If you were to categorize a majority of my stories on this site into a theme, it would be something along the lines of: Comically-Tragic Transportation Disasters. This story is my latest installment. However, unlike the others, this is the first one to occur within the US, and it is the first (shockingly) to involve a public bus. It all happened as I was en route from New York to Washington DC to attend my friend’s wedding. Here’s how it unfolded.
I arrived in the city via Metro North train at roughly 11:00am on a Friday. The forecast had called for rain, but since that had not yet started, and since I had a full hour until my bus was to leave, I decided to walk the 30 minutes from Grand Central to the bus station at 34th and 11th. Along my path, tall, soulless corporate skyscrapers loomed above me while thousands of people all around scurried to whatever they happened to be late for (as is usual in New York). It was late April, meaning the trees should be in bloom, but since it was Manhattan, there were no trees. Nonetheless, I reached my destination station at around 11:30 and was instantly taken aback by a massive line. I asked the lady next to me what was going on and which bus she was waiting for.
“I’m on the 11 o’clock bus to DC,” she frustratingly replied.
“Oh… I take it it’s not here yet.”
“Any word on what’s going on or when it’ll arrive?”
‘Wonderful,’ I sarcastically thought to myself. But even if I’m an hour late, I’ll still arrive in DC by 5:30 and be on time for the rehearsal dinner. I began to calm myself, but just then, the gray skies opened up and poured a heavy rain onto the city. I scrambled to take out my umbrella, but because of the strong winds and its multiple holes, it didn’t do much to keep me dry. Eventually it was 12:00 and I started feeling one of the worst feelings known to modern man: wet socks. However, before I could sink into despair, a glimmer of hope arrived. The 11:00 am bus arrived (just 1 hour late!) The line was moving for the first time. Maybe this meant that my bus would be shortly after.
My brief of the line moving was short lived, as the rain grew heavier and the wind stronger. I began to look around to see what other unfortunate travelers were in my position because, as they* say, misery loves company. In this case, my miserable company took the form of a middle aged British couple. We started to talk and I quickly found out that they were on their way to DC to see a concert (although for some reason, they did not mention who they were seeing). We exchanged a little friendly small talk, but since the man seemed a bit frustrated, I decided to keep things on the surface. After roughly half an hour, his patience ran out and he went to go check to see if there were any updates.
Minutes later, he came back looking visibly annoyed (in a way stereotypical for British men). “No one here has any goddamn idea,” he exhaled. But just then, one of the workers loudly announced, “Washington DC, 12:00. Your bus has arrived.” Breathing a sigh of relief, I shook off my umbrella and walked forward to get on board.
As I sat down, I messaged my friend Dan (the person whose wedding I was traveling to attend) and said that I should still be there on time for the rehearsal dinner. Right after I sent it, the bus driver rose from her chair to make an announcement, “Hello everyone. My shift is going to end before this ride is over. By law, we cannot drive more than 10 hours per day, therefore we will be switching bus drivers at a rest stop along the way. Don’t worry though, it shouldn’t add more than a couple minutes.” Foolishly, I thought nothing of it and began listening to the podcast Drifter’s Sympathy (highly recommended), as the bus pulled out on to the street and the rain battered the windows.
We rolled on down the road for a couple uneventful hours. The large man with curly hair that sat next to me had since drifted off into a deep slumber so I had no pressure to be sociable. The traffic didn’t seem to be so bad for a stormy Friday, and before I knew it, we were at the rest stop in Maryland where our alleged driver change was supposed to occur. Feeling excited for the festivities that were ahead, I phoned my friend Pat, who was staying at the same hotel, to tell him I’d be there in two hours. Everything seemed to be going well… too well…
Just as I hung up with Pat, the driver (who had also just been on the phone) turned to face all us passengers. She was considerably more pale and the smile she once had was now gone entirely. “Everyone! I’m so sorry, but Megabus forgot to send another driver to replace me. It will be another hour until he arrives. I’m very sorry but there’s nothing I can do.” All of the sudden, the bus erupted with sounds of anger, confusion, and frustration. Most dramatically, the British guy I had met in line leaped up from his seat, arms flying in the air.
“This is unacceptable! We paid $150 for our tickets and now we’re gonna miss the bloody show!” he exclaimed as his forehead vein began to bulge. As upset as I was, I took comfort in knowing that someone else had it worse than me. ‘Now what to do?’ I thought to myself. Well, I have been sitting for the past hour, so maybe I had aimlessly wander the rest stop and potentially buy trail mix and a banana at one of the shops. I then exited the bus to do just that, my knees popping a couple times due to the hours of cramped sitting. The fresh air and space away from the other bus passengers felt nice. Not worth the hour wait, but moving helped brighten my spirits a little.
After my eleventh lap circling the rest stop (probably looking like a deranged patient), I headed back to the bus, assuming we would continue our journey soon. Turns out, I was was a fool for assuming. The bus driver seemed in even greater dismay that before. “I just got off the phone with the company. The other driver is not even on his way yet. It’s at least another hour, maybe more.” My heart sank. Meanwhile, the British guy was already outside, trying to calm himself with cursing and chain smoking. ‘So is this it?’ I thought to myself. ‘Am I gonna spend my friend’s wedding at this Maryland highway rest stop with… bus people?!?’ No. I needed to take action.
Suddenly, a thought popped into my mind. If I could gather a group of people as urgent as me to get out of here, we could split an Uber or Lyft to DC. There was only one problem though. I did not have the app or an account with either (and didn’t feel like setting one up), therefore whoever agreed to share the ride with me would also have to be ok with ordering said ride. I quickly began walking up and down the aisle, asking people my idea. I expected to have a difficult time, but apparently many other people were just as fed up as me. We were four in total: one young couple relocating to DC, and a girl going to visit old college friends (she told us which college, but I wasn’t paying attention so I forget). The estimated wait time was about 20 minutes each and costs were similar (around $100 total/ $25 per person), so we decided to order both and ultimately cancel whichever was slower. The race between ride-sharing companies was now on.
We watch eagerly as the clocks ticked down… that is until the Uber driver took a wrong turn and suddenly his ETA to us became 30 minutes. We promptly canceled that order and soon after, out Lyft driver arrived. He was a young-ish man, approximately my age (you should know this, my readers!) and he happened to have no less than six soccer (or football) balls in his trunk. ‘Must be an interesting character,’ I thought as I got in. Turns out, he was. He said he had immigrated to the US four years ago after being born in the Congo and growing up in France. Now he played semi-pro soccer and drove Lyft for a living. All of us passengers collectively agreed he was awesome. One of the passengers briefly tried to start a conversation about Steven Pinker,* but thankfully we quickly switched back to the driver’s life.
*Steven Pinker bothers me… a lot.
An hour and a half later, we arrived in DC, which looked eerily groomed for a city. I said my goodbyes and then entered the horrifyingly expensive metro. Since my stop was one of the last ones of the line, I still had another hour ahead of me. At least I could stand now. Slowly, stop by stop, the other passengers dispersed until it was just me and one or two others. Finally it was my turn, so I exited the train and began the final walk to my ultimate destination. The rain had now stopped but the wind was now blowing with extreme force. I didn’t care though anymore. I just kept my head down and trudged forward. Ten minutes later, I walk through the hotel doors, disheveled, sweating, and with dark circles under my eyes that resembled charcoal. It was now 9pm, twelve hours from the time I initially left this morning and five hours after my expected arrival time. Looking over, I could see my friend Pat at the hotel bar. My journey was now over. Now I needed a drink.