Tuesday, April 27, 2004

Digging from one side of the Earth to the other-

Have you ever ridden on a rickshaw? I did, it was the largest one I have ever seen. Actually it was the Chinatown bus from Washington DC to New York City. This was for no ordinary weekend; this was for New Year’s Eve in New York City.
The ticket informs you to arrive 30 minutes before, after that your seat is no longer a guarantee. These folk mean business, however I learned that business does not always mean there is organization.
As the line forms around the corner, the local news channel arrives, so does the initial disappointment/lesson. They overbooked the bus- kind of like they overbooked their own country.
Enter the old Chinese woman and the four generations that follow her, they simply ignore the societal concept of “the line” (If you have been to Disney and dealt with foreigners you know what I am saying). Now, they take the three front rows- with their dog! Perhaps a preventative measure in case we get stranded and times get desperate, who knows.
There are a few ways to pass time while on the road - read a book, listen to music, talk to a buddy, or count the number of waffle houses until the destination. In this case there was a movie. This was not an epic, a comedy, romance or even a thriller it was all in CHINESE! I was completely lost. Fortunately the eight-inch screen gave way to the closed captioning for the patrons. I almost tried to decipher the story but each bit of caption just looked like firework wrapper.
It wasn’t but a few moments after Jet Li saved the people from the underground mafia that we stopped to fuel up. As I exit I for fresh air I realize that I am in Jersey and might as well take a hit off the exhaust pipe.
Our driver gave us strict notification of a fifteen-minute window until departure. Never in my life have I seen so many people willing to buy a truck stop hot dog in fear of when the next meal will come. “Has it been fifteen minutes?” A man asked. “I think we have a enough time, but who knows which calendar the driver is using.” I replied.
The excitement is building as we get through New Jersey and enter New York. The streets were littered with people and laced with the scent of the last Thursday’s trash. Ahh, I love New York. Then I got off the bus at about 9:00 PM, mind you once again, on New Year’s Eve.
Once I stepped foot off the bus and felt like I was on location for the next Jackie Chan movie. I and the two other sheltered white folk shared a cab to Time’s Square (which was the nicest cab ride/driver I ever had). Ten dollars each, and suddenly I found myself in the heart of the greatest celebration. Now if I could only find my friend.
The celebration itself was great; NYC was a more than hospitable “town” to visit. Re-hydrated and ready to leave the city I went back into Chinatown. I was very unsure of how well the thirty-minute honor system worked in this Chinatown so I arrived at least forty-five minutes early.
My cab door was almost opened by this man who quickly asked me to buy a ticket, for what I had no clue. He then explained it was for the bus to Washington DC. Getting on the bus I noticed one thing, a vile stench coming from the back of the bus. No, there was not a toilet there, but someone obviously hit up the Chinatown market for some “fresh” groceries.
It was so bad smelling that I could not remain silent about it. “What is going on? Did someone die in the overhead space? Why couldn’t you have just bought the sweet and sour chicken?” Fortunately I was alone in my feelings. I was sitting next to a German student that was part of the “Nannies for Green card” program. She was a cute (by European standards) bus companion.
Just before we left the city we stopped by the barber. Apparently the driver knew a man that was mid-cut and needed a lift to DC. This exclusive club allows only for those who can tell time in Chinese. It really is no place for a curly haired guy to go. Although I would love to see if the barber could handle the tumbleweed atop my scalp opposed to the plethora of straight dark brown hair.
After that makeshift pickup we zoomed back to DC only to stop whenever the hoodlums in the back of the bus acted out. There always has to be some degenerates at the back of a bus.
I woke up thinking we made it in record time, but alas, the rather disgruntled driver stopped to go school bus driver on the aforementioned hoodlums. “Don’t push the buttons.” “Which buttons? These buttons?” Great, keep it up nimrod. It is always is wise poke the panda. They appear soft and cuddly but when that bamboo shanks left and well…I digress.
It really is amazing how travelers’s can create their own fear and enjoyment. Sixty-five dollars later, I have countless memories of my state of the art rickshaw ride, not to mention packets of soy sauce.

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