Wednesday, August 13, 2008

The Megabus Review

Ten hours one way, 26 hours with my honey, and ten hours back the other way--without a doubt, I knew when I decided to visit my girlfriend in Memphis by bus, it would be a tough trip on me physically. I didn't expect my left knee to still be swollen almost a week later, but hey, I was scrunched up in my seat both ways the whole time, so I shouldn't be too surprised. Here's the Megabus blow-by-blow:

The trip was booked back in late July, which is less than a month in advance, but I was still able to snag my seat for $30 each way, which is a bargain no matter what considering gas prices. If you book a trip early enough, the gimmick goes, you can grab a seat for only $1, but we didn't plan the trip ahead of time. I kinda decided to come down sometime in August before I started back to school. (My girlfriend says she will do the Megabus on her next visit, so if she plans early enough, maybe she can get the super cheap seat.) There are no assigned seats on the bus, so the recipient of the $1 fare was never revealed, nor was he/she forced to sit next to the restroom or something. I happened to time my arrival to the bus stop last Tuesday morning so that it was pulling up to the curb, ready to start boarding, and because I didn't have to wait to put my bag in the luggage carrier on the side of the bus, I jumped the line and boarded second. I flashed my registration number, printed from the confirmation e-mail, and the driver checked me off, then I picked a seat and sat upon it. I put my book bag in the seat next to me, signalling to everyone else boarding that yes, I'm a jackass, and I'm not sharing this seat unless forced to. Fortunately, not enough people boarded to make me give up the extra seat, and soon we were on our way. Eating was not a problem--I had a breakfast sandwich and orange juice, as well as potato pancakes that I brought from home, and there were no restrictions on my gluttony. There was one stop the bus made in order to pick up and drop off people--Champaign, IL, about two and a half hours after our 11A takeoff from downtown Chicago. Champaign is the home of the U. of Illinois, so it makes sense that there's a stop there. About twelve people got off at that stop, and about seven people got on. There were no problems at all with the ride (save for the lack of legroom, but I'm 6'2", so I would complain), until we left Champaign, because someone decided that the ride was too quiet and busted out the bootleg DVDs, and soon the TV screens on the bus were filled with a shaky-camera version of Hancock, complete with laughter from the audience during the funny parts. I was so turned off by this that I put on my headphones and read my book for most of the film, occasionally glancing up during some of the action scenes. The movie was near the end when we arrived at a rest stop in Effingham, so I assumed that the nightmare would be over when I came back from the restroom, but instead, the movie was being played again from the beginning. I can't say exactly why this annoyed me, but by far it was the worst part of the trip. I guess it just made me feel like I was riding on the Soul Plane or something. I mean, white folks don't fucking break out bootleg DVDs as an entertainment option, do they? They changed to a different movie after the second screening of Hancock--The Incredible Hulk, in English, but with Japanese subtitles and a man's cranium partially in the way the whole time. Sad. The second rest stop was somewhere in Missouri, and I could tell that we were pretty far south because I immediately started to sweat profusely upon exiting the bus. I made an impulse buy at this stop--a new iPod holder, aluminum with a neck cord. I was psyched. Okay, I was mildly pleased. I had my midday meal, a slice of pizza from home and a sparkling water, and I went back to my book and headphones as we made our way to Memphis. The older bus driver provided a quick drive, but at one point the wheels made that startling sound when you run off the road onto the ridged shoulder, and I snapped my head up, hoping that the guy wasn't dozing or something. He righted the ship, and we continued on. Another DVD was popped in, but it was an actual DVD, not a bootleg. However, I didn't recognize it, so I wasn't interested. All I know is that it starred Reese Witherspoon, and apparently she had a husband trapped in another country, possibly Middle Eastern, and she was trying in vain to find him. Daytime turned to night, and in the span of about five minutes, all of a sudden we went across the bridge over the Mississippi River, we arrived at the downtown Memphis MATA bus station, the movie ended, and my girlfriend texted me asking when we were going to be let off the bus, since we were just sitting there for a while after we arrived. The driver was waiting for a bus ahead of him to move so he could pull up to the corner. Finally, at 8:20P we unloaded, I hugged and kissed my sweetie, and I almost kissed her A/C in her car because the air on the bus had stopped working by the time we made it.

