If you’ve driven on I-95 between New York and DC more than once, chances are you’ve seen a broken down bus on the side of the highway. And, more likely than not, it was a Chinatown bus. Oh, the charm of cheap travel! Philadelphia to DC costs around $14 one way and takes three hours. The buses are comfortable, clean and quiet. Reserve and pay for a ticket online, but show up at least 30 minutes in advance because you are not guaranteed a seat. What a deal! And if you do get a seat, make sure you bring water, snacks and fully charged cell phone and ipod because that bus just might need to stop on the side of the road for some repairs.
I took the Chinatown Bus from Philly to DC the first weekend in April. The trip south was easy and smooth. Coming back, however, I was glad Suzanne had packed me a goodie bag with water, chocolate, fruit and a granola bar. Just south of the Delaware border there was a loud CLUNK from the left side of the bus. The driver immediately swerved to the right and brought the bus to a stop on the shoulder. Although he spoke little English, he managed to convey that we had a flat and the roadside repair would be there in an hour.
This is the best part: no one complained. We couldn’t get off the bus for safety reasons; we had no idea how long we would be waiting; it was 8PM on a Sunday night. Everyone just settled in and continued reading, dozing, texting and listening to music. A woman in the front of the bus did not have the same amount of patience and tolerance as the rest of the bus–she called the bus company and when they did not give her a satisfactory answer, she called the police. Her loud complaints to deaf ears was merely a source of entertainment for the other passengers.
After three hours the driver climbed back aboard, declared the tire fixed and we started back along I-95 to Philadelphia. It was a great experience. Not one that I’d like to have again, but it could have been so much worse. Save for one woman, there was no grumbling, no complaining, no loud phone calls. It was just a few hours in my 24 hour day, but the inherent decency of humans really shone through. Or maybe all the passengers were seasoned Chinatown riders and half expected the breakdown.