Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Don't Catch the Bus

It has literally been almost 15 years since I was last on a Greyhound bus, and I hope it's at least that long before I am on one again. And, no, it has nothing to do with the passengers; rather, it's because it makes Amtrak look like the model of courtesy and efficiency.

I was supposed to return from New York Friday night on the 11:45 train. There was a World Science Festival event at 9:00 I wanted to attend (castmembers from the new Battlestar Galactica conjointly talking about cyborgs with roboticists) but I had innocently checked to see if there was an earlier train, only to find out that there had been a Metro North derailment south of Poughkeepsie and as a result there were no trains at all leaving until morning. I had a 10 a.m. meeting in Clifton Park, so staying overnight was not an option (for budgetary reasons, as well). I did some investigating and learned to my chagrin that the only way to get back to Albany was Greyhound.

There was a 9 p.m. bus that theoretically got in to Albany at 11:50. As it happened, it was almost entirely full of Amtrak refugees, and several of us bonded, as one does in those kinds of circumstances, through mutual grousing. Misery loves company, indeed. Anyway, Greyhound ticket counter agents are not exactly models of speed and efficiency; it was like watching a lava lamp. Gate numbers are merely suggestions which can change on a whim, and do. And then the bus was a half hour late getting in to the Port Authority, and one of course loves to spend as much time in Port Authority as possible. (Although, to be fair, Port Authority is actually much better designed and actually less horrid than Penn Station these days.)

On top of that, it is actually more expensive to take the bus than the train. I was not expecting that.

Finally, we get moving. Now, bear in mind, everyone on the bus is cranky and just wants to go home. The bus driver knows this. I don't see how he can't, unless he has no sensory apparatus whatsoever. Which in fact he doesn't.

Halfway up the Thruway, we pull off into a rest stop. Do buses do this? Everyone raises a fuss, but the driver simply says, "Nature calls," and gets off the bus. Naturally, other people decide to get off, too, either to smoke or to forage for food. I am certain we will spend the rest of our lives here.

After about 10 minutes, the natives start getting restless, as the bus driver has not returned. Some people toy with the idea of sending out a search party, and my immediate thought is that it will be like those horror movies where they send out a search party to look for a missing search party, and then that search party disappears. Anyway, it turns out the bus driver is calmly eating dinner at the McDonald's. Um...? He is cajoled into returning to the bus, only to discover that there are passengers missing. Those of us who stayed on the bus unanimously vote to leave without them, but we are overruled. So we wait another 10 minutes until they finally return with sacks of vile-smelling McDonald's food. Any chance we could careen off the highway into the Hudson?

Happily, the rest of the trip passes without incident. Until we get to Albany, and we discover that the bus driver does not know how to get to the Albany bus station. Isn't this the most basic skill one needs to be a bus driver, knowing where the bus station is? Especially since this was non-stop trip, with no stop other than Albany. In retrospect, I wonder if he even has a driver's license. So there we were, driving through downtown Albany with various passengers shouting out "Left!" "Right!" "Straight through this light!" It was very surreal. It was aso rather fortuitous, since we were all Amtrak refugees--and to be honest I hadn't a clue where the Albany bus station is. I still don't. And I hope I never have cause to find it again.

Anyway, we finally get in, and one of the folks I had met in Port Authority asked if I wanted to split a cab, because we all still had to get to the Rensselaer train station, where our cars all were. By this time, she was exceedingly cranky and made Lucrezia Borgia seem like Sandy Duncan. We had climbed into a cab and while the cab driver was trying to round up other passengers who were going the same place, she decided to rip him a new one and demand that we get going. Naturally, one doesn't like to rile cab drivers, and for good reason: we tore out of there at about 95, nearly crashed through utility poles, crash barriers, other cars, etc. It was like that chase scene at the end of The French Connection. I find it hard to believe that the five-minute ride from the bus station to the trail station should have been $20. I suspect he inflated that for our benefit. I sure wasn't going to argue with him at that point. He knows where the tire iron is.

And, of course, as I was paying for my parking, the attendant decided to launch into a long dissertation about what the effect of the derailment had been on the Rensselear station, the pattern of rail passeners returning to their cars, and so forth. I honestly thought he was going to pull out a PowerPoint presentation. All I'm thinking is, "It's 1 a.m. Can I go home now, please?" I was finally released, and I'm sure the people behind me were treated to the same lecture.

So, my new policy was that I'm never leaving the house again.

Well, until my douchebag neighbors started their ^%$#$&* chainsaws at 7:30 Sunday morning...

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