Intercity Buses (and some stories)

Public transit allows people to travel to destinations within a city or metropolitan area. But when someone wants to travel to another city outside of their area, what options are there?

You could drive. Sure. As long as you have a car, which means you’ll be paying for gas, insurance, registration fees, and unless your a driver that indiscriminately follows the speed limit, speeding tickets.

Maybe take a flight. …right. Airline travel is good when you need to get from Point A to Point B in a short amount of time, but it comes at a hefty price. Key word “hefty.” The average airline ticket price is hovering around $250 right now, and it still continues to rise. And that’s not even counting baggage fees, time spent getting to the airport, and all the time it takes to get through security just to get to your airplane in the first place.

Ride the train. Perhaps. If you live in the Northeast of the country, particularly the “megalopolis” of Boston-NYC-Philadelphia-DC, then Amtrak is a great option. But most people don’t live in the Northeast. Train service is sporadic at best in most of the county, especially west of the Mississippi River. Though things are improving in the Pacific Northwest and California, there’s still a long way to go.

That leaves only one option: the Intercity bus.

Cheap and efficient, an intercity bus WILL get you from Point A to Point B. Most intercity bus service in this county is run by Greyhound, a well-known fixture of the American highway system. There’s also other companies starting to make a name for themselves in the intercity bus business, like Megabus.com and BoltBus. People are starting to get interested in intercity buses again, as bus operators start bringing out amenities like free wireless internet, more spacious seats, and even power outlets.

Now, I wouldn’t necessarily call myself a huge user of intercity buses, but I like to think I’ve had my fair share of both good and bad experiences using them. The main point of this post is to share a couple of stories I have about the times I’ve used intercity buses. Hope you enjoy!

Greyhound Pasco-Seattle-Bellingham 12/1/09
(Originally this was posted on a previous blog of mine, which is now inactive. Slight edits for grammar/spelling.)
I’d never actually been on a Greyhound Bus before. Public transportation? That’s my bread and butter! I’m the king when it comes to that. But Greyhound is taking it to a whole different level. On Greyhound’s website, they state that it’s highly recommended to show up early for your departure time. So, being an hour early had its pros and cons. Pros, I had a better chance of grabbing my seat. (For those who don’t know, Greyhound’s system is that you can buy a ticket, but that does NOT mean you’ll have a seat for sure. First come, first serve…) Cons, I got bored pretty quick. And I mean quick. The Greyhound office at Pasco Intermodal Station doesn’t open till 7:30AM, so watching the agent go in and out of the booth started to annoy me a little. But, what can you do? So, at 7:33, he finally opened. As soon as that booth gate went up, all 7 or 8 of us who were there so far made a mad dash for him. But, luckily, order ensued and I’m glad to say there were no fistfights or anything. As I waited my turn to get my baggage checked, I kept remarking to myself just how amazing it is that nearly every passenger was buying their tickets right beforehand. I mean, you can save like 50%, or even more, if you just buy the ticket 21 days in advance. I know people sometimes have the urgent need to go somewhere right then and there, but a little foresight can go a long way. Just saying. So, baggage checked and ready to go, I stood in line, waiting for the bus to show up from Stanfield, OR. While we were waiting, I chatted a little with the 4 people in front of me. It’s not a great stereotype, but imagine the type of person that sits at the front of a transit bus (in the “chat seat”) and does nothing but talk to the driver… well, that was them. But, don’t get me wrong. They were very nice, and I did enjoy chatting with them. I guess they sure enjoyed chatting with me, because somehow I got suckered in to helping the one woman (who told me her name multiple times, but I still can’t remember it cause it’s such a weird spelling, so we’ll call her “L”) load her carry-on bags up into the bus and up into the overhead bins. She was pretty appreciative for that. (I later found out that she has C.T.S. and diabetes, so I think she definitely needed the help.) Around Sunnyside or so, I grabbed down her bag of Cheetos for her, and I mentioned that I worked for Frito-Lay. She seemed astonished when I told her I had no huge interest in eating chips anymore. I tried explaining how 15 months or so of smelling them had turned me to the other side where I don’t like chips as much, but she had a pretty hard time believing that one. Once we got to Seattle, I transferred over to the next bus, heading north towards Bellingham and onward to Vancouver.

