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?
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...