After a fun day with my girlfriend frolicking around her house, she treated me to a jerk chicken pasta dinner at a Jamaican restaurant, then I boarded the Megabus back home. Takeoff was at 11P Wednesday night, and I got on at about 10:40P. I had to take a seat on the upper level of the double-decker because all of the seats on the lower level were taken, but it still wasn't a whole lot of people on the bus. The upper deck had maybe 12 folks, and that's counting the four Bebe's Kids in the very front row, prepared to be the first ones ejected out of the bus along with the two women accompanying them if there were to be an accident. Yes, they were loud and annoying, to no one's surprise. I don't know why we had a double-decker going back; we had a regular bus going to Memphis. Nobody else boarded the bus after me until about 11:03, when a car pulled up next to the bus and two women hurriedly grabbed their respective bags out of the car and rushed onto the bus. Strangely, they didn't sit together. One, a Latina, came to the upper deck and sat across from me. I don't know what happened to the other, a black woman. Maybe she didn't get on the Megabus but rather wound up running into the MATA bus station trying to catch a different bus altogether. In any event, we left about 3 minutes after that. I knew that it would be hard trying to get a night of sleep on a bus, but I underestimated just how hard. Again, the legroom or lack thereof made it difficult to get comfortable. I let the seat back as far as I could, but that's not very far. I kept alternating between lying back and sitting straight up hugging the seat in front of me. I didn't have a pillow, but that turned out to be the least of my worries. The A/C was working on this bus. I was a little warm when I boarded, so I had the overhead air blowing directly on me. Then, once I started feeling cool, I turned off the overhead. Then I turned off the overhead on the seat in front of me. Then I pulled up my shirt so that my shaved head was covered. Then I took out my spare shirt from my book bag and wrapped it around my bare arms. The A/C was absolutely freezing. I can't imagine how high it was, but I was unbearably cold. One of the kids was actually crying at about 2A, sobbing, "I'm cold!" I would have complained, but I know that I'm not the only person on the bus, and I didn't want to ask the driver to make it warmer when the others may have been just fine. I'm the idiot that didn't have a blanket or jacket, so I decided to just suffer. But yeah, I didn't get a lot of sleep. We only took one rest break in Effingham at about 4A, and it was eventful. I happened to be awake and saw the driver attempt to pull into a gas station whose overhead ceiling may have been too low for the bus to clear. After two or three reverses and attempts to pull in, the driver gave up and pulled out, driving two blocks to a different gas station, a bigger one with a very high overhead and a McDonald's and a convenience store and restrooms. He then announced over the speaker that everyone had to leave the bus while he filled up. I didn't know why we had to leave the bus while he put gas in it, but I was too groggy to question anything, so I got up and left. When I came out of the restroom (and contemplated buying a pillow and throw blankie but couldn't make myself take out the cash), the bus had vanished. There were gas pumps right there in front of the convenience store, but the bus wasn't there. I hoped and prayed that the driver decided to go back to the original gas station, although I don't know why he would. I was able to spot a couple of people on the Megabus also standing outside, including the Latina and the Bebe Kid complaining about the cold, which made sense because he was wearing a short-sleeved shirt and shorts. So I knew that at least the bus had not left to keep going to Chicago without me. However, we stood out there for about 20 minutes, and about the time that I started taking inventory of all the things I owned that were on that bus and how would I replace them all and I'm never taking Megabus again, the bus reappeared and took us all back in. The A/C continued to be an issue even though someone asked the driver to turn it down, and eventually I gave up trying to sleep and turned on my reading light so that I could finish my book. 6A brought daylight and brought us to Champaign, where we let a handful of people off and let a large amount of college kids on, so many that I almost had to give up the seat next to me. It was straight to Chicago from there, but to show how slowly this driver went as compared to the driver who took us from Chicago to Memphis, we made that trip in nine hours and 20 minutes with two rest stops, and we went from Memphis to Chicago in ten hours and 5 minutes with one rest stop. I almost ran off the bus when we finally made it to Chicago. My knees were a little sore from two days of banging off the seat in front of me, but the left knee didn't swell up until Friday, and it hasn't calmed down yet.

So my recommendation for Megabus is, it's certainly a quality ride for the value, it's not a dirty bus, and the people aren't disgusting vermin as one might expect on a discount bus. I believe the key is, with Megabus not having a bus station of its own, they don't have a place set up for anyone to buy $1 tickets or $30 tickets or whatever price tickets on the street. As far as I know, only someone with internet access and a credit or debit card can get these seats, so that eliminates a somewhat sizable portion of the general public. I'm not sure how they make enough money to keep the fares so low, especially with current gas prices, but they don't seem to skimp on anything. The bus to Memphis had some seats equipped with trash bags, which I thought was a nice touch. I'd love to rail on about the lack of legroom, but honestly, it's a bus. You really shouldn't expect much legroom. As long as you pack a blanket and a pillow and some snacks, a trip on Megabus appears to be as good a bus ride as you can get for the money.

Tuesday, August 05, 2008

My (Very Quick) Summer Adventure

I'm off this morning to Memphis to visit my girlfriend, but due to my lack of vacation time, I'm coming right back tomorrow night. My off days from work are still Tuesday and Wednesday, so this morning I board a Megabus and take a 10-hour ride to see my honey. I'll spend the night, fool around with her tomorrow as she has tomorrow off from her job, then board the Megabus tomorrow night, ride all night, come back to Chicago Thursday morning, and go to work Thursday afternoon. I'm very worried that I'll be worn out from all the riding, but if the seats are comfortable and no idiots disturb my sleep attempts, I think I'll be fine. Megabus has deeply discounted prices from Greyhound service, not to mention what it costs to get on a plane these days, so that's why I'm hopping a bus for a 10-hour excursion instead of my usual 1.5-hour flight. But I'm excited to see my girlfriend, if only for a day. I'll take some food with me, along with a book and, of course, my headphones, which are with me everywhere I go. It'll be my one-man road trip. I think my girlfriend knows how much I love her, if she ever had any doubts. How many other guys are climbing a bus for 10 hours there and back, for a 1-day visit, knowing there won't be any sex?