gave myself a clarifying mask to remove all trace elements of piss smell out of my pores. I sit here, waiting for A to pick me up in her car that works and doesn't stink of pee and bring me to the beach to get away from the smell of city for a while. I very well may toss myself into the icy Atlantic to shock even more grime from my body. In any case, I'm not going to take the Chinatown bus again, ever. Can I interest you in some of my eggs? I've got to start saving up for an Amtrak ticket.

12 comments:

Anonymous said...

Next time, take Greyhound ... if you buy on their web site, round trip tickets are, with the "convenience fee", $31.50 and one-way $16.50 (look around the site for the Boston to New York discount fare). Saving a buck and a half isn't worth your experience. They say online that the tickets can "only be used at the time selected" but the bus drivers don't pay any attention to that as long as you're within a day or so of the ticket date/time.

Anonymous said...

I was told flat out by somebody at the Greyhound ticket counter at the Port Authority that you can use the ticket on any bus as long as there's room.

Colleen said...

Your story had me laughing out loud! My boyfriend and I collect these Lucky Star/Fung Wah stories ever since our bus ride last November. It was our first ... and last. Glad you made it home safe.

Ari said...

That's a classic story! Oddly, I've never ridden a bus to New York, but either stopped en route to Washington, or drove to New Haven and taken the Metro North in. If you go with a few people, the combined cost of gas to New Haven, garage parking, and roundtrip Metro tickets is a good deal.

Suldog said...

Indeed, take Greyhound. I took them last week and highly recommend them. You can read an account of my trip, if you wish, at http://jimsuldog.blogspot.com/2007/05/me-thats-who.html

I used to take Fung Wah, back when it was very little known among the general populace (MY WIFE and I called it "The Secret Chinese Bus") but I would never take it now, nor any of it's John Lee Come Lately immitators.

Jen said...

I just noticed a Lucky Star bus for the first time last weekend (passed by a couple while on the cushy P&B bus to the Cape) and was wondering if it was better than Fung Wah. Good to have the report that no, it is not. Happily, between Zipcar & my last trip to New York, I somehow have enough points with Amtrak to have a free trip due. After that, future trips will probably be on Greyhound.

Dan Halbert said...

The Boston-NYC LimoLiner (limoliner.com) luxury bus sounds pretty appealing, though I don't know anyone who's taken it. $79 one-way or a little less than double that for round trip, which looks comparable to a coach seat on Amtrak.

Anonymous said...

I used Lucky Star a couple times to spend a day in NYC....one of the times they never turn on heating and played the same Chinese pop music casset tape over and over...in February!
And the other time I used Lucky Star...one passenger was traveling with small cages packed with live chickens...and they did a random stop in Rhode Island without informing all the passengers, just to drop off one person!

Anonymous said...

Next time, you should try BoltBus...it's much more reliable, doesn't stink, and it has a wireless internet connection. :D I prefer it even to Greyhound.

Anonymous said...

..and I am normally an Amtrak rider. :D
--anonymous at 10:43

Anonymous said...

After ready this, I can see why you're not a full time writer. By the way, you and your friends have foul mouths.

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