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EXCELSIOR, YOU FATHEAD! - In Which The 'Fun' Is Put In "Fung Wah"

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December 12th, 2006


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02:55 am - In Which The 'Fun' Is Put In "Fung Wah"
Back from NYC. Exhausted, but still have things to prepare for tomorrow's radio meeting. Have around 100 pictures all told that are currently in the process of being transferred from phone to computer (my kingdom for a USB cable) and then described and researched and stuff, and there are about a zillion stories that Renee and I have collected over the course of the past three days -- from our idiosyncratic hotel to our visit to the Algonquin to our trip to Flushing Meadows to our adventures in the Villages both Greenwich and East and our night at the theatre, which involved a talking moose head and fountains of stage blood, among other things. And that's not even mentioning our dining excursions and the police car covered in frosting and the Art Deco, the glorious Art Deco...

But instead of starting at the beginning, I think I'll start with our journey home. We took the Fung Wah bus to and from the city, and I can already bet the Bostonians in the crowd are chuckling in anticipation of the impending schadenfreude. For those who may not have heard of this lovely bus line, it used to be the cheap-ass way to get to and from New York City. In Boston, you'd board the Fung Wah bus on Kneeland Street in Chinatown, and when you arrived in New York, you disembarked on Canal Street in Chinatown. The cost used to be $10 each way, but since they moved from their Kneeland Street departure point to an actual berth in South Station, it's gone up to the astronomical price of $15. That's right, for thirty bux you can whiz down to New York and back in roughly three and a half hours each way, and all you have to do is sit back, relax, and enjoy the ride. Right?

Ah, if it were only that simple. The Fung Wah is a Faustian deal of a bus ride. You got what you wanted, doctor, but now you're gonna really pay. Forget service; you're hustled onto the bus by elderly Chinese women barking orders at you ("GET ON! LEAVING SOON! GET ON NOW! PUT BAGS THERE! GET ON NOW!") and if you're lucky, the bus will have heat when it's cold and A/C when it's hot, and not vice versa. And if you're really unlucky, well...

The Fung Wah is already notorious for having one of its buses' engines catch fire on the highway (everybody riding was safely evacuated before the entire bus burst into flames, and then the joke went that Fung Wah was Chinese for "engine fire") and also for recently having one of their buses roll over, yes, that's right, roll over on an off-ramp this year (amazingly enough, everybody came out of that ok; only minor injuries were reported and then the joke went that Fung Wah was Chinese for "centripetal force.")

Given this stellar track record, you may ask the following questions: 1. Why the heck is the Fung Wah permitted to remain in business? 2. Why do people continue to ride the Fung Wah? (Indeed, both of our trips were full.) 3. Why the hell did you, Spatch, take the Fung Wah, when you know the bus could very well drop an axle or plow into a pickup truck full of nuns or do something equally bizarre and terrifying?

The answer is simple: We New Englanders are stubbornly frugal. And stupid. We will gladly take the cheaper bus over Peter Pan, whose NYC trips now cost about double the Fung Wah price (and they haven't had their $40 round-trip promotions in a while.) Besides, with all the notoriety, riding the Fung Wah has to be an adventure, right? Right?

Well.

This evening, upon our return to Massachusetts, our bus was pulled over by the police on the Pike just after the Worcester exit and the Auburn Mall. We passengers excitedly chattered as the bus slowed down and pulled over to the side, and then we saw the flashing lights, and then we knew something was up. Renee checked the time; we weren't ahead of schedule at all, and cars had been passing us all over the place so speeding probably wasn't the problem. What could it be? Theories abounded, from "maybe there's a busted tail light" to "maybe they're checking his green card." The mystery of the Fung Wah held us in its sway.

One of the state troopers boarded the bus briefly, shone his Super Bright Police Flashlight across every single face on the bus (didn't check the bathroom to see if some poor schmoe was hurriedly flushing a plastic baggie down the toilet, which wasn't happening anyway) and then motioned for the driver to step outside. We all sat in silence for a while. It felt awkward and we all must have realized that yes, now we were some of the passengers who were experiencing Fung Wah misfortune. Another trooper soon stepped on the bus and asked "if anyone else speaks Chinese here" and I think he got at least one response. Renee pointed out the Fung Wah now sends a second person along with the driver to make sure he's doing okay. Apparently this second person wasn't doing their job very well.

