In Defense of the Chinatown Bus

If there are two things I can't stand, they are planning things and traffic.  Unfortunately, one is usually followed by the other. Which is why I spent the majority of last Friday sitting on I-95 in a Lucky Star bus.

There are lots of ways to get to Boston from New York, and driving isn't the most ideal one of them.  You can catch a commuter flight, which is the fastest. You can take Amtrak, which takes longer but guarantees an on-time arrival. If you don't have a car, the bus is your mode of transportation. And if you're taking a bus, Lucky Star is basically your worst option. It's also the only one left when you've waited until the last possible second to book transportation, planes/trains are now $300, and all the other buses are sold out.

The infamous "Chinatown bus" gets a lot of flak. About five years ago, several companies offered a one-way ticket for $15 with buses running every 20 minutes. It was the most convenient, affordable way for a college kid to get to and from Boston, and a lot of my classmates in Massachusetts took advantage of it. I was wary of the horror stories they shared; we once spent an afternoon worried that my friend's roommate had gone missing over spring break before she called to say that her Chinatown bus had broken down somewhere in Connecticut. I usually opted for a more expensive ticket and rested more soundly knowing that I had less of a chance of getting stranded.

Times have changed. The Chinatown buses had one incident too many, and for a year they were shut down. MegaBus and Bolt became the new "cheap ticket" providers (as long as you purchased in advance). But one company, Lucky Star, reopened for business last year with a higher rate but the same guarantee that you could get a last-minute ticket. Being the ultimate procrastinator, I booked a round-trip fare on Thursday for a Friday afternoon journey, and hoped traffic would allow me to get there by Saturday.

"But no one will be leaving now right...? Right?"

"But no one will be leaving now right...? Right?"

Before I got on the road, many people expressed hope that I live through the journey. I myself was skeptical about my survival. Now that I've gotten to the other side though, I can say that Lucky Star actually treated me pretty well. 

I fully anticipated catching a 1:30 PM bus and not getting to Boston until nightfall. No matter what time of year I go, be it February or August, it always takes like 7 hours to get there. The fact that it was Memorial Day weekend, and 90% of the residents of NYC were packing up cars and making a beeline for the beach, didn't help matters. 

Our driver seemed to be a veteran of this. It may have taken nearly five hours to get to Stamford (approximately 35 miles), but we were moving the entire time. Whenever he spotted a standstill up ahead, our driver exited and took side roads to avoid it. He obviously knew the route like the back of his hand. 

When there wasn't traffic, he wasn't afraid to gun the engine and stretch the bus' ability to take swift turns. Did it feel like we may tip over at certain points? Sure. I wasn't any more afraid riding with him than with my lead-footed mother, so I felt good knowing that at least we were making faster progress.

It really hugged those curbs.

It really hugged those curbs.

About an hour and a half from Boston, we pulled off and stopped at a shopping center. Lucky Star has a scheme going with a Chinese buffet there, and their buses stop there to push riders to get food and drinks for their trip. What a goddamn genius business ploy! I didn't buy anything from the buffet, because the idea of eating Chinese food on a bus seemed horrible, but I was basically the only one. They must make a killing on that! I'm still marveling at it.

I didn't think I could be more impressed, but then I learned that Lucky Star buses have wifi! It...kind of sucked, honestly. I could barely use it for Spotify. It's the thought that counts though, right?

My first "Chinatown Bus" experience exceeded all of my expectations. I highly recommend it for anyone who hates planning, wants to leave from New York to Boston in the next like half an hour, and loves Asian all-you-can-eat fare. And given recent events, it may not even be the most life-threatening option anymore.