The Cheap Life

Megan Eidelbach

New York City Part One

I knew I had left too early for New York City- March in the Northeast after one of the worst winters in history was not quite the smartest move in my book. But there was pressure. Pressure everywhere. My boyfriend was supposedly meeting me there, my best friend wanted out of Albany, so she wanted to meet me, and all of the freight riders were starting to make their normally late northern trips early for some reason, and I felt left out. So stupidly, I left. And regretted it.


I left from where my father and I had just temporarily leased an apartment for a year in Zanesville, on March 27, 2010. I had decided to shoot straight up to Albany to meet up with my friend Dena* (not her real name) and from there take a Chinatown bus, a bus company owned by the Chinese that was much cheaper and a bit more obscure (and notorious for its accidents and histories of drug runnings, etc.).. but there are different companies and each one is different and what I say cannot reflect on this one, especially since this Chinatown bus was new to Albany in the first place. After an all night Greyhound ride, I reached Albany, hugged my fellow traveling comrade, and we walked the long uphill walk through Albany in the freezing cold wind to locate the Chinatown bus.

After stopping for a meal to get away from the cold, we finally found the bus and paid what I believe was 30 dollars. (Usually you can get great deals from Philly to NY for 10 to 14 bucks and vice versa (check out Chinatown-Bus.org for more options, companies, and more trips, such as Boston, Baltimore, and Richmond, Virginia.) After standing in a crowded waiting area, we were on our way. It was about a 3.5 hour bus ride to get there, and when we got off in crowded Chinatown it was a short walk to a park on the Lower East Side where our friends normally congregate every year around this time. So we began our trek, grumbling against the cold. We walked into the park, and seeing no one, decided to make our way to the subway to Central Park West where I had booked us beds at a women’s only hostel. We reached it just as it turned brittle and unbearable. The hostel was welcoming and comfortable, and we enjoyed a final night's sleep before our true journey began.


The next morning I snapped a few pictures of the cold surroundings, and we again hopped the subway after “sparing swipes”, or asking people for swipes on the subway. We made our way back to the Lower East Side. This time we were luckier in finding some of our friends, and we reunited happily over a Four Loco (an alcoholic energy drink that has 12 % alcohol in it) and hung out all day long.

Freight riders and travelers are notorious for meeting up in the same places every year, so it’s pretty easy to find each other in every place we go. We know what to look for. Our clothing, which is usually Carhartt overalls and boots, backpacks, and sometimes guitars and such to busk for money with, signify a train rider. When you are passing on the street and you see what you think is a homeless person holding a sign that says “Traveling, Broke, and Hungry” and other variations, sometimes humorous, it usually means he really is all of those things, and is trying to remedy those things. Yes, we drink. Yes, a percentage of us do drugs and some of us do the hard ones. But a lot of us don't do any of the above at all and are just trying to survive while we make our way on our journeys across the USA and beyond. Most traveling kids, as we call ourselves, will give to other travelers if we see them begging as well if we have money already for the day- it’s good karma. It’s paying it forward, or giving back. We aren't bad people, and a lot of us work. It’s just that we don't want to work 9 to 5 every day and pay bills on a house we are miserable in while those itchy feet tell us that there is a whole earth that is calling our name and train tracks that can lead us in the right direction. And when the trains can't take us, hitching will. Getting to NYC is not exactly accessible by train. I usually come from the South, so I go into Philly, then take the Chinatown bus from Philly on Arch Street for cheap ride into NYC. Otherwise you could get stuck in a train yard you absolutely don't want to be in with a very unhappy bull, or railroad cop.

Anyhow, my story at this point doesn't exactly involve trains yet. Dena and I ran with our friends that night to an abandoned squat house in Brooklyn with no electricity, so I bought some candles and a flashlight for further nights. We stayed in the basement the first week and then moved to the attic later on after cleaning it up and making it somewhat livable. It was still disgusting, but it was better than freezing our butts off every night under the open sky. When it got warmer, Dena and I found doorways and storefronts that didn't kick us out to roll out our sleeping bags in front of to stay the night, shivering and cold. It wasn't a fun experience.

As for the boyfriend, he decided to stay in Jersey. There is more to the story than that, but that I will let remain personal and not for the public eye. Let's just say he may or may not pop up again later on in these articles.

Dena and I spent our days with signs begging for change, going to Brooklyn and back with friends, sharing the occasional Four Loco exchanged between shivering hands, and sometimes crying and whining to ourselves about going home (Hey, I have no shame. It was horrible at times.). Finally, I decided that I had had it. After three weeks I went home to Ohio, and Dena stayed in New York City. However, I told her I would be going back, which I will be in a matter of days. Hopefully by now it will have warmed up, since it seems to have warmed up elsewhere, and she has communicated by phone that it is no longer as miserable or freezing as it was when we were together complaining about the unhappiness of living on the streets of New York.

A friend kindly escorted me to Grand Central Station and I took a bus back home to Zanesville. I slept the entire trip, exhausted from the previous weeks. My father welcomed me with open arms, and unsurprisingly, I slept almost the entire week away. Now, bouncing back with an enthusiasm and those itchy feet kicking, I am ready to go back and face New York more readily and with a braver face, knowing more what to expect.

I just hope this time New York is ready for me.