After 35 minutes of waiting and sending multiple text messages (those of you who responded with "lucky!" or "I'm jealous!" ought to be ashamed of yourselves) we finally breathed a sigh of relief as the driver was put back on the bus by the cop, who said something like this loud enough for everyone to hear:
"So you're headed back to Boston, right? Okay. You head on back to Boston now, but stay in the right lane. Do NOT swerve lanes. Do NOT stay in between two lanes. We've had motorists call in reporting you, and I have followed you myself and witnessed your driving. If this is a problem with the bus, you MUST fix it immediately. This is a citation which you MUST pay within 20 days..."
(And he spoke for forty-five minutes and none of us understood a word he was sayin, but we had fun fillin out the forms and playin with the pencils there on the bench...)

During the trip I had been alternately napping and scribbling furiously on a legal pad, so I really hadn't noticed the bus doing anything crazy on the road. I did feel us wobble a bit while driving on the HOV lane past Hartford, but then again, who wouldn't wobble on the HOV lane? But as it turned out, yes, our driver had been weaving from lane to lane and attracting the attention of scared drivers. He must have tried to explain that there was a problem with the steering or something on the bus, by the way the policeman told him to "fix it immediately."

But after the police let us go and we painfully crawled up to speed in the right-hand lane (ignoring the policeman's last instruction to "drive up to speed on the breakdown lane and then carefully merge into traffic") the driver turned off the heat and opened his driver's side window wide open. The rush of cold air was exhilirating all the way back where we were.

This is when Renee and I realized there was nothing wrong with the steering on the bus (or, apparently, nothing wrong with the steering that a little cold air on the steering column couldn't fix!) The driver was tired. And driving a bus tired. And nodding off while driving a bus tired. Sure enough, no less than 5 minutes later while crawling down the right lane, we hit the rumble strip. This was, then, when the experience turned from a light-hearted adventure with police officers to a very uneasy, unnerving and frankly scary forty-five minutes.

Oh, we made it back all right; I'm here, ain't I? But the rest of the trip went by slowly and with great tension. Renee and I clasped our hands tightly together, grim-faced and wide-eyed. I was on the aisle seat so I kept watching the road ahead. The driver continued to straddle the lanes, he nearly cut off a tiny car trying to get back into the right lane after 495, and one time after he moved back in from straddling the lanes, we were passed by a small passenger car who may have had to swerve out of the bus' way.

Prayers were said in numerous languages. Where could we go? We were all stuck on the bus and any minute the driver might just play the Worst Case Scenario card and plunge us off into a ditch or sideswipe a tractor trailer or shove a Mini Cooper across three lanes. It wasn't as if we could stop at the Natick rest area and get a cab, and it wasn't as if we could wait for a new driver (apparently the companion on the bus wasn't able to switch; he may not have even known how to drive a bus.)

But eventually we made it back to South Station (Renee: "I'd kiss the ground once we got off the bus, if only South Station wasn't so grimy") and made our ways safely home. Deities were thanked in numerous languages. But there was nobody at the Fung Wah place to complain to besides the driver. There was nobody to talk at. There was nobody handing out $20 bills to the passengers. I was exhausted, but I bet I could've worked up a full head of steam had I been able to just lay into somebody, and I wouldn't care if I couldn't understand what they were saying in return.

I'm glad everything went right. Something could have gone horribly wrong if the universe had been aligned just slightly over to one side. But I'm now seriously reconsidering the "hey, it's cheap, you pays your money and you takes your chances" attitude many of us share with regards to the Fung Wah. I don't wants to takes my chances if the chances I takes are like that, no thank you.

I want to go back to New York again; Renee and I still have a list of a jillion things we'd like to do (the Cloisters, Coney Island before Thor Equities tears down Astroland and kills the entire place in the name of condos and "indoor lifestyle centers", all sorts of things.) But it'll have to come next year after the tax refund fairy pays a visit. Because, honestly, saving thirty bux just isn't worth it when you're dealt a sleepy-ass driver who's in charge of a giant-ass bus.

So I hear this Acela train thing is ultra-reliable, fast, and always gets you there and back on time...

(45 comments | Leave a comment)

Comments:


From:ungratefulninja
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:43 am (UTC)
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It takes a lot more than a tired conductor to make rails weave, too. Think "tectonic".