Megabus DC-NYC 7/16/10
For this to make more sense so that you, the reader, can really understand the mental and physical toll this bus ride put on me, I’m going to start with a little background on the story. On July 15, I left my house here in the Tri-Cities WA in order embark on a month-long trip from coast to coast in the US and Canada. To start out, I rode a Greyhound from Pasco to Seattle (which went way smoother thanks to the previous experience I had in the last story), ventured out into suburban Seattle to visit some family, then ventured back to Seattle to get to the airport, caught a red-eye flight direct from Seattle to Baltimore, boarded the MARC Penn Line at BWI Rail Station, and finally made it to DC. By the time I made it to DC, it was about 7AM local time, meaning I’d been awake for some 23 hours straight at that point. Just keep that in mind… During the short amount of time I was in DC, I made sure to stop and see all the sights. I ended up walking from Union Station to the Capitol Building, then all the way down The Mall to the Lincoln Memorial, then up to the White House, back to Union Station (to get my suitcase which I’d put in the baggage storage), and then finally to a Starbucks near the Megabus terminal. With this weather history report to support my case, it was HOT. And humid. Perhaps a normal day for DC, I don’t know. But I am not a person who can handle humidity, so the weather wasn’t particularly enjoyable for me. When I got to the Megabus terminal around noon, it was crowded. I had no idea it that this many people were using Megabus. While standing in line, there was a guy walking up and down the waiting area, pulling along an ice chest, hawking water bottles for $5 each. “What a ripoff,” I thought to myself. As it turned out, I would’ve been better off buying one, or seven, from him. We boarded our ride, a double-decker Van Hool TD-925 (which on a sidenote is an awesome looking bus!), and then left. By my count, there were 78 people aboard our 81 passenger bus. I don’t know how I managed to pull it off, but I was one of the lucky ones with an empty seat next to me. About a half-hour or so into the ride, before we’d even made it to Baltimore, there was a noise. And then the A/C stopped. The driver tried shutting down the bus and then restarting it, but nothing happened. Now keep in mind, this was a practically full bus, with no A/C whatsoever. I’ll spare the grueling details, but by the time we were past the Philadelphia area, there was a smell unlike anything you could imagine, and plenty of people looked like they’d just stepped out of a shower with their clothing on. To make matters worse, it was a Friday afternoon, and traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike was nothing but gridlocked. We were scheduled to arrive in NYC at 4:50PM, but we didn’t even make it to Newark until after 7. It took another 1.5 hours or so until we FINALLY made it to the Megabus stop in Manhatten. Without underestimating, that moment when I stepped off the bus was one of the greatest breaths of fresh air I have ever taken. Having been awake for some 38 hours straight at this point and hungry, thirsty, and smelly, I got my luggage and walked to Times Square in order to post a photo on my Facebook for everyone to see. Nobody had any idea where my travel plans were taking me, so I wanted to surprise them. Now, you’d think that after the whole ordeal, the first priority on my list would be a long hot shower, right? Unfortunately, that wasn’t an option. I tend to be a bit of a procrastinator, and because of that, I had been unable to get any hostel lodging (that was within my next-to-nothing budget) for the first two days of my visit in NYC. Because of that, I had a bit of a unique solution: sleep in the airport. For two nights. Since that’s a completely different story at this point, I’ll let you read the story I wrote about it on SleepingInAirports.com. As for Megabus, we had a pretty good relationship after this trip. Several days after my first experience with Megabus, I rode again from Philadelphia to Toronto, and it ended up being one of the best bus rides I’ve ever had. Especially because of the turmoil I went through just to get on that bus, but that’s a story for another time.

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