I like long car rides. I don’t drive often, since I live in New York City, so every time I do get to look at the world through a car window or listen to the radio it fees like a special occasion. There’s one drive I especially enjoy: the 9-hour journey from New York to Maine, where I stay for most of the summer. Every stop is an opportunity to find an interesting or exciting place to stretch your legs. A few years ago, I remember stopping at the Blueberry Museum, a massive metal blueberry with various blueberry-related paraphernalia inside. From blueberry-flavored maple syrup and massive bags of blueberries to more intriguing offerings such as blueberry charm necklaces and blueberry plushies, all of the store’s wares were closely guarded by a gaunt, dour old man with a smiling blueberry cap on his head.
Places like the Blueberry museum are what makes road trips so great. Weird, spontaneous outings to places you would never purposefully seek out (unless you’re really into blueberries or something) turn the monotony of sitting in a car seat for nine hours into an exciting game of “find the best place to stop.” So you can imagine my excitement when I found out that we would be taking a 20-hour night bus ride from Lincang to Kunming, where our second homestay would be taking place. The night bus, for those of you who have never ridden one, is essentially a bus with beds instead of seats. If you can manage to secure a window seat (or rather bed), as I have both times I’ve ridden the bus, you are in for a ride that is both scenic and relaxing.
The night bus stops every two hours or so at rest stops so you can get off, stretch your legs, go to the bathroom, or, if there’s time, explore the area around the stop. One stop in particular was very accommodating to the last option. In China, as I understand, bus drivers aren’t allowed to drive for certain hours of the night to avoid crashes. So if your bus ride happens to span these 9 hours of the night, the bus has to stop, extending what would normally be a 11-hour drive to a 20-hour one. On this particular 9-hour stop, I and a few other group members decided to walk around the rest stop, since we found the bus too hot to sleep (the air conditioning turns off during the stops). There was a hotel near the rest stop, and so I walked inside.
A set of stairs went up towards the rooms and a set of stairs went down below the hotel, and because I wasn’t very interested in walking up and down empty hallways I went downstairs. And who did I see but the rest of my group, sitting at tables. They beckoned me over; “Another white person,” they said in Mandarin to someone I couldn’t see. As I ventured over to see who they were talking to, I was ambushed by a woman with her phone out. She said something that I couldn’t understand, and sat some of us down on a chair to take pictures. After the photoshoot, I headed back upstairs to get some fresh air, and when I came back down, everyone else was on an Instagram live on the woman’s phone, talking to all her friends in Mandarin.
That rest stop perfectly encapsulates why I like long drives: an unplanned, interesting, kind of surreal experience that allows you to explore a place more deeply. When I get home, instead of telling the blueberry story, maybe I’ll talk about the 9-hour rest stop, and about the woman whose friends were so nice to us over Instagram live.