Tag Archives: Megabus

A long-awaited wicked 4th of July do

10 Jul

I had a right proper American 4th of July for the first time in a long time. Although I don’t think any American would ever use the adjectives “right” and “proper” together, so they may be on the verge of taking my citizenship away. (I’ve already got one strike against me for no longer drinking my water with ice.) Even when I lived in the US, July 4th was never one of my favorite holidays. As a kid I hated the loud noises, and as an adult I hated the crowded and the heat. But this year I happened to be in Chicago on July 4, so some friends and I had some delicious barbecue, then met up with some other friends to watch what we thought was going to be an amateur fireworks display. On our walk over there we encountered some true amateurs attempting to set off fireworks, one of which went off a little too close for comfort. “Don’t you wish you were in Kensington Gardens right now?” My friend whispered to me. (This was minutes after she whispered “Don’t you miss the Tube?” after we walked right into a hobo fight on the L.) Oh, Chicago. Your trains and streets smell like urine and some of your people frighten me, but you sure know how to celebrate the 4th. When we finally arrived we saw them unloading a U-Haul full of fireworks and knew we were in for a treat (that, or a multi-ambulance emergency. Likely both). The firework display they put on was out of this world, and we were so close we could feel the vibrations. We topped off the night with a classy visit to a champagne bar, which we had practically to ourselves, because Chicagoans apparently enjoy blowing stuff up way more than throwing back the bubbly. It was a brilliant end to my nearly two weeks of traveling. (Also brilliant: the Megabus to Cincinnati left on time and nothing exploded. A successful ride!)

Now I’m in Kentucky, happy to no longer be a hotel nomad living out of a [jumbo] suitcase. I’ve been savoring all the quality family and friend time, and also playing Pokemon Go. Freaking Pokemon Go. As if hitting my Fitbit step goal wasn’t reason enough to walk around aimlessly. But I can save that for another post.

I’ll end with what is clearly a better mascot for America than a bald eagle:
usa corgi.png
(My favorite instagram corgi, supercorgi_jojo!)

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Fun Times at the US Embassy in London

29 Jan
Remember how I said I expected it to be a long battle to get compensated from Megabus? Well, it actually went pretty smoothly. In fact, my money is so close I can taste it. I was given a final settlement offer from the claims company and it was an adequate amount — “just sign the release in the presence of a notary and we’ll get your check in the mail” they said. …And that’s when things stopped going so smoothly.
Do you know how easy it is to get something notarized in the US? You just go to your local bank. My own brother is a notary public. The last time I needed something notarized I think my high school math teacher did it. Do you know how easy it is to get something notarized in the UK? Not very. Like almost everything else in London, it’s expensive and time-consuming. I immediately started googling notary publics in London. I made an appointment with the US Embassy notary, but the earliest they had was Feb. 5. I found a guy who was a licensed lawyer and notary in both the US and UK, but he wanted £80 ($132) to witness my signature on a one-page document. So I started calling around, asking for price quotes — I heard everything from £75 ($125) to £95 ($157) — for yes, a signature and stamp. Three minutes of time. For what you could get at your local bank for free or a fiver in the US.

I called one notary who was willing to bargain.

“I charge £75, but if you find a better rate I’ll match it,” he said.

“The US embassy charges $50, which is £30,” I told him.

He paused. “You should just go there,” he said.

I managed to secure an emergency notary appointment with the embassy for today, because I could tell the claims people were getting antsy to get this thing settled (as am I). I’m not sure a Megabus fire settlement release constitutes an “emergency,” but I’ll take it.

My appointment was at 9:15 a.m,. so naturally I arrived at 8:30 a.m. because I managed to catch the early bus and there was little traffic. But I needed a little extra time because getting into the US embassy is tougher than getting on a flight. They do not allow any electronics — no iPhones or Kindles — or even car or apartment key fobs. They will not even store them for you, they worked out a sweet deal with Gould Pharmacy up the street where you can securely store your belongings for £3. That little place has got to be making a killing on iPhone storage. So I put my phone, headphones, FitBit and keys in a bag and walked back to the embassy. There was a huge queue out front for visas, but I got to go to the other side for American Citizen Services. They let me in even though I was early and I managed to get the first number for notary services. I sat in the waiting room reading an article about panda breeding in an outdated “New Yorker” and browsed through the official “American in Britain” magazine, which is what you have to do when they take your Kindle app away from you.

