About as ghetto as it gets

I like to save a buck.

Great Wall Chinatown NYC

Outside the 'bus terminal': taken about the time I started to realize what I'd gotten myself into.

This is a nice way of saying that – about certain things – I am as cheap as they come. Over the years I have evolved my own personal sense of where it is okay to scrimp and where it is very, very stupid.

Okay:

  • Travel
  • Hotel stays of two days or less
  • Fast food (meaning: it’s all crap, so just order from the Dollar Menu)
  • Nail polish
  • Tank tops

 

Very, very stupid

  • Haircuts
  • Eyeglasses
  • Electronics
  • Dental work
  • Toilet paper

 

Great Wall Chinatown to York bus

The Great Wall bus is unmarked, of course, but you can probably smell it coming.

Thus, it goes without saying, I’m willing to endure a red eye or a long connection or even an airline I slightly hate (Southwest, anyone?) if it means I’ll save a hundred dollars or more. The way I rationalize it, the haircut is on my head every day for months¸ it better not look like a monkey did it. The flight or other travel inconvenience is just a few hours out of my life: I’ll suck it up.

Mostly I stand by this theory and will assert its wisdom.

Mostly.

Except for now.

<<< To explain, this post was written in large part on the Great Wall bus: super-ghetto, semi-direct transportation from Chinatown in New York City to York, PA (the nearest stop to my father’s home). I think I anticipated that it would compare with the unpleasant but otherwise unremarkable Megabus or GoBus. I was wrong. >>>

I chose Great Wall over my other lame bargain options because it was $25 (a $12.00 savings!!!), but what I didn’t realize was that I would be the only round eye on board. I also didn’t realize they would be airing loud Chinese movies overhead (no headphones required or, unfortunately, enforced) or that the whole place would smell like kim chee.

 

Custard Apple

The Cherimoya or Custard Apple, native to the Andean-highland valleys of Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Colombia, Ecuador and Peru. I had some in Hawaii once. It was nice.

On the upside, my role as token white person has garnered me a seat to myself: the only empty chair on the whole bus, as near as I can tell.

I don’t know why, but the circumstances surprised me. For starters, I grew up in South-central Pennsylvania, and I honestly didn’t realize there were so many Chinese people there. I don’t mean that in a bad way, I just mean to say that I might have guessed the entire town of York, PA had about 60 Chinese people, not that there were that many bussing in nightly. Good news, however, for those seeking Hami melon, cherimoyas, and bok choy: each person seemed to be toting six to eight bags’ worth apiece. (Thus, I imagine, the smell.)

Similarly, I didn’t realize transportation was so segregated. The rest of my maneuvers during my east coast jaunt has been facilitated by the spotty outfit known as Megabus: sometimes awful, sometimes perfectly great. Megabus sports a lively mix of white, black, Asian, Middle Eastern, and possibly non-human customers. There are accents aplenty and every hairdo from dread locks to skinhead. The bus driver will tear you a new one if your music is audible via your headphones, and they don’t cotton to loud cell phone conversations, either.

Chinese melon

There seemed to be several of these on board.

On Great Wall, anything goes. The driver started laughing when I got on, and couldn’t control his giggling when he came back to check all of our tickets. I had bought mine online – the only person to do so, of course – and their method of issuing me a paper ‘ticket’ was to take a photocopy of my driver’s license and have me sign it.

“A special memento to remember me by,” I told him, handing him the paper. “An autographed picture of me.”

“Special picture!” he agreed, nodding enthusiastically and giggling like a twelve year old girl. I’m not sure if he was laughing with me or laughing at me, but I suspect the latter.

Or maybe he just sensed that I had a full bladder and was pre-predicting my internal horror at the bathroom situation. Let’s pause and talk about that for a moment, shall we?

 

Great Wall bus plays Chinese movies

From my seat, en route to York.

1. You have to pee, so you make your way to the back of a wobbling vehicle rapidly changing lanes at 80 mph.

2. As you approach the bathroom door, you note that opening it involves sticking your hand into a splinter-ridden hole seemingly carved by a beaver.

3. Normal efforts are woefully insufficient: getting into this bathroom will require yanking, pulling, and tugging with every muscle fiber in your body.

4. Bus toilets – much like train and boat toilets – are neither fancy nor spacious. However, most of them at least catch the waste in receptacle. From the light shining up from below, you’re pretty sure that when nature calls on a Great Wall bus, there may be splash back…from the street.

