Moving From Boston To New York On The Chinatown Bus

Due to an extreme lack of foresight, the Chinatown bus was the method I chose to move from Boston to New York. Renting a truck is expensive, and the employees on the Chinatown buses don’t seem to care what you do as long as the trip doesn’t exceed four hours. So, one is able to load a ridiculous amount of shit on the bus without catching a second glance. In the interest of starting anew and traveling light, I gave away everything that wouldn’t fit into two suitcases, two duffle bags, and a backpack (excluding my bike and the various instruments I’ve accumulated over the course of my four years in Boston).

The initial plan was to store the bike and instruments at a friend’s apartment (until I could figure out what to do with them – probably load them on a Chinatown bus later), load myself down with everything else, and trudge through the necessary public transportation systems until arriving at my stoop in Brooklyn. It would be hellish, but it would be one trip and then it would be over. In practice, this proved to be unrealistic, so the plan ended up looking something like this:

Day 1: Load myself down with half of the bags – take the bus to New York – track down the guy I’m subletting from to pick up my keys – drop everything off at the apartment – go to sleep.

Day 2: Wake up – shower (?) – take the bus to Boston – take the train to my apartment – grab the other half of the bags – clean – drop off my old keys -and sleep at a friend’s.

Day 3 = Day 1 (Minus picking up the keys – I got those on Day 1. Remember?)

Compartmentalized below are the reasons this was a terrible idea (in no particular order).

Boredom: This is obvious. That’s a total of ~12 hours in three days on the most ragtag bus ever. While I’m guessing a lot of people have commutes like this all the time (Rockstars? Bus Drivers?), I don’t. Considering that I also lack the foresight to do things like charge my phone and iPod, boredom played a pivotal role in the experience. The antics (see below) of other Chinatown bus travelers are only entertaining for so long, and nothing excited ever seems to happen to me on I-95 in Connecticut.

The only restaurant the Chinatown buses seem to stop at is McDonald’s: Normally, I have nothing against McDonald’s. If anything, I applaud them for constructing a business model that can withstand all the negative press they get. But, fast food from a rest stop tends to transform itself into a brick in your stomach. Further, the Chinatown bus normally smells like bathroom cleaner and air freshener. Combined with the smell of cheeseburgers, the stench can be a little overpowering. The whole experience leads to a state of forehead-sweating and stomach lurches.

The horrible bathroom: Of course the bathroom is disgusting. Why wouldn’t it be? The main problem, however, is its design. The only handle one has to balance himself is on the right. It’s hard to pee straight when being jostled, but doing so as a southpaw is even harder. I have to say I was pretty good at this, though, even when the bus slammed on the breaks while I was in there. This is lucky considering there’s no soap or hand sanitizer in there, so any slip-ups would have unpleasant consequences.

When there’s traffic, Chinatown bus drivers take detours that lead to being lost in places like Danbury, CT: As mentioned before, the Chinatown bus’ MO is to make the trip in 4 hours. This doesn’t mean that they’re always successful. On the upside, I got to see a lot of CT’s great Dunkin’ Donuts and Wendy’s.

No one is happy on Chinatown buses: Self-explanatory. A lot has been written about Chinatown bus passengers, so I won’t go too far into it. In short, most people just complain loudly on their phones about things like being lost in Connecticut. Most interestingly, there was a guy who looked almost identical to Chris Farley’s character in the “Da Bears” sketches who was clearly hammered, but he mostly just slept.

The realization that if I had paid a little more I could have moved in one trip and avoided public transportation: I’m not used to taking public transportation; Boston has the benefit of being compact, and one can bike virtually anywhere in town in ~30 minutes. So, spending sweaty hours on buses carrying around heavy bags was an unpleasant experience I’m not accustomed to. The thought that I could have moved in one trip and avoided all of this a powerful one.

In the end, everything made it in tact. Now I’m free to get lost in Bushwick whenever I want. If anything, I rediscovered my love for Orange Juice and Beatles For Sale while my iPod still worked. TC mark

image – holycalamity


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  • anonymous

    hahaha! this is great. the one time i’ve ever taken the chinatown bus (its called the fung wah, right?) it broke down halfway to new york and we had to wait an hour in the sweltering august heat for a mechanic to come and fix it, which took another hour 

  • Anonymous

    I used to make a similar commute from NYC to Philly, but I took the Megabus or Bolt Bus. Less luggage allowed, but by god it was a better ride. Clean bathrooms, air conditioning, and semi-competent drivers; who can ask for more.

  • Rick

    Fung wah is actually a composite of two cantonese characters. Fung which means “noble journey” or “swift journey” and Wah which means “over a guardrail.”

    Also, what is wrong with your bladder that you need to pee on that bus. Because of the McShit stop being two hours into the trip, you shouldn’t ever have to hold it for more than 2 hours.

    • rina

      … that is not what it means at all.

      • One More Salute to Vanity

        My buddy told me Fung Wah means “Lucky Baby.” I don’t want to think of it any other way. 

    • Sufferer

      The rest stop isn’t always guaranteed though. I once tried to hold out for 3+ hours on  4/5 hr trip. For some reason, they didn’t stop (probably trying to make that 4 hr goal), so eventually all the water I was drinking caught up to me, and I had to use it. My hands, nay! I, didn’t feel clean the rest of the ride.

  • NoSexCity

    One more reason I will never set foot on a Chinatown bus. 

  • Damenhandle

    How many different permutations of the “moving to New York article” are there going to be?

  • space mtn

    this is my worst fear

  • Missy

    Good Lord, the Chinatown bus.  I take it from North Carolina, which is the worst 12 hours of my life- untill the next time I have to take it.

  • Angus White

    Sorry, but you’re a pussy. Try moving from MN to NY on a Greyhound. 36 hours. On a Greyhound. And I had to get rid of a lot more of my shit than you did.

  • Zoe Mocker

    Try this.  

    Live in New York and complain about a Chinatown bus at age 23.  It’s so smelly!  It smells like stale bathroom cleaner!

    Live in India at age 24 and take a bus, for 18 hours, that has its window panes missing, up treacherous Himalayan mountain-single-lane-dirt “roads”.  No headlights.  Just a horn like you’ve never heard before, and driver who’s got the hairpin turns memorized because he’s done it 1,000 times and he’d rather not die either.   A loud (visually and audibly) shrine to Lakshmi takes up the first row of seats. No bathroom, or English speakers.  Not even the newly married couple from Assam that you are pressed up against know anything besides “What country?”  Just try to understand when you’re even supposed to get off, because it keeps and going, making stops at random points for someone to get off or on.  You know how they talk about enlightenment in India?  This is when it happens.  There comes a point when you think you cannot hold yourself from falling out of the window any longer.  But your biceps triumph after glimpsing over the edge…  The light of the moon illuminates mile-deep valleys that you and your bus could topple into.  Hold on tighter. Cry.  Realize something… while it is all very dangerous (and arduous), it is also beautiful.  Fuckin’ valleys in the moonlight?  Even Indians become enlightened during these journeys.

    Return to New York, and never complain about a Chinatown bus again, or bother to tell anyone why they aren’t so bad.

    3 years later, get fed up with the Chinatown bus-hating.  While eating a bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll, write a paragraph about Indian Himalayan busses in response to a clever Chinatown bus rant.  Have no one read it.  But secretly hope it inspires someone to discover India.  Or make your own plans to return. 

    • 371747


  • Anonymous

  • Quasishire

    “intact,” not “in tact” and “nothing exciting ever happens” not “nothing excited ever happens.”
    this was just a rant and had no meat. try again. 

    • danielle

      shut up

    • Ben

      agreed so boring

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