Worst that'll happen is you'll plow through a car stuck in a crossing. Cheers! Enjoy your trip.
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From:ungratefulninja
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:52 am (UTC)
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There's also a much-belated joke about turning Coney Island into an eyethor to make here somewhere. L'esprit d'escalier. Sigh.
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From:fancycwabs
Date:December 12th, 2006 10:03 am (UTC)
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Nodding off, huh? Riding a bus from Shanghai to Wuxi and back, then all 'round Beijing and environs, I'd just gotten used to erratic weaving from one end of the road to another as the vehicular norm.
From:nonhuman
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:52 pm (UTC)
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Yeah, that actually sounds pretty tame compared even to just taking the bus from the Pu Dong airport to the Ritz. I didn't know that buses could do that.
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From:gilana
Date:December 12th, 2006 12:09 pm (UTC)
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Wow. Glad you made it back ok. Next time? Greyhound has online special fares -- $30 roundtrip to New York.
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From:eclecticavatar
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:05 pm (UTC)
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I looked into Greyhound and the schedules that we wanted, even with companion fare being free, the price totalled out over $100... We'll reinvestigate.

But really, even a Greyhound or Peter Pan bus can have the same problem!
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From:gilana
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:18 pm (UTC)
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The cheap fares are here. And yes, of course they *can* have that problem -- but I've never seen it happen!
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From:agharta75
Date:December 12th, 2006 10:21 pm (UTC)
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Now that Greyhound/Peter Pan matches Fung Wah's fares if you buy your tickets in advance online, here are the only reasons why you'd do Fung instead:
- You want to buy your ticket same day of travel.
- You don't have a credit card.
- You want to save a $2 subway fare to Chinatown.
- You want to die.

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From:ronhaha108
Date:February 22nd, 2007 02:14 pm (UTC)
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I've seen this happen on Peter Pan... Same situation, going from Boston to NYC, they guy didn't seem to be tired, just an ass, he cut off so many people, he even missed an exit on the highway and BACKED UP ON THE HIGHWAY, yes, you heard me, not in the breakdown lane and not 20 or 30 feet, he was well past it when we all heard him say "SH*T" and then, next thing you know, beep, beep, beep. Then there was some constuction going on and he didn't slow down till we were right on someone else's tail. I couldn't believe this... when we eventually got to Penn Station, there was no one to tell, I submitted a complaint, but heard nothing about it. I've vowed never to take a long distance bus trip again, fly me on jet blue or ride the rails on the train. Scary stuff!
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From:phonemonkey
Date:December 12th, 2006 12:15 pm (UTC)
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Holy shit.

I can't blame you for no longer riding it. We were all making Flaming Bus of Death jokes when we had our TATANKA! BUS! PARTY! but it's not funny when the driver's falling asleep at the wheel.
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From:ron_newman
Date:December 12th, 2006 12:29 pm (UTC)
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Looks to me like Peter Pan matches Fung Wah's price, provided that you buy the ticket online. The "Buy tickets" button at Peter Pan transfers you to Greyhound's website.
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From:mkb_technologie
Date:January 4th, 2007 01:43 pm (UTC)
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or lucky star
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From:jadasc
Date:December 12th, 2006 12:50 pm (UTC)
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1. http://www.greyhound.com/scripts/en/TicketCenter/esavers.asp

Online, travel between Boston and NYC costs $30. You may wish to know this.

2. http://www.limoliner.com

O, noble concierge, know you not that for $80 each way, you can ride in style?
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From:eclecticavatar
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:06 pm (UTC)
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...

I like option 2.

;)
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From:derspatchel
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:44 pm (UTC)
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Duly noted!

*scribble scribble scribble*
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From:quodlibetic
Date:December 12th, 2006 12:55 pm (UTC)
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Yup, those above are correct on the deals being there for Greyhound, if you buy online. I've been eyeballing those myself - I swore off Fung Wah/Lucky Star/etc after my last time on them.

And you still need to let me buy you coffee or a drink or lunch or something the next time you visit NYC. Seeing you would be nice. :)
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From:ron_newman
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:02 pm (UTC)
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OK -- what's your Chinatown bus story?

Edited at 2013-02-26 03:54 am (UTC)
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From:hyperina
Date:December 12th, 2006 01:32 pm (UTC)
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holy frijole
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From:journeystar
Date:December 12th, 2006 02:09 pm (UTC)
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After my 9.5 HOUR BUS RIDE to NJ for Thanksgiving ( 4 hours, my arse!) I am shelling out my $75 bucks for Acela this Christmas!
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From:vanguardcdk
Date:December 12th, 2006 02:48 pm (UTC)
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When I can afford it I always take Acela for NY trips. You have more space, there's a cafe car with delicious over-priced food and you get to avoid most of the problems of traffic.

