Forget it, Jake, It’s the Chinatown Bus
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 had ever ridden 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 of these buses 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; the companies are occasionally 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 Fung Wah charged you $15). In honor of the crackdown on both the zaniness and the danger of one of the worst and best bus lines in America, we decided to compile some stories of traveling on Chinatown buses.
Illustrations by Sam Taylor. Follow him on Twitter @sptsam or visit his website at samtaylorillustrator.com
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 today. 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.