5. There is no toilet paper, but shouldn’t you have presumed as much?

6. You didn’t really expect a door you opened by sticking your hand into a hole to have a lock on it, did you????

6. Apologies to those on the Pennsylvania Turnpike. If you foolishly drank a large Dunkin’ Donuts coffee shortly before boarding the bus, you may or may not have showered the windshields of several dozen cars with pee. It’s not your fault, really, but it’s still a little more third world than how you typically (like to think you) roll.

 

Dr. Bombay

Apropos of nothing, my friend's cat, Dr. Bombay, sitting at the kitchen table.

I’m not sure I’ll be rushing to avail myself of a second Great Wall journey, but there is one thing I like about my new Chinese travel companions, and that is – by comparison – I am Pamela Anderson. While in the area (the bus picks you up just off of Canal Street, because that’s the kind of classy I’m all about), I decided to get an I heart NY tank top. Tee shirts are plentiful, but tanks are strangely hard to come by. I finally found one in the back of a creepy little shop, and the female store owner was tailing me like a five-foot tall Hispanic man in Washington D.C.

“This!” she announced shrilly. “This tank top. This fit you.”

“But it’s extra large,” I responded. I wear a medium or maybe a small in ‘ladies’-sized brands. Extra large is, well, extra large.

“No. This fit you. Boobs too big.”

“What?”

“Boobs too big,” she repeated, pointing at my acceptable but hardly DD chest. “This fit you, Big Boobs.”

And with salesmanship like that, how could I resist? So sure, the bus may stink like rotting garbage and my ears may be ringing from the sound of young Chinese women shrieking grievously on the super loud TV above my head, but my boobs are (comparatively) huge, my bladder is empty, and I have a seat to myself. What more could a lone white lady on a cheap ass Chinatown bus want?

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5 Responses to “About as ghetto as it gets”

  1. Kaiguy

    Wow, I didn’t realize that we even had that many bus options out there. That bathroom sounds so utterly “not here” as in not in the USA that it is surprising. We all have our expectations of where we’d find that but I for one would never expected it to be in NY! I did not even know of the Megabus or these types of things so am excited to hear about them.

    My brother took the Green Turtle once from Santa Cruz to Los Angeles and it sounds like a similar operation to the Megabus where it’s an alien tramp steamer, but a mixed crowd if nothing else. He had some great stories from the 2 times he rode. One involved a one armed man, think the Fugitive, and essentially everyone sleeping on mattress pads (no seats on board) and that’s just the backdrop.

    Regarding cheapskateness, agreed except that as a guy the haircut can be supercuts, although I do have my preferred stylist. I think the key is on 2 points. One you hit on with the “wearing your hair for months” bit but the other is frequency. Other than toilet paper, most of the stupid things to scrimp on are hopefully less frequent things to have to spend money on, so spend some money to have it be right! Right!

    I’m sure your Tank top was fabulous!

    Safe travels V!

  2. Frothy Afterbirth

    Awesome, adventures of a 3rd world country on wheels. Anymore and I would expect someone would have whipped out the wok and start stir frying something smelly.

    Splish splash is it raining? Congrats your car has been officially blessed by the Weather Witch’s holy being while you’re racing thru the PA turnpike. I’m sure the New York State and Pennsylvania Departments of Health will love the story about a Great Wall with a hole in the floor with no proper waste receptacle.

  3. alwaysofftopicbutnotatroll

    One wonders, as one should, about the Kombucha. Is it live, or is it Memorex? Only your hairdresser knows for sure. Shut it Marge, She IS soaking in it. Not being a skeptic, for crying out loud.

    Happy and peaceful trails.

    http://www.publicradio.org/columns/dinnerpartydownload/2011/06/episode-102-john-c-reilly-lady-umpires-and-the-buch.html

  4. wideawakeinwonderland

    Frothy: Forget the lack of food and beverage permit or the third-world toilet, my dad’s new obsession are all the busses that keep flipping over or driving off cliffs or otherwise killing everybody inside.
    I think for the rest of my life he’s going to send me links to stories of bus accidents on the Jersey Turnpike involving “mostly Asian passengers.”
    Serves me right, I guess…

  5. wideawakeinwonderland

    Kai,
    Wait.
    What?
    There’s a bus where everyone sleeps on mattresses???
    Call me a killjoy, but that is seriously the sickest thing I’ve ever heard. You ever see those photos where like 50 people are sitting on top of a bus somewhere in remote Southeast Asia?
    MARK MY WORDS: I would rather travel on top of a bus than inside on a stanky bedbug-and-God-knows-what-else-ridden mattress. Ick.