Glad to hear that you survived your Chinese Bus Trip of Doom!
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From:ayelle
Date:December 12th, 2006 02:51 pm (UTC)
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Good lord.

The Acela Express is expensive, but is a genuinely pleasant way to travel...
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From:nathanw
Date:December 12th, 2006 02:54 pm (UTC)
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Scary. But it was Greyhound, not Fung Wah, that most recently had a fatal bus accident in New England, I believe.
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From:signsoflife
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:17 pm (UTC)
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That article appears to be written by "Jennifer 8. Lee".
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From:nathanw
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:31 pm (UTC)
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Yup, that's her real name.
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From:signsoflife
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:34 pm (UTC)
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That is far more wonderful than the explanations I imagined.
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From:ron_newman
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:20 pm (UTC)
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Yep - and she used to write for the Globe with that byline.
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From:moneypenny
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:36 pm (UTC)
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Our transportation habits overlap yet again, though I was not on that bus. I caught the 3:45 bus out of Chinatown on Sunday, and for the first hour and fifteen minutes, rather than driving along the highway, we drove right through the heart of the city on 3rd Avenue. I was puzzled, but figured there was some kind of traffic incident on the FDR or 278 and that this had been judged to be the fastest route.

After going from Chinatown, through midtown, and then all the way to the upper reaches of Harlem, the bus driver stood up. Now, this driver was not your typical Fung Wah driver, but a Haitian man, and this particular bus was one of the ones that Fung Wah imports when I guess their fleet is just too on-fire to have a bus at every time they say they will. In extremely broken English, he inquired as to whether or not anyone "knew how to go to Boston."

Not even how to find the highway, or where to go, just how to go to Boston.

Shocked, we all got to work conferencing in our computer-wielding friends and significant others via cell phone, and somehow we found our way. Before long, though, our next excitement appeared in the form of the ninety-five degree temperature that soon permeated the bus. My heavyset seatmate apologetically removed his supplementary layers ("I'm not usually seen in a T-shirt, but this is dire"); people were sitting around in their bras; I knotted my T-shirt like it was 1991. After numerous people approached the driver to sweatily berate him for the conditions, the poor man was near tears; one of my conversations yielded the information that this was his first time driving the bus.

He eventually figured out that while he thought he was blasting the air conditioning, he was actually bursting the heat, so two and a half hours into the trip, when we were starting to feel like detainees in a Wiccan sweat lodge, the air became slightly reasonable again. With the traffic, the stop-and-go 3rd Avenue route, and the unnaturally long rest stop at Roy Rogers' Gourmet Emporium, the trip took a nearly-reasonable five hours and fifteen minutes. My friend (andromeda) was waiting outside South Station in my car, which I'd lent him for the weekend, and I was so excited to see a reclining seat and working air conditioner that I all but licked them both. Oh God Fung Wah.
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From:derspatchel
Date:December 12th, 2006 07:03 pm (UTC)
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This week seems to have been Crazy Fung Wah Weekn. Good lord! How far up 3rd did you get? Did you end up taking the Triborough Bridge across to the Bruckner Expressway, and then up to 95? (That's how the Peter Pan buses what leave from Port Authority do it, if memory serves. The Fung Wah, being farther downtown, loves the BQE instead.)

I would have probably suggested that, but would not have been able to steer him through all that if his English wasn't so hot and his climate control skills even worse. We'd have ended up in Pennsylvania.
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From:ron_newman
Date:December 12th, 2006 07:09 pm (UTC)
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I've always wondered why the buses don't get on the river drives as soon as they leave Port Authority. Are they like our Storrow Drive, too low clearance for a bus?
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From:derspatchel
Date:December 12th, 2006 07:25 pm (UTC)
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My first guess is that all those coach buses trying to get cross-town below Central Park would be insane, so it's just easier to go up 10th and then cross over to the Triborough in Harlem.

The Henry Hudson Parkway on the West Side is closed to commercial traffic so you can't take the river drive there. You can't even get a tow truck on the Henry Hudson. When I worked roadside assistance it was an absolute freaking pain if someone broke down on that godforsaken road. Basically there's one tow outfit contracted by the city that's allowed to work the Henry Hudson Parkway and they charge an arm and a goddamn leg and only tow the vehicle off the nearest ramp and onto a public road. Then you have to call another tow company to pick the car up from there.

