I like to save a buck.
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.
- 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
- Dental work
- Toilet paper
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.”
“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?