Right now I'm on my way to New York City. I've been there a few times before, but for some reason, I’ve never really been starstruck by the city in the same way so many others often are. Perhaps it's because my trips to New York City have always been somewhat rushed with an agenda that hasn't been as fluid as I might have liked. So maybe the next three days will give New York and me a chance to better get to know one another?
Already this morning I've traveled into Boston on the 9:23 am train from Beverly passing through Salem, Swampscott, Lynn, and Chelsea. The conductor noticed my iPod MP3 music player and struck up a conversation with me.
"Oh you got one of those, I just got the mini one,” she said.
"Oh yeah," I replied as I found the money for the ticket in my wallet.
"Yeah, I got it in pink because a couple of my girlfriends got it in that like goldy yellow color you know, and I figured if we all had it in the same color, well, you know."
I nod my head and smile as I pass her my money. She punchers holes into my receipt and continues chatting as people around us search their bags and pockets for money or tickets as they settle in for the ride to the city.
"It holds like ten thousand songs or something, can you believe that? I've only had it a couple of days so I am still figuring it out,” she says.
"Yeah, well this one is just a first-generation on. My friend Andy is kind of 'long term lending' it to me." I explain.
"Well that's a friend right there isn't it." She exclaims before wishing me a good day and continuing to the next passenger with a far more monotone voice that one might expect a conductor to have.
I always feel like I'm watching a movie or something as I gaze out of the window listening to music through my headphones. To others, I must appear completely lost in my thoughts. But then the other passengers aren't looking at me. This is their morning commute, they're busy reading their books and newspapers, or chatting to one another.
For a few moments we run parallel to route 1A through Lynn, the so-called 'city of sin' which seems like a cruel label for this place that doesn't seem especially sinful to me. I can think of many other places that I might choose to give this label to before this rather sleepy Boston suburb.
The train slows, we pass the Boston Sand Company and I know we're only a few moments from North Station. As the train comes to a stop there is the usual rush to disembark. People pack away their books, fold their newspapers, collect up their bags, and put on their coats. It's a warm and pleasant day, but there's a chance of rain later.
I’m heading to Chinatown in Boston to catch the Fung Wah bus to Chinatown in New York City. The Fung Wah bus is the cheapest link between the two cities at just ten dollars a trip. I've got plenty of time so I walk from North Station to Chinatown in this city I know so well.
Chinatown is busy with trucks delivering goods to the many shops and restaurants. It's an organized chaos of colors and aromas, with signs written in a mixture of Chinese and English. A taste of Beijing maybe? Probably not at all.
There seems to be no clear indication of where I am to collect the ticket. My directions say 68 Beach Street, but that seems to be a small bakery so it can't be there. I'm momentarily confused until a Chinese man says something to me in what I can only assume is Chinese. He speaks directly to me and points very clearly at the bakery so I thank him and step inside the tiny and very crowded pastry filled shop.
In front of me is a counter full of wonderful looking pastries that make me feel hungry despite my ample breakfast. An old man sits at a table next to a young woman and a collection of clipboards. Next to them is another gentleman slowly drinking what looks like green tea. He's relaxed and not troubled by the flurry of activity around him. I get the feeling that this mayhem isn’t actually mayhem for anyone except me.
"Bus?" says the girl behind the pastry counter in a sharp questioning tone and a strong Chinese accent.
"Yes, I am..." She interrupts me by pointing at the old man and young woman sitting at the table with clipboards spread across it. I say my thanks and step toward the table.
"Hi there, I bought a ticket for the Fung Wah bus on the web," I tell the young woman who is looking a little more alert than the older man.
"Yes, where is the confirmation?" She asks in a very efficient tone that makes me feel that this is actually a highly organized affair rather than a shambolic collision of pastry and transportation.
I show her my confirmation, she scans it for the information she needs before scribbling on a small piece of paper that is now my ticket. The only things she writes that I understand are my name and the number ten. I then have to sign this 'ticket' which I do quickly feeling that I am being rushed despite the fact that there is plenty of time before the scheduled departure.
She stands up and leaves the bakery. I'm momentarily confused as there is no sign outside of a bus that could take anyone to New York City and it doesn't seem possible that any kind of bus could possibly get onto Beach Street. The old man then says something to me in Chinese and points to the exit. If I didn't know better it might have felt like I had just been had in some elaborate phantom bus scam, but I figure that the old man is part of this well oiled Fung Wah machine so I follow his direction and leave the bakery without sampling any of it's many wonderful looking delights.
The young woman is impatiently waiting for me outside. She sees me and walks off in a way that I know I'm supposed to follow. We weave our way through people stood around waiting for something, or maybe just stood around because there is nothing better to do, it’s hard to tell? She turns the corner and follow. I try to strike up a conversation with her but she says nothing. Our conversation is over before it began.
A block away there's a beaten-up bus and a line of people waiting beside it. She points me to the end of the line as she goes to the front of the line and talks to an older Chinese woman who is holding a radio that makes her seem slightly more official. The line is already quite long and the parked bus looks way too small to hold even half the people in the line. No one else seems concerned though, so I just stand there and wait for further instruction as yet more people join the line behind me.
A few minutes later another bus emblazoned with the words Fung Wah Bus comes around the corner. It's a huge sleek modern bus with blacked-out windows, quite different from what one might expect from a bakery bus ticket office.
Everyone with a ticket for the ten o'clock bus gets on. I've already given up hope of a window seat but to my surprise there are still plenty of seats available when I step onto the bus. I find a seat at the back of the bus which is less crowded than the front. Across the aisle from me is a very large man speaking Spanish to his two friends sitting in the row behind him. In front of me, a young woman with two small children and her mother are getting themselves organized for the long journey ahead. They are carrying the usual amount of equipment associated with small children and babies, it's hard for them to find space to put it all.
As one might expect from a bus in Chinatown, most of the passengers are Chinese and I can’t understand the loud chatter as people push and shove bags and boxes into the small overhead luggage space. I’ve never been on a bus that loaded so quickly and efficiently, and within no time we’re starting down the road. I have no idea how long the trip will take as we thread our way through the crowded streets of Chinatown like a snake slowly making its way through long grass, but for ten dollars I don’t really care.
After a few minutes of squeezing through the busy south Boston traffic, we’re on the highway. I settle back in my seat turn up the volume on my iPod and once again watch the world pass by the cinematic window beside me. I’ll be honest, I’m excited. I’m going to New York!