Dragon Deluxe: Pre-Departure Tips

1) Read the Fine Print: When an unmarked, white mini-van pulls into the parking lot between the Arby’s and the Imperial Motor Inn on South Atherton Street, you do not notice it. You are instead watching the streets for a roomy white charter bus (the kind with flat-paneled TV screens, a bathroom, and plush, adjustable seats) marked, “The Dragon Deluxe.” That’s how it was advertised on the company’s website, at least.

When a Persian man wearing thick, horned-rimmed glasses taps you on the shoulder and says, This is it, you think he is joking; surely you didn’t pay $70 round trip to travel in a mini-van? You pull your ticket from your back pocket and frantically skim the two pages of fine print for any mention of a mini-van. There it is, under the “Tickets are non-refundable” disclaimer. It reads: The Dragon Deluxe All-State/KK Service from State College, Pennsylvania to New York City, mode of transport: mini-van.

2) Expect Delays: Your first stop is the McDonald’s on North Atherton Street (distance: half a mile), where the van picks up more passengers. The only problem with this plan is that the van is already at full capacity. You watch from the dust-covered backseat window as the driver, a wiry, middle-aged Chinese man, takes a swig of espresso and mouths an explanation to the passengers outside. A tall blonde guy in a striped Abercrombie sweater flails his arms in frustration and points to various places in the fine print of his boarding pass.

You take this free time to study your travel companions. Everyone seems to prepare for the trip ahead in different ways: The Indian man in a three-piece suit busies himself on his BlackBerry, the Persian reads a thick textbook about engineering, the red-head in a hooded Penn State sweatshirt naps beside him. In the back, a guy in a Delta Chi T-Shirt listens to his Zune and a tired-looking mother feeds her daughter Cheerios, only to have her daughter spit each mouthful back onto the floor.

You haven’t brought a book or an iPod, so you begin to entertain yourself by closing your eyes, counting silently to one hundred, and opening your eyes to see how many minutes have passed. Still, the argument between the flailing-armed Abercrombie guy and the espresso-drinking driver rages outside.

3) Prepare for Hunger: During the argument, the fraternity guy with the Zune gets bored and decides to exit the bus to grab dinner inside the McDonald’s. That kid will be sorry, the Persian man says. He pulls a white Arby’s bag from his briefcase, peels the sandwich from its aluminum wrapper, and nibbles on it. The scent of roast beef and ketchup wafts through the air. You try to open the window, but to no avail. Damn child safety locks.

4) Study the Culture and the Language: The driver finally unlatches the door beside you and climbs into the backseat to address the mother.

Listen, he says to her. I got two people out here waiting to board.

The mother raises her eyebrows. And?

Would you mind holding the child on your lap?

Absolutely not, she says, disgusted. She looks at the child, sighs, and reconsiders. Not unless you refund me the price of my daughter’s ticket.

This is great, you think — transportation and a show. You look around the bus to share this gleeful moment with one of your fellow passengers, but no one else seems as surprised or as excited as you are.

The driver grunts. You note that this seems to be his preferred method of communication.

The driver reaches into the pocket of his brown Dockers and removes a wad of cash. He counts: ten, twenty, thirty, thirty-five.

Then he counts the number of passengers, the number of seats. He smiles, satisfied.

5) Keep your Arms and Legs Inside the Vehicle at all Times: After the blond guy and his girlfriend board the bus, the driver piles their suitcases in the aisle next to you: one overstuffed blue duffel bag, one matching set of Coach luggage. You can no longer see out the window, no longer reach the door. So much for emergency exits, you think.

The driver climbs back into his seat and takes another swig of his espresso. Then he buckles his seat belt (the only functioning seat belt in the entire van), angles his body toward the backseat and says, Ready?

You remember the fraternity guy and wonder if he’s still inside the McDonald’s. You open your mouth to speak, but the Persian man beside you presses his index finger to his chapped lips.

You don’t say anything.

Neither does anybody else.

The driver grunts once more as he shifts gears. The mini-van lurches backward. You are finally on your way.

About the author

Kayla Washko has lived in the mountains her entire life: as a child growing up in west central Pennsylvania, as a student studying abroad…

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