On the Road

on the road

I have been known to use this space to prattle on a bit about how to get that creative spark exploding, using a bit of this or that. Here I go again.

I had no idea at all until a couple of hours ago that there is a low-cost transportation service popularly known — to those who know it at all — as the Chinatown bus. Its service area is expanding by the month but its purpose is to get you from your city of residence to Chinatown in New York. It can do this from Columbus, Ohio, to name but one place, for around thirty dollars (the more you plan ahead, the less a ticket will cost you). You show up on the second block of East Main Street downtown at the day and time appointed — buses leave twice a day — and twelve non-stop hours later you are dropped off at a storefront in New York’s Chinatown. I was familiar with Megabus and some of the other curb-to-curb interstate bus services but this is a new one for me. The service has its own website which you can use to book a trip and also discusses the company’s history, which is extremely interesting as well. I managed to quickly find a couple of folks who have used this and who told me some extremely interesting stories about using it. While the service was originally designed to accommodate Chinese and other Asian immigrants, anyone can use it with some money and planning.

Think about that: a non-stop trip to New York for less than it would cost you to drive there. If you got on the bus wanting inspiration, you would almost certainly have something in mind by the time you reached your destination, just by observing your fellow passengers and taking notes. If you weren’t inspired by the trip, certainly being dropped off in the middle of New York will get those creative juices percolating. I’m thinking — yes, you do smell smoke — of taking the Chinatown bus to Thrillerfest XI just for grins next year. And maybe just for the heck of it before that. I may even put it on my bucket list.

Does this appeal to you? Would you use such a trip — or any trip — as an inspirational jump starter? Or do you regard travel, regardless of mode, as a necessary evil that enables you to get where you want to go, and nothing more? And do you have a favorite travel story or novel? Mine is — of course — ON THE ROAD by Jack Kerouac, typed on a roll of toilet paper. Yours?

26 thoughts on “On the Road

  1. Sounds wonderful. Unfortunately, none of the buses depart from New Hampshire. I wonder why bus lines steer clear of this state. Bummer.

    • Sue, try peterpanbus.com as they have stops/pickups in Nashua, Concord, and Manchester. Watch out, though, for that driver with the moustache, funny hat, and artificial hand…

  2. Good morning, Joe.

    Ah, travel as inspiration. My day job keeps my nose to the grindstone and my mind numb, no time to think about anything else. So when I travel I go nuts. I call it a creative release. My wife says it’s my manic disorder. (I tell her there’s a fine line between genius and insanity, but that’s another story.)

    Several years ago my wife and I took Amtrak from Toledo to Portland (to a family reunion), two and a half days to think and write and read. That part was great, but the food was not a high fiber diet. There was no time to exercise, only quick breaks along the way to let people on and off. And by the time we reached the west coast, I was pretty bloated and ready for a healthier lifestyle. It was a great experience and we’ll always remember it, but we decided we prefer road trips where we’re driving and control our agenda.

    Hope your trip to New York is twelve hours of inspiration. We’ll look forward to hearing about your adventures…from the comfort of our computer chairs.

    Thanks for a great post.

    • Steve, you’re welcome, and thanks for the kind words and for sharing your own experiences. My daughter took an Amtrak trip out west several years ago with another family and really enjoyed it. They got exercise by making a walking circuit of the train repeatedly. We have endless video of it somewhere. Re: the food…i wonder if that’s by design? If I ever use Amtrak I’ll bring granola bars and tip the fedora to you! Thanks again!

  3. Joe, I think you mean “butcher paper” for Kerouac. Although Truman Capote probably thought it might as well have been toilet paper. Personally, I like On the Road. The audio version by Matt Dillon is one of those perfect matches of narrator and material.

  4. My mother refuses to fly, and loves train travel. Once while taking the Sunset limited from New Orleans to LA, she glanced out the window of her sleeper car in the middle of the night and spotted a beautiful, walled village. She called started referring to that place as Shangri-La. She resolved to find out where that magical place had been, and find it again. Years later, she and I drove by car, more or less following the train route as much as possible. We kept identifying possible candidates for The mysterious Shangri-La, and checking them out. We never found the exact spot she’d seen at midnight from the train that night, but it was a fabulous adventure. One of my best travel memories, and a treasured memory of spending time with my mom. Thanks for the post, Joe!