This even applied if the car just had a flat or needed a jumpstart or something. Tow 'em off, charge them plenty, then get someone else in to do it. Biggest pain in the ass ever. Nobody EVER liked hearing that.
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From:ron_newman
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:18 pm (UTC)
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Does the Henry Hudson have low bridges like Storrow, or is there some other reason it's closed to buses and trucks?
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From:derspatchel
Date:December 12th, 2006 11:38 pm (UTC)
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agharta75 explains it below; the parkways do indeed have low bridges and they were intentionally designed that way to keep buses and other commercial vehicles off the road.

Oh, Robert Moses, you polemic egotist, you.
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From:agharta75
Date:December 12th, 2006 10:11 pm (UTC)
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The parkways are cars only. Robert Moses ensured that by building them with 9 foot clearance bridges.

What I've wondered, though, is why the Greyhound has to drive up to 125th Street to get over the East River, and why it can't take the Midtown Tunnel and get on an expressway in Brooklyn.
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From:derspatchel
Date:December 12th, 2006 11:34 pm (UTC)
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Robert Moses ensured that by building them with 9 foot clearance bridges.

Had to keep the Common Rabble out of Jones Beach somehow! Good thing he didn't count on his successors actually lowering the road underneath the bridges. :P
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From:obra
Date:December 12th, 2006 03:53 pm (UTC)
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"So I hear this Acela train thing is ultra-reliable, fast, and always gets you there and back on time..."

You're so funny, Mr Spatch.
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From:antikythera
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:01 pm (UTC)
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Thank you for convincing me not to ride the Knight Bus Fung Wah the next time I'm in New York and want to drop in on Boston. I'm not afraid of fast or wild driving, but if there's anything that'll give me a panic attack (and possibly make me yoink someone's celphone and call 911), it's a drowsy driver.
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From:ratatosk
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:16 pm (UTC)

Maybe this explains something

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Overheard in an elevator at school. I am not making this up:

Student 1: I'm Taking the Fung Wah to New York this weekend.
Student 2, asian girl: Oh! I hear they show Chinese porn on the Fung Wah.
Student 3, caucasian boy: I am totally taking the Fung Wah next time I go to New York.
From:kevin_church
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:17 pm (UTC)
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I'm looking at Acela fairs right now and it's at least $95 each way, $17 over the "regular" train.

Jet Blue is $55 each way and you arrive at JFK, which is a 20-minute ride to Penn Station.

Of course, there's all the attendant airport hassle...
From:kevin_church
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:17 pm (UTC)
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Fares. Dammit. Fares.
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From:ron_newman
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:22 pm (UTC)
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I think JFK is more like an hour ride to Penn Station. The 'A' train makes a huge number of local stops on the way.
From:kevin_church
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:26 pm (UTC)
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The A-train is not the LIRR, which takes people right to the Sky Train.
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From:bedfull_o_books
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:29 pm (UTC)
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Oh. My. Ghod....

I am so glad you are okay.

Ya know, we really should get together for a beer or something soon.
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From:cheezdanish
Date:December 12th, 2006 04:50 pm (UTC)
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From:minkrose
Date:December 12th, 2006 08:16 pm (UTC)
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ah, fung wah horror stories.
My sister used to ride it regularly to visit her boyfriend when he was still at NYU but she never had any horror stories (perhaps she got used to not paying attention to what was going on?).

My friend knowmebymylaugh told me or posted about how she rode the bus ONCE and shortly after the mid-point stop, someone complained they had to go to the bathroom.
They refused to stop and instead had her pee into one of the garbage bags that was over a seat, knotted the bag and PUT IT BACK ON THE SEAT. I do not in any way doubt the utter veracity of her story, either.

I've never had the chance to ride the Fung Wah but honestly, if I'm going anywhere, I try to take a train.
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From:ron_newman
Date:January 4th, 2007 04:00 am (UTC)
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From Boston.com today: Fung Wah bus runs into trouble on turnpike
In the latest trouble for the Fung Wah discount bus line, the wheels literally fell off a New York-to-Boston bus on the Massachusetts Turnpike today.

None of the 30 passengers on board were injured, but State Police cited the company after two of the tandem rear wheels on the right side of the bus detached from the vehicle's rear axle as it was headed from New York to Boston.

State Police arrived to find the two right rear wheels had severed from the bus axle. Investigators said the bolts appeared to have been sheared off, an indication that the lug nuts may not have been properly tightened.

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