Monday, August 30, 2004

Buses and Marches

This will be a two part entry, both instructional and journalistic. Yesterday, two friends and I sought to take part in the most pointless yet satisfying endeavors of the American democratic process: the Big Ol’ Protest. I packed something to cut handcuffs with, packed my money in my boot, and declared myself ready to take a rubber bullet for my friends (if not necessarily for Kerry). Having driven to New York recently from D.C., I’d decided there was no way in hell that I was driving. This proved an issue, as the three of us shared this sentiment.

“Chinatown Bus DC go now!!!”

I suggested taking a Chinatown bus, having heard from friends in college that they were both cheap AND an adventure. This suggestion fit with the group-spirit of “charge the barricades for cheap” and I looked online to find schedules and reserve tickets. The most prominent three are listed below, henceforth to be referred to as “The Triads.”

New Century


Dragon Coach

A round-trip ticket is generally $35 and most of the lines offer alternate pick-up and drop-off points outside of Chinatown(s) proper. This is not as it used to be, back before they gained some fame as costing 10% of what a Greyhound ticket would cost. The drivers, equipped with aging buses and a cut-throat business acumen, could get into a bidding war for passengers that would result in $10 round-trip tickets. Attention and many more passengers has allowed an upgrade in buses (at least that I saw) and in the not-even-covering-the-gas fare. If you posses the non-American heart to haggle, you can talk down the prices by ten dollars or more, but you also risk not making it on the last bus out of Chinatown. Reserving seats on the internet is almost a formality, as the drivers do not read the paper you hand them and boarding can mean using the Elbow of Truth on a crowd of people at the door.

The buses are clean and there is generally a short rest stop to stretch your legs and evacuate. As in airplanes, concerts, and most everywhere, try not to sit too close to the chemical toilet in the back. Above all, do not fall asleep in that area, as those dreams will be both vivid and will linger. You can thank the Triads for whatever you end up addicted to.

You get a nice mix of people riding; interns going home for the weekends, people visiting family, salespeople who didn’t do so well. I understand that the Friday and Saturday night trips back to DC are a veritable meat-market of drunk people who wouldn’t mind a ride home if the metro has stopped running. Since it was Sunday night, I rode home sitting next to a very talkative woman from Trinidad and Tobago. Her kids are fine, but one of her sons is very lazy. If you’re reading this, you know who you are.

“Four more wars!! Four more wars!!”

The protest was impressive, mostly for what didn’t happen. We were only in the march from about Noon until 2, but most of the police were not in riot gear, some of them chanted along, and all of them had a look of “I don’t want to work on Sunday, make this easy so I can go home.” Much obliged, NYPD. This also may have something to do with the Administration cutting pay and benefits for first-responders and then holding the GOP convention uptown from where so many of them died.

The count of people marching has varied from two to four hundred thousand. I wanted to climb a barricade to look down the avenue to see how long the snake was, but apparently you couldn’t see the end of it. Aerial shots of the protest aren’t getting in the papers much, since you can always argue number estimates but it’s hard to ignore a solid mass of people and signs taking up an avenue in Manhattan.

There was a strange mix of people- Korean drum groups, Women in Pink (“Pink Slip Bush”), some people carrying Iraqi flags. The best group that I saw was Billionaires for Bush, both for the costumes and their chants. The women were dressed in their old prom gowns, long gloves, and tiaras; the men wore suits and bowler hats, while smoking huge cigars. A man dressed as a secret service agent instructed the marching group to “Keep to the right, as that’s what we’re good at.” Then a rousing chant of “we’re here, we’re rich, get used to it” was led. Give them some money.

Billionaires for Bush

I think that at first, I was there mainly to see the spectacle of so many people agitated at once. I pointed out amusing signs (Who would Jesus bomb?) but didn’t really chant at first. Something caught me near the convention center; a giant Fox News billboard. I’m a fiscal Republican, social Democrat, libertarian populist with fascist tendencies, but even I had to shout FOX NEWS SUCKS and thank the lord it turned into a chant. I doubt I was the first one to come up with that, but it certainly caught on quickly. Much quicker, in fact, than my earlier billboard-inspired chant of “We want an iPod!! We want an iPod!!”

Did any of this matter? No. Protesting is for the protesters. It’s something primal, to feel like you’re finally moving in a village of your own people to a new land. The delegates in Madison Square Garden couldn’t care less how many people surged past, and no one was going to change the counter-protesters (couldn’t have been more than 50 altogether) minds. A soldier in civvies flashed his military ID from the sidewalk and I have no idea whether it was a show of support or disgust, but I flashed him the peace sign and said “Hey”. An Australian woman next to me asked if I knew him, and I just told her that he was a soldier and I wanted him to know I saw him. I suppose that’s all.


Blogger Alcarwen said...

Protesting is indeed for the protesters...basically, i think we all have an urge to feel like we're doing something... to show our disapproval or approval just b/c we can... you know what bugs me about DC protests though? How word'll spread that there's a protest and BAM people will show up to protest anything and everything completely unrelated to what's going on... as in "Oooh, anti-war protest? let's go wave some signs about abortion!!!"

So. there's the question... was the NY protest slightly more focused that this? have protesters managed to unite under a banner of disapproval of the current administration? If so, man, that rocks;-)

11:23 AM  
Blogger Josh said...

ah.... well, it was a pretty diverse group, but this was different than the DC protests you and I are thinking about, since this was a protest against an amorphous blob instead of a particular issue. I'm not sure if the gay guys (wombs are not for me) normally have a lot in common with the pro-choice movement (wombs are for me and me alone), but in this case they stood together and borrowed cheers.

7:02 PM  
Blogger Veebz said...

And you made fun of me for packing my money in my shoe! Sigh .... lol

9:24 AM  
Blogger SwimCoach44 said...

I just heard about tha bus line - usually take the train, but that may be an option on my way down to DC next time.

9:32 AM  

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