The Time a Chinatown Bus Stranded Me on the NJ Turnpike…

When was the last time you did something rather impulsive? Like…say…pack a backpack and go out of town? Well that’s exactly how I spent my Labor Day weekend. I decided a mere 4 days before I wanted to depart, that I would head down to Washington DC, which is only a 4 hour drive from NYC! Little did I know, however, that those four hours would turn into quite an adventure!

The Chinatown Bus

For cost purposes, I decided that my best option on such short notice was to take the infamous “Chinatown bus.” Now just what is this Chinatown bus, you may ask? Why it’s an über cheap bus service that runs between Chinatowns in various Northeastern cities. How cheap? To DC it was $18.75 each way (reserved online) or $20.00 walk up (pending space availability). The service ain’t bad…just don’t expect the driver or staff to speak a heck of a lot of English.

I wasn’t quite sure what to expect as I boarded the bus (which came complete with free WiFi (availability varies by bus)…a staple of both Bolt Bus and MegaBus, two highly regarded low cost bus carriers that run along the Northeast), but, while the boarding was rather chaotic, we set off just fine. My seatmate was a friendly man who identified himself as an entertainer and various events, under the guise of the character, “Plant Hero,” an ecological superhero. We hit it off pretty well and chatted as we enjoyed what was shaping up to be a nice ride!

An Unexpected Stop

But rather unexpectedly, the bus pulled into a rest stop on the New Jersey Turnpike and the driver quickly jumped out with absolutely no message to us at all as to what was going on. Several passengers went to investigate, returning with some unfathomable news…the bus was seriously broken down and not going anywhere!

People mobbed the driver for information, but his limited grasp of the English language proved this to be a fruitless exercise. We were stranded on the New Jersey Turnpike… I started experiencing flashbacks of my bus experiences in China. Second world troubles in this first world country?

Finally, word came down the grapevine that another bus had been dispatched from New York, some two hours away, to retrieve us. But not all hope was lost! The next full bus coming through had 15 empty seats and was to arrive within 45 minutes!

It was then that the situation started to look like a scene straight out of “Lord of the Flies,” as I personally watched a group of perfectly civilized adults turn into savages! Intense discussion broke out as to whom among the 50 or so of us should be allotted those 15 seats. Of course, as the bus finally arrived, a screaming match broke out as the rest of us watched our fellow passengers pushing and shoving their way on!

Plant Hero to the Rescue!

After all this drama and with another hour or so to go, my friend the Plant Hero realized we needed a boost, so he whipped out his entertainment gear…a pump and lots and lots of balloons! But with a name like “Plant Hero” he couldn’t possibly be making balloon animals, could he? No, no. He conducted a group lesson on how to make balloon flowers! It became such fun that even our driver, who had undergone such intense pressure from our group, joined in what became a bus bonding activity! It was so much fun that when the new bus finally arrived, people actually bemoaned the fact!

Plant Hero Balloon Lesson

We boarded the new bus as a changed group. The ice had been broken as newfound friends chatted and shared stories. Plant Hero roamed the aisle making toilet paper origami flowers. It was all a rather joyous occasion!

We finally arrived in the nation’s capital some 3 hours late. But you know what? This was one of those ever so many unpleasant experiences that turned into some truly amazing moments! The sheer camaraderie that we all experienced was simply mind blowing!

So will I take the Chinatown bus again? I think not! Over 2 hours stranded on the New Jersey Turnpike was more than enough for me, thanks!

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12 Responses to The Time a Chinatown Bus Stranded Me on the NJ Turnpike…

  1. leeanna June 20, 2011 at 3:40 am #

    wow this sounds like quiet the trip…i’ve heard only good things about Megabus but this is an interesting experience

    • Aaron June 20, 2011 at 9:56 am #

      Indeed it was! I wasn’t on the Megabus though, I took the Chinatown bus, which seemed a bit like taking a bus in China! I haven’t taken Megabus yet but will certainly give them a try on my next trip to DC!

  2. jade June 20, 2011 at 6:40 am #

    This is both the worst story I have ever heard and then the most awesome story! animal balloons… are you kidding me?! Love it!

    • Aaron June 20, 2011 at 9:57 am #

      Haha right? Talk about an awful travel day turned great experience! Balloon Flowers on the NJ Turnpike… it was quite an experience!

  3. Michael June 20, 2011 at 12:17 pm #

    Who knew that riding on the jersey turnpike could EVER be fun? Man, when I use to take the chinatown bus – my seats were like just wooden board. It was worse than the buses in China itself. Now they have wifi? That’s a serious upgrade.

    • Aaron June 20, 2011 at 2:28 pm #

      Well…the WiFi was sketchy at best. It only existed on our first bus but not the replacement or the trip back. Having had plenty of bus riding experiences in China myself, I thought the Chinese version was more reliable! 😉

  4. Matthew Hyde July 1, 2011 at 6:53 am #

    Fantastic story! Love the idea that the group bonded over balloon models made by a guy called Plant Hero. Two extremes of human behaviour on one bus!

    • Aaron July 3, 2011 at 1:15 am #

      Haha, right? Nothing like the best and worst of human behavior when thrown into an extraordinary situation!

  5. Mack Reynolds July 19, 2011 at 4:16 pm #

    nice post man. i like that plant hero diffused the situation so masterfully. i aspire to one day do what he did. good for him. it really is a skill that very few of us have, as evidenced by your savage bus mates. to be honest, i’d probably be part of the mob too.

    • Aaron July 20, 2011 at 12:41 am #

      Hahaha if there’s one thing I’ve learned from travel is that things often go wrong and there isn’t a heck of a lot you can do about it so why lose your cool? That said, I don’t think I could raise the spirits of the whole group like Plant Hero did either!

  6. Nora Whalen November 6, 2011 at 1:53 pm #

    How much fun! Well, the bus breaking down not so much, but balloon flowers. It makes me feel ill prepared for such an event. Not sure I want to carry around the equipment to make balloon flowers but something fun would be cool. Must think on this. Thanks for sharing!

    • Aaron November 8, 2011 at 1:14 am #

      Yeah it was quite the experience! And without some quick action with the balloons, we appeared to be on a fast track to a mutiny or something! Shows the value of thinking on your feet!

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