    • Kathryn, that is a heck of a story…did the train pass anywhere close to Route 66? Can any of our KillZone readers provide us with a clue as to the location of the walled village in the Western U.S.? Now I’m going to be obsessed with this. Thanks for sharing, Kathryn!

  5. Joe, this is a great post. I love travel writing in memoir or in fiction. On the Road is a favorite. Kerouac typed on a roll of teletype paper. Decades ago when I worked at a small, country, radio station, I wrote a cheesy, 007-rip-off screen play on teletype paper. The only thing I might have in common with Kerouac. Thank you.

    • Lance, thanks for your kind words and for sharing…but…re: your cheesy (in your words) screenplay…anyone who has been in a theater in the last five years has seen worse than cheesy. Have you thought about dusting that bad boy off and fine tuning it? Let us know if you do.

      • Joe, thanks for the encouragement, but when I used “cheesy,” I was being understated. You are right about what’s out there now.

  6. Actually, Jim, I meant toilet paper — based in part on the word of a guy I know who supposedly was there at the time — but! But! It appears that butcher paper/teletype paper, the sheets taped together, is the correct answer. Thanks for that!

    I’m not big on audio books — I can read faster than I can listen, and become irritated with them — but yeah, I can hear Matt Dillon reading that. Thanks for the suggestion on behalf of the many fans (including my wife) of audio books.

  7. Let’s see . . . .

    1. I have someone who can take care of my dogs.
    2. I have a friend in Columbus who can take care of my van.
    3. I have a friend in New York with an open guest room.
    4. I have a low-profile backpack, a 2-pound Chromebook, and I live in cargo pants.
    5. I have a middle-aged woman invisibility cloak, but also have badass tats when I need some hipster cred.
    6. I have sunglasses, but I don’t smoke.

    This. Could. Work.


    • Actually, Terri…you live in…Arkansas, am I right? You could drive that Van to Memphis and catch the Chinatown bus to NY! And on either the front or back of your trip you could watch the ducks march into the Peabody Hotel! Either way, have fun!

  8. I wish this country’s rail system made travel easier for us roadie-types. I like to fly (I know…I’m weird but they haven’t killed all the joy for me. Yet.). But I really love train travel. But geez, the trains don’t go anywhere anymore. (sounds like a C&W song). Have taken the train through the Canadian Rockies from Calgary to Vancouver. (Great trip!) and in France and Spain. (can’t be beat). But our rail system is a disgrace. That said, they are rerouting the passenger trains here in South Florida from out by I-95 and into the eastern downtown hubs. So that’s a good start!

    And when I go to Michigan every Thanksgiving, I fly to Detroit and take the Michigan Flyer bus to Lansing…great service with free Wifi and I always manage to get some writing done, which I never do on planes. And they let my dog on free.

    What is it with Kerouac lately? His name seems to be all over the place. Must get out my old paperback…

    • Gee, Kris, do you know someone in Michigan? I didn’t know that! 🙂 Don’t get me started on train routes…That’s pretty cool that they let your doggie on the bus and for free. A tip of the fedora to Michigan Flyer and to you for stopping by. Thanks!

  9. I’m a road trip guy myself, relative to unsticking my creativity. If I can manage to turn off the radio – music moves me to creativity, as well – the miles fly by, and the story ideas cascade in. Love this post, Joe.

    • I should add, too… back 2000, just after my first novel (“Darkness Bound”) was published, I was driving from Phoenix to Portland with my wife. We were talking about what my next book might be, when the phone rang. It was my agent, informing me that the book had scored a starred review from Publishers Weekly.

      That review was written by you.

      I’ve never been clear on the etiquette of responding to a review (other than a particularly bad one that crosses the line, which I’ve done and regretted it every time), but here we are 15 years later, so propriety be damned: thank you for that.

