This summer I took the bus to New York City. It was my third time riding a Chinatown bus and my second time of those three rides going to New York.
My first time to New York went perfectly fine, which was why I was willing to book my $72 round trip this time. The last time I actually found a long lost friend in the waiting area, and we sat together for the six hour drive between Richmond and New York.
This time I certainly met someone, but I hesitate to label her a long lost anything.
The bus stop is 0.8 miles from my apartment. I walked. My landlord actually stopped me and asked if I wanted a ride, but I am on that streak where I prove to myself that I am strong and independent (if the hetero-patriarchal society we live in doesn't reinforce that white male privilege notion every day).
Anyhow, I doubted my strength by the time I rolled up to the bus stop. My privilege is not privilege against sweat. And literally, I rolled up since I was rolling a suitcase behind me. I also arrived at the wrong bus stop and thought I had been scammed until I checked the address and went one block further down Broad St. to the other bus stop with red Chinese writing (sorry, Mandarin) on the windows.
Entering, I noted a lone girl seated in the far corner. I also saw no one behind the counter. I must have made an audible hmm, because this missy promptly informed me that "he's in the back."
"I see," I said. "At least I haven't missed the bus."
Girl: "I know. I'm so nervous about this trip."
Me: "Is this your first time taking a bus to New York?"
Girl: "It is by myself. I used to go all the time with my youth group."
Me: "You'll be fine. I've done this ride once before. What are you doing in New York?"
Girl: "Visiting my aunt. She paid for my ticket. She said I had to come."
Me: "Why's that?"
Girl: "I was supposed to get married three months ago, but my fiancé and I broke up."
Not the response I was expecting.
"Oh! I'm sorry to hear that."
"It's okay. He's dating my maid-of-honor now."
Is that why you broke up? I wanted to ask. Instead, I asked if I could sit beside her since it would have been awkward to sit across the waiting area from the only other person in this waiting area after we already initiated conversation.
"Sure," she said. "I'm glad to make a friend for the trip. I'm Heather."
"Cazey." I can't remember if we shook hands. We probably did.
I had just begun to log onto Twitter to document that I knew a stranger's life story in under two minutes when Heather thrusts her phone out to show me a Pikachu tattoo. "Do you like this? I want to get a Pokemon sleeve on my arm."
"My girlfriend said she'd break up with me if I get it. She hates it. I hope she breaks up with me. I've been saving up."
There were so many topics to pursue in that outburst. I settled on: "Are you getting it in New York?"
"No, when I get home."
"Are you from Richmond?"
"Nah, Waynesboro. My grandpa drove me down today. We got here two hours ago."
"I've been to Waynesboro. I went to JMU for college nearby."
"I wanted to go to college, but I couldn't afford it."
"Yeah, it's expensive. You could still go. Where were you looking?"
"I wanted to go to med school."
"Oh, you don't do med school until after college. That's a lot of school."
"No, I was going to go to this online med school. One year for my associates, $27,500."
Internally: That's not med school....
"Do you have a job?" I asked, ready to give some college and career prep advice.
"I work at Buffalo Wild Wings, but it's the black sheep one. We're not the like the rest."
Internally: I don't know what that means.
Thankfully, Heather changed the subject: "I am so nervous."
"Why are you nervous?"
"I'm riding the bus alone. Can we sit together? I want a friend on the bus."
I immediately harkened to my commitmentphobic roots. "We'll have to see how packed the bus is. If it's coming from Atlanta, we might just have to take the seats that are available."
Heather: "When do you think it will get here?"
"My phone says it's on schedule so in fifteen minutes. I'm going to run to the restroom."
"I can watch your stuff," she offered.
"Thanks, but I need my backpack."
When I returned, several more passengers had floated in. The man behind the counter indicated the bus would be here soon. We all moved outside.
"I hope we can sit together," Heather said.
Note: I didn't say, "Me too."
The bus arrived, very empty. Heather piled on behind me.
"Where should we sit?" she asked.
Me: "There are so many empty seats, we should try to grab two rows so we can stretch out."
Heather: "I'll sit behind you."
The bus idled once we all loaded on. I prepared a Snapchat with the caption "When you meet stranger and know too much about them in 5 minutes." I felt Heather looming.
"You're on Snapchat?" she exclaimed. "Let's be Snapchat friends!"
This isn't real.
"What's your Snapchat name?"
I reluctantly exchanged Snapchat info with her. The bus pulled out onto Broad Street. My phone screen lit up: I had a snap from Heather. What possibly could she have sent when she is sitting three feet behind me?
It was not a picture. It was a message. A single word: "Nervous."
I looked at her. She mouthed, "I'm nervous."
Internally: What are you so nervous about? Are you a fugitive?
Externally: "It will be fine." Don't hold my hand.
I soon received another message (as we merged onto I-95). It was a response to my Snapchat story from earlier in the day. "That's funny i loled," Heather wrote.
I closed my phone.
About an hour later, I walked to the back of the bus and used the restroom. Upon my return, Heather informed me she had watched my stuff. "Thank you," I said, though I don't think there was any threat from the other twenty strangers surrounding us. I think community policing might have prevailed, and I would have known if someone tried to rob me. Or maybe Heather tried to rob me.
A short while later, I saw Heather had Snap-messaged again. I purposefully held off reading it. I felt a tap on my shoulder.
"Will you watch my stuff while I pee?" she asked. "I don't trust anyone else on this bus."
She said this out loud so that everyone else on the bus could hear her.
"Sure. I'll watch it."
Obviously I didn't watch it because no one was going to bother it. Since I was turned around from her belongings, she once more tapped me on shoulder when she returned and thanked me.
"No problem," I said.
Once we arrived in New York, I quickly grabbed my bag and prepared to roll away. Heather interrupted my exit: "Cazey, I'm so glad we met."
"It was great getting to know you, too," I said.
She went for a hug.
"I'm not a big hugger," I replied. "See ya!" Never.
On the walk to my friend's apartment, I opened Heather's last Snapchat message: "Will u watch my stuff i need to pee"
I deleted Heather from my Snapchat friends and never saw her again. I also will be avoiding the Waynesboro Buffalo Wild Wings for the foreseeable future.
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