Fear & Loathing on a Megabus
It was already getting dark out when I boarded the Megabus, leaving the comfort of my parents’ home in the Berkshires and stepping into the harsh reality that is the Albany to NYC bus route.
I sat down, put my headphones on and closed my eyes, hoping to only open them again once we had reached our destination.
Over three hours passed until I finally awoke. After ripping myself out of sleep paralysis- the kind where you’re cognizant of the fact that you’re drooling, but can’t seem to keep your mouth from hanging open- I realized that we were stuck in traffic on the New Jersey Turnpike.
This was around the same time that the bus, now almost two hours delayed, came to a shuddering halt in the middle of the highway. Lights, engine, electricity… all completely shut off. After this happened not once, not twice, but three times with absolutely no explanation from the driver, I couldn’t help but wonder for the umpteenth time: Whose hands am I putting my life in right now?
This is not an article to bash the Megabus; I shell out at least 100 dollars a month to ride the damn thing. And despite the many horror stories I’ve heard, my experiences have generally been pretty OK.
But sometimes, like when the driver has a confrontation with a passenger outside the bus that delays the trip by 20 minutes, or when the female bus driver does a feverish headcount and reveals to us that she left somebody behind at the rest stop, you can’t help but ask yourself who these people are that you’re entrusting with your safety and well-being.
In the last year I have probably ridden the Megabus two weekends out of the month on average. That’s 48 Megabus rides, which equates to about 170 hours. If I’ve done my math correctly, and I probably haven’t, that’s 10,200 minutes of my life that I will never get back. [Editor’s note: Since this article was first written +/- 20 more hours.]
In those 170 hours I’ve learned a lot about the Megabus, those that ride it, and those that drive it.
I’ve learned that the bumpiest bus ride is always the one leaving from South Station to Penn Station. I’ve learned that Tim, the New York City to Albany driver, was born and raised in Brooklyn, and has a self-described road rage problem, but judging by the way he hams it up on the intercom one might think he was just another failed actor in the city hoping to get discovered for his bus-driving comedy routine. (Too bad all the bigwigs are riding Amtrak.) I’ve learned that the best way to make friends on the bus is to sit at the family-style tables in the front, and the worst way to make friends is by laying across the low-rider seats in the back with your eyes closed and your feet dangling off the edge and into the aisle.
But for every one of my Megabus learnings, it seems I am also left with more questions. Most of which happen while I’m slipping in an out of consciousness on another 4.5 hour trip from Boston back to NYC. Some of these include:
- Has anybody ever paid just a dollar?
- Who the fuck is that dude in the plastic train conductor hat? WHO IS HE?!
- I wonder what would happen if I just lit up a joint right now?
- I really want to pee, but if I get up and try to walk down the stairs to the bathroom while the bus is in motion, I’ll definitely fall and crack my skull.
- Why are we stopping!??!
- I wonder if sitting at the bottom of the double-decker bus will help or hurt my chances of surviving when we inevitably crash.
- The bus is full, you are not going to be able to sit next to each other- get over it. Now sit down and shut up and get off your cell phone before I stab you to death.
The Megabus also provides riders with an informational video narrated by a pretty, shit-eating grinned blonde woman, who tells passengers to: “Please keep talking, cell phone use and laughter to a minimum.” Laughter? I can’t think of anything that happens on a Megabus that would be funny enough where I’d actually put the work into making a noise audible to any other human. Except sometimes (see pic to the left).
Now that I think about it, I’m actually confusing the Megabus video lady with the Delta video lady. You know, the one who wildly grins as she tells you how to correctly put on your oxygen mask in case of sudden pressure drops in the cabin, and that “most” seats cushions can be used as flotation devices. Most?!
Ironically, the only real near-death experience I’ve had on a bus didn’t even happen on a Megabus. It happened on the Worldwide Bus, a relatively new line that takes you from NYC to Newton, Mass., and even gives you a complimentary bottle of water. Don’t know whose bright idea it was to design a bus with a stick-shift, cause from the moment the engine revved and the bus-driver made his way out of the crowded city, we started stalling out. Up an incline on the Upper West Side stuck in traffic at a red light, and all the way down the Henry Hudson Parkway – stall stall stall.
As I chugged my free water (if I’m going to die in a bus accident at least I can die hydrated!) and forced myself to fall asleep, I couldn’t help but long for the strangely comforting – albeit hostile – Megabus ride.
Hey, at least it has seat-belts.