The Chinatown Bus is a local legend—and an inexpensive way to travel—for many New Yorkers. Since 1997, the bus has been ferrying people from Brooklyn to Manhattan (its first main route), and later between Manhattan, Boston, Washington, D.C., and beyond.
Sheldon Abba is working to keep the spirit of the bus alive through his website, Chinatown Bus Stories, and upcoming hardcover book of the same name. Abba has been riding the bus for decades, first to visit friends in college and later from Philadelphia to see his girlfriend who lives in the city.
“I've been taking the bus since 2003, so I was always super familiar with it,” said Abba. “I would also take skate trips up into New York and Boston via the bus. If you ride it now, it pretty much feels exactly as it did when it first started out. It's like a time capsule.”
The book has first-person stories, poem-style tales, and vibrant illustrations from the perspective of artists and writers that Abba has reached out to (and vice-versa).
“In a longer sense, I wanted to capture an actual history of it by setting up a site,” Abba said. “We even have some people who are putting together mixes of songs they used to listen to while taking the bus. For this project, we really focused on Virginia, Boston, Baltimore, D.C., and New York, but you can take the bus almost cross-country from Canada to Florida.”
It wasn't always like this. The bus line has only grown since 2013, when it bounced back from a massive shut-down after reports of unsanctioned rides and on-the-road disasters.
“Every time you told someone that you've taken a trip on the Chinatown Bus, they'd be like, ‘Oh, man, I have a story about that,’” Abba said. “Once I started digging into some of the stories, I realized that there were so many, whether it's the bus breaking down and people arguing on the side of the highway, or just really random situations with random stops on the side of the road to drop off or pick up people.”
As someone who has heard hundreds of stories about the bus, Abba has a favorite or two. One especially notable tale involves a slew of surprise visitors.
“At the end of the route, everyone was running to the back of the bus and grabbing their stuff, pulling out their bags. When they opened the bottom door, everyone just stopped and freaked out,” Abba recounted. “There are just frogs everywhere. They're just hopping out from the bus while people are trying to grab their bags.”