My Megabus experience (special long-winded edition!)

8 Jun

Chillin' on the side of I-90 on Megabus.

This is the unabridged version of my Megabus journey from Chicago to Cincinnati on Saturday.

Let me preface this by saying that I love Megabus. As much as one can be in love with a low-cost intercity bus company, I love Megabus.

Not everyone shares my feelings. I like to compare Megabus to a guy you start dating. He’s been nothing but great, but all your friends warn you about him. They go on about how poorly he treated his past girlfriends, but you want to believe he’s changed.

Megabus and I have been on 10 dates over the past year. Each time I fell more in love, but secretly feared that its bad side would finally be revealed.

And Saturday, on our 11th date, it was.

It was pouring down rain when I arrived at the corner of Canal and Van Buren at 10:40am. Not a good start to the journey. I huddled up against my jumbo suitcase and computer bag trying in vain to cover them with my tiny umbrella.

“Memphis? You going to Memphis?” a lady started shouting after she emerged from her car. You can always tell the first timers—they’re always nervous that they’re not in the right place. They can’t grasp the concept that two buses may be headed to two different destinations, scheduled to depart at the same time.

I stood there in the rain for 20 minutes, waiting for the Cincinnati-bound bus scheduled to depart at 11am. More and more people started to show up and I began to worry I wouldn’t get my own seat. At 11:10am I called the Megabus 1-800-number to make sure the bus hadn’t been cancelled. The woman on the line was friendly, but couldn’t offer me any information besides the fact that it wasn’t cancelled. So the waiting continued.

Around 11:20am a double-decker bus appeared and a horde of rain-drenched people surrounded it like piranhas. I immediately saw the “Ann Arbor-Detroit” sign on the front when it turned and didn’t even bother getting my hopes up.

More waiting. Eventually the rain stopped and I pulled out a magazine, trying to balance it on top of my suitcase and carry-on. A skinny guy inexplicably holding a stryofoam cup approached me and the three guys standing behind me. The guys were headed to Memphis and were scheming up a ride-share website like the ones in Europe. “You guys going to Cincinnati?” the cup-holding guy asked us. I replied that I was. He asked how long the ride was then asked me where I lived—“here or there.” I told him “here.” “Why the heck are you going to Cincinnati then?!” he asked. “It’s boring!” I guess that’s why I live in Chicago and only go to Cincy to visit.

People were getting pretty antsy at this point. Finally at 12:15pm a guy announced that the Indianapolis-Cincinnati bus would arrive in 10 minutes. It was a rare single decker. This time I was one of the piranhas. The seemingly large crowd managed to fit with some room to spare (including the seat next to me!) and we took off around 12:30pm, an hour and a half after our scheduled departure time. I settled into my seat and started watching a TV show on my laptop. Twenty minutes into the ride I heard a collective gasp and felt the bus pulling over. I was too into my show to realize what was happening.

From the broken down single decker...

“Sorry guys,” the bus driver said, standing up. “Don’t shoot the messenger, but, um, the bus is overheated. I’m going to radio dispatch.” He went outside. People started to panic.

“I am getting a refund, you can count on it!” said a woman with a Milford library book in her hands.

When the driver returned several people asked him if they could call for someone to pick them up. Others wanted to get off on the side of I-90 to smoke.

“Listen, you’re not supposed to,” the driver replied to both requests. “But there’s no way I can stop you.”

A tall guy wearing a football jersey hopped up.

“Yeah, I’m just gonna say the guy was over 6 feet tall and pushed past me,” the driver said with a chuckle.

“6-foot 5,” the jersey guy clarified before pulling out a cigarette and getting off the bus. More people followed.

The driver gave a little laugh. (Which, of course, reminded me of a line from an Over the Rhine song—“It’s called the laugh of recognition, when you laugh but you feel like dying.”)

“I didn’t even want to come to work today,” he lamented. “I’m supposed to be at a funeral, but because it’s not family they wouldn’t let me take off work. It was a neighbor kid, I knew him his whole life.”

“Did he die in a car accident?” the Cincinnati man in the front seat inquired.

“No…,” the driver said, followed by a lengthy pause. “He was shot.” Suburban Cincinnati man didn’t know what to say that.

A few minutes later the driver alerted us that a mechanic and a new bus were on their way. I resumed watching my TV show.

A guy that was supposed to be at a wedding in Cincinnati at 7:30pm “pushed past the driver” and had someone pick him up on the side of the highway. Those of us who didn’t have that option waited. I’m not sure of the exact timing, but it seemed like less than a half hour later when the new bus and mechanic arrived. We quickly shuffled onto the new bus as the driver and mechanic moved our luggage. (The new bus had power outlets! So the situation wasn’t all bad.)

...to the swank new double decker!

And then we were on our way, as if nothing bad had ever happened.

We later found out that the reason our bus was an hour and a half late was because the scheduled bus had broken down. So they sent a replacement bus—which proceeded to break down too.

Now most people—like library book lady—would use this experience as a reason to write Megabus off forever. Maybe I would too if it had been my first time. But I’m still determined to make our relationship work. I don’t feel like I can blame Megabus for what happened on Saturday. Buses—especially those that continually drive back and forth between cities—are going to break down. I can only judge Megabus by how they handled the situation. They sent a replacement bus in record timing and we managed to arrive in Cincinnati only an hour and a half behind schedule.

Megabus is a prime example of “You get what you pay for.” And when you can get to Cincinnati from Chicago for $1.50, you can’t expect too much (although my $1.50 and 50 cent rides went swimmingly, I paid $40 for Saturday’s ride. Figures).

In short, I want to make this work, Megabus. Hopefully this was but a small hiccup in our loving relationship. I trust you’ll make everything right for my return trip next week and we can put this whole thing behind us.

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