      • Larry, I am totally a road guy as well. I could probably make the drive from Columbus to New Orleans with stops in between in my sleep. Actually, I almost have, but that’s another story. Unfortunately, I have reached the age and station in my life where I am not entirely confident in my ability to make a long drive like that so I’m exploring alternatives. With me, it’s a control surrender issue to some extent. I’m an alley runner and I’d rather take the road less traveled if the one I am on is backed up. You can’t really do that on a bus/train and I don’t/won’t fly.

        Your story about that review makes my month — maybe my year. There is no particular etiquette, but you’re welcome and thank you for the thank you. And please consider my review my own thanks to you for several hours of great entertainment that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.

  10. Great post, Joe. In 1968 I took a 24 hour bus trip from Biloxi, Mississippi to Kansas City, Kansas. I had just graduated from my Air Force specialty training and was going home on leave before reporting to my first regular assignment. We left Biloxi on Dec 23 and arrived in KC on Christmas eve. The trip had everything for the makings of a novel. Four GIs from the four different branches of military, three college girls going home for Christmas, stops at every backwoods corner of the deep south, black families sitting in the back of the bus, and redneck troublemakers at the eating stops. All seasoned with nervous anticipation of going to Viet Nam.

    I always wanted to write that novel, and call it The Christmas Bus. Maybe some day…

    • Dave, when you write that book, I’d love to read it. Wow, what a story. One of my favorite Steinbeck books is THE WAYWARD BUS and…well, your book sounds like it had potential.

      I remember those back of the bus days as well. During my last trip to New Orleans I was on the St. Charles streetcar and an elderly black woman got on. There weren’t any seats and I offered her mine, which she gratefully accepted. We smiled at each other for a moment and maybe it was my imagination but I think that she was remembering the days when you just didn’t do that. I know I was. Thanks for tweaking my memory and for stopping by.

  11. Great post, Joe. No fan of buses — I took too many in college, but I love trains and find train travel a good way to work through plots.

    • I totally get that, Elaine. A bud of mine took a Greyhound from Columbus to Pittsburgh to pick up a motorcycle and described the experience as comparable to being trapped in a mobile Star Wars cantina. Thanks for dropping by.

  12. Mr. H;

    Another in a series of great posts, Sir~

    I was raised on the airline, and learned a couple of things that riding srand-by seem to serve me well:
    • there’s more than one way to Miami;
    • always have something to read
    • always have something to write with AND on (pre-digital, you know);
    • pay attention to those coming and going (and sitting/waiting) around you
    • don’t talk to the guys in saffron handing out flowers

    To this day, I not only follow these somewhat simple rules of thumb, but find myself getting anxious about getting a seat as boarding time nears ~ even with a reservation/confirmed seat~

  13. Why, thank you, G, you’re easy to please. That’s wise advice about something to write with and on, as well as read (you never know when the wi-fi, or your battery, is going to pass a sandcastle). Alas, it’s been well over 17 years since I’ve flown…but from what I’ve seen when I’ve dropped folks off at the airport, it gets ever worse, not better. Hope your experience is different. And thanks for stopping by TKZ.

  14. Ride a bus from my city to New York’s Chinatown??? I live in Seattle, so Jeeezus Christ Mother of God and All That is Holy or Profane NOOOOOOOOO!!! Such a fate should be prohibited by the Eighth Amendment.

    I don’t mind long drives at all. I’ve driven back and forth across the country more than once, and I’m pretty sure I could drive up and down the west coast blindfolded I’ve done it so many times. But buses…ugh. Domestic buses are especially bad. Really, I’ve been on nicer long distance buses in Africa, Central and South America than in the US. Here they always smell so bad, and I get queasy if I try to read on them. I can still smell the woman I had the misfortune to be seated next to on an overnight bus from Goreme to Fethiye in June. The inspiration from that bus ride was not of the literary variety.

    • I prefer my car as well, catfriend, though I may not be up to those long drives anymore. One of the worst car trips I ever took, however, was on the West Coast. For a lark I drove from south San Francisco to Carmel using Highway One. It was a beautiful trip but I got behind a bus about halfway there and it was not a lot of fun. This was back in the day before almost every car came with air conditioning and the one I had did not. The exhaust was secondary smoke of the worst sort. I feel your pain re: bus companion as well. Thanks for sharing and stopping by.

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