I've returned to Washington, DC, for another weekend visit with family and friends. James and I came down on one of the Chinatown buses this evening. My only previous bus travel experience was with Peter Pan Lines, and the Chinatown way is a little different. Instead of a bus picking us up at 7th and 34th Sts. at 4:30 PM, we had a 15-passenger van waiting for us. Unfortunately, there were about 20 people waiting for the bus. The first fifteen of us got into the van, along with our bags, and the driver took us the longest way possible between midtown and Chinatown, even for rush hour. The others had to take a cab to Chinatown; luckily for them, the bus company reimbursed them for the cab fare. Meanwhile, in the van, there was barely any room for anyone to breathe, let alone shift our bags or move limbs. We got to the Chinatown stop a little after 5 PM and got on the real bus (thankfully, a full-size tour bus). As soon as the bus pulled away, the driver (who was the same guy who'd piloted the van from 34th St.) turned on the movie, which was a bootleg copy of Pirates of the Caribbean. We couldn't tell at first, but the washed-out colors, the dull audio, and the black dots on the screen for the projectionist eventually clued us in. I'm glad I saw it last summer, because half the good lines were inaudible, the excellent music was drowned out, and the movie cut off with a few minutes remaining, so I had to tell James how it ended. We made two stops on the way: one at a travel plaza in New Jersey where the driver got a huge plate of chicken, biscuits, and gravy, and another quick stop in Baltimore. At the NJ stop, the driver turned off the movie when the bus pulled in, and when we left, it was a few minutes before it started up again. This prompted the following exchange between James and I:
James: When is he going to put the movie back on, now that I've gotten into it?
Me: Give him a break. He's steering the bus with his knees while he eats.
OK, it was funnier when we were there. Around 10:15, we pulled into Chinatown in DC and the fun was over. It wasn't the worst bus ride of my life, but it was definitely more interesting than Peter Pan buses tend to be. And the people on the bus were less objectionable than the Peter Pan crowd tends to be. I'm going back on the PP bus on Monday morning. I'm suprising myself by thinking this, but I'm actually inclined to try the Chinatown bus again sometime. It was less crowded and took only a few minutes longer than the PP bus. On the other hand, this whole bus experience is making me wistful for Amtrak. I miss the train.