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Chinatown’s Long Tendrils: Bargain Bus Reaches the Mississippi
By Aaron Lake Smith

The Chinatown bus is famous as a cheap way to shuttle between New York, Boston and Washington, D.C. But in the past two years, some bus companies have been quietly extending their service. Now a Chinatown bus serves dozens of unlikely cities like Orlando or Little Rock for a fraction of the cost of a Greyhound.

“We started going to the south and west as a service for the workers in Chinese restaurants,” Jeff Hall, a bus coordinator, told the Transom. “They work out in Alabama and want to come back to New York on the weekends and visit their families.”

The bus companies keep up a loose affiliation with employment agencies that supply workers to the thousands of Grand Schezuans across America. Inside one of them, in an unmarked storefront on Eldridge Street, women spend their days shuffling papers behind barred glass windows covered with Mandarin-scrawled post-it notes.

A young man named Besti explained in broken English how the system works. Each post-it note is for a different job—server, chef, janitor. Each posting has the area code of where the Chinese restaurant is located. U.S. maps, carved up by area codes, are taped on the walls. Besti is an assistant chef who works all over. “It pays good. No taxes. In cash,” he said.

A chef named Lame told the Transom, “Tonight I’m getting on a bus for an interview.” Where? “Florida, maybe. Virginia?”

Around the corner, Colin Snapp, a 27-year-old artist, bought a ticket to Roanoke, Va. “It’s not my favorite way to travel, but so cheap,” he told the Transom. “It’s some underground-railroad shit they got going on down here.”