Mega Bus. Bolt Bus. Fung Wah. Lucky Star. Greyhound (which owns Bolt Bus). These are the glamorous coaches I use to propel myself around the eastern seaboard.
When I was growing up in the suburbs, buses ranked at the bottom of the transportation food chain. They were disgusting and even school kids knew enough to try to get out of riding them whenever possible.
There are only a few instances in which riding the bus is acceptable. For instance, if you are protesting civil rights in the 1960’s or a migrant worker who has earned enough not to have to hitchhike to the next job. Also, if you are appearing in a remake of movies such as A League of Their Own or Almost Famous where buses play a vital role, then it’s ok to get on board. Otherwise, gross, get a car, or board a plane.
Now, discount bus chains are amazingly popular with college students and twenty-somethings. It really is amazing that a Chinatown based bus company with a reputation for roadside breakdowns can attract long lines of kids in hoodies carrying Vera Bradley duffel bags and wearing Toms shoes to wait on the sidewalk for the next filled-to-capacity bus to pull up.
But it happens, all the time, every day.
Statistically, when I’m on a bus, there’s a good chance it’s a New York to Boston ride. I have friends in both places, and apparently everyone else does, too, because several bus companies have schedules that depart every hour around the clock. If you drive on I-95 between the two cities, unless you are blind (in which case, why the hell are you driving?) you will probably pass a dozen or so of these buses.
My very favorite bus ride is Newark, NJ to Wilmington, DE. (I know, not a phrase that you are ever likely to read in a Conde Nast travel article.) But, hear me out, it’s only about a two-hour bus ride, it’s not the most popular route, so I always have a free seat next to me to stretch out in and when I arrive in Wilmington, my best friend pick me up from the station for a 10 minute car ride to her home.
That’s also a big positive, when your public transportation ride ends with a car ride to a private residence, instead of a subway ride to a hotel. Because saving the environment by using public transportation is a big reason why I ride the bus, but it doesn’t leave me with a warm and fuzzy feeling the way getting in a pick-up truck with a baby seat in the back does.
The amount of time that I’m willing to spend on a bus isn’t an exact number. It’s more of a fuzzy math equation that takes into account the cost of a plane ticket, and how long I’d have to spend getting to the airport versus getting to the bus station. I’ve tested the limits of this travel time with a New York to Pittsburg ride, and found that the nearly eight hour ride wasn’t all that bad. Plus it featured an early morning rest stop at a TravelCenters of America , which sells everything you never knew you needed for your road trip. When I was there, I bought some green and black camouflaged bandages for my broken toe. I think the joy I got out of this purchase helped the broken bone heal faster.
Despite the fears of some non-bus riders, I’ve never had a big problem with safety issues. The worse things that I’ve woken up to is the bus driving in reverse down an exit ramp trying to get back on the highway.
In the spring of 2011 there was an accident in the news that scared the shit out of me, and I assume all discount bus riders. A bus coming from a casino in Connecticut to New York, being driven at high speeds, flipped on its side and into a skidded into a pole that sliced the roof almost entirely off the bus. The aerial photos showed a neat incision by the pole, but the rescue workers said the inside of the bus was chaos with decapitated passengers. Over a dozen people died.
The accident made me more willing to pay for a higher priced train ticket, but not to give up buses entirely since those types of accidents are rare.
And, on a more trivial matter, I’ve never had a big cleanliness problem either. Although there was a least one time when I boarded a bus that smelled so bad, I really thought I might throw up. It was Columbus Day weekend, and the buses were all at max capacity. I boarded mine and was gagged by the smell of an overflowing toilet and stinky, sweaty humanity. I think after a few hours I got somewhat used to it, but God know what I smelled like when I got off the bus.
As far as bus stations go, the last time I was in Philadelphia’s, the paramedics wheeled a gurney into the men’s restroom, and came out with a drunk man strapped on top.
It made me think of the time where I opted to take a subway to meet friends for dinner instead of sharing a taxi with them. I thought they were being snobbish for picking a taxi. My pride was rewarded by having the man sitting next to me vomit on himself. I didn’t administer a breathalyzer test on him, but I’m pretty sure he was drunk because he vomited mid-song, and kept on singing to himself as barf dripped down his shoulder.
Do these types of things happen in our airports? Probably, but I’m usually too distracted by the six year old complaining that her iPhone isn’t getting reception to notice the more mangy characters.
I like taking the bus. It’s entertaining. And tickets are so cheap that I’m able to save enough money to afford the Amtrak.