New York Lesson No. 327: Chinatown Bus

The Chinatown bus is the best travel deal between major East Coast cities. The network runs from Chinatown to Chinatown among the cities of Boston, New York, Washington and Philadelphia — and it’s dirt cheap. It’s managed by some smart, industrious, and I have to believe successful Chinese immigrants. I made a round trip from New York to Boston this week for $30.

It worked out rather nicely. Chinatown bus vets have told me stories of varying degrees of quality. Sometimes the bus is dirty or stinky. Sometimes it’s too hot or cold. I had been warned once to expect an authentic Third World experience, but I didn’t care much about comforts. I was more interested in the price tag, and I planned to sleep on board anyway. It’s not as if this was some gritty and dusty old school bus where passengers vie for space among children with dirt-smudged faces and crates of live chickens. It’s a regular coach with soft seats and overhead lights and heat. I have no complaints.

There are certain charming qualities of the service you might not find on regular bus companies. For one, the moment you step on board, the driver shouts at you, “Please sit! Sit down! Sit down now!” and honks the horn. Similarly, when the bus arrives, the driver honks and shouts, “Hurry! Get out now!” And we can always count on the mandatory stop at Roy Rogers in Manchester, CT. My friend Henry is convinced Fung Wah gets a kickback from them for delivering so much business. Maybe. I’m intrigued by their DIY system, but honestly, I’d rather have them assemble my lettuce and tomato and pickles for me. There’s a certain pretense with trying to make fast food “nice.” Let’s not pretend, folks.


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