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The Chinatown Bus by Bishop Allen
I caught the bus in Chinatown
And slept the whole way up by 95
The driver, cut and weaved so crazy, just his luck kept him alive and I guess I believed his rhythm on that morning after New Year’s Eve
And I remember Shanghai
How I wasn’t sure just what was safe to eat
The chickens pecked and wandered at the barefoot ankles of the children hawking figurines of workers smiling
What’s the Chinese word for cheese?
Watched a sidewalk butcher
His instinctive understanding made the carcass snap and clarify beneath his nimble hands that held the knife so long, so many times, the handles’ changed to ships just like his fingers and his palms
And I, I am a passenger tonight
I watch the world, from inside
It’s 2AM in Tokyo
And still too soon to call back to the people who will soon begin the day I polished off and I will walk a mile amidst the neon lights that advertise
I don’t know just what they sell
I tell the taxi driver
To the park, a higher tone
And his gloves are pristine white just like the girls I used to know would wear to dance their first cotillion
Every single one of them named Jennifer
I clutched at the same Christopher
I picked up at some country abbey long ago when I believed he’d keep me safe and make me happy but it seems the luck he brings is not the common currency of penny in Japan
And I, I am a passenger tonight
I watch the world, from inside…
Based on real life
Live in New York and complain about a Chinatown bus at age 23. It’s so smelly! It smells like stale bathroom cleaner! It’s popular to complain in America.
Live in India at age 24 and take a bus, for 18 hours, that has its window panes missing, up treacherous Himalayan mountain-single-lane-dirt “roads”. No headlights. Just a horn like you’ve never heard before, and driver who’s got the hairpin turns memorized because he’s done it 1,000 times and he’d rather not die either. A loud shrine to Lakshmi takes up the first row of seats. No bathroom, or other foreigners, or English speakers. Not much by way of conversation besides ”What country?” Try to understand when you’re even supposed to get off, because it keeps and going, making stops at random points for someone to get off or on. You know how they talk about enlightenment in India? This is when it happens. There comes a point when you think you cannot hold yourself from falling out of the window any longer. But your biceps triumph after glimpsing over the edge… The light of the moon illuminates mile-deep valleys that you and your bus could topple into. Hold on tighter. Cry a bit. Realize something… while it is all very dangerous (and arduous), it is also beautiful. Himalayas in the moonlight? Undeniably so.
Return to New York, and never complain about a Chinatown bus again, or any other transportation actually. Don’t bother to tell anyone why everything isn’t so bad.
2 years later, read a stupid Chinatown bus rant on a popular blog. Get fed up with the Chinatown bus-hating. While eating a bacon, egg, and cheese on a roll, write a paragraphs-long comment about Indian Himalayan busses to the stupid article.. Have no one read it. But secretly hope it inspires someone to discover India. Or make your own plans to return.