I’ve never been in an American embassy before, but I expected it to feel more… American. It is American soil after all, right? There were US flags everywhere and portraits of past presidents, but there were also signs that said “toilet downstairs” and “please use the bins provided” (“bins” as in trash cans). The receptionists all had British accents. Randy Marsh came to mind:

im-sorry-i-thought-this-was-america-randy-marsh-south-park
Eventually I was called to the window, presented my document, then was told to pay first. At least I was able to use my US credit card and pay in dollars. Then I had to wait again to sign my document. The consul notary was very nice and asked me what part of Ohio I was born in after looking at my passport. Then he said he was from Cincinnati. Of course I would go all the way to London to get a notary from Cincinnati. We swapped Megabus stories before getting down to business. I then had to awkwardly ask a random guy in the waiting room to sign the release as my witness. He obliged, I got the official embassy seal and signature, and I was on my way. “Hope you get your money from Megabus!” the notary said.

I had to wake up early, travel to my country’s embassy in the rain, and pay $50, but I got my notary signature. Megabus monies, come to me!

Well, at least nothing blew up, or 2014 so far

15 Jan

Four hours ago I was on a plane pulling away from gate A13 at the Cincinnati-Northern Kentucky airport, headed to DC before connecting to London. I had my new headphones on playing the perfect takeoff song (since small electronics are allowed during takeoff now, thanks Obama!). I was ready. I had said goodbye to my parents and Squirt at the airport, put my just-under-50 pounds bag on the scale, and made it through security.

And yet now I am in my childhood bedroom in Kentucky, lying on the sheets I had to fish out of the laundry bin because I was supposed to be halfway across the Atlantic now. And all I can think is “Well, at least nothing blew up,” because that is my new standard — buses run late, planes get delayed or have error messages right as the pilot begins to take off, forcing you to return to the gate and miss your international connection, but as long as no one gets hurt and nothing catches fire, it’s OK. Things could be worse.

I have adopted this mindset thanks to the events that went down nearly a week ago. I boarded a Megabus — what was once my favorite mode of transportation — to Chicago, where I was to have a splendid weekend with friends and a reunion with my former college roommates. While it was still a relatively splendid visit, what time I was not spending with friends I spent shopping for things like underwear and deodorant because I arrived in Chicago five hours late (after leaving on time) with nothing but the pug sweatshirt I was wearing. Because my bus caught on fire and all of our luggage was destroyed.

I’m still amazed by how calmly I — and everyone, really — handled the situation. Things could always be worse, but this was a pretty bad situation and I didn’t break down. I got on another bus to Chicago without really thinking about it. In the news footage I’m smiling brightly. Maybe it was because I had nothing else to lose.

(“Anyone want to put anything in the luggage compartment?” our new driver asked. We could only stare at her blankly then laugh.)

The long battle to replace my belongings and receive compensation from Megabus has begun, and I’m sure it will be a long battle, but I’m thankful that no one was hurt. I love my things — probably more than the average person likes a pair of pajama bottoms or an umbrella — but it’s only when you see giant flames shooting out of a bus that you were on just minutes ago that you can truly say things can be replaced, life is what’s important.

Maybe there was a reason my plane had an error taking off this evening, maybe there wasn’t. I can only hope I can get to London safely tomorrow. A delay I can handle, but I think I’ve reached my limit on losing precious belongings this month. I’m not superstitious, but if I have one more traveling problem it’ll be hard not to think I’m wearing my unlucky travel pants or I somehow upset some karmic balance.

2014 can only get better.

 

 

 

Chicago, Chicago, that freezing cold town

23 Dec

*Obligatory holy crap how is Christmas Eve tomorrow, where has the time gone, I should post more often*

Last weekend I made my annual Megabus trip to Chicago and Milwaukee to visit friends and the city I once called home. I immediately realized two things about Chicago: it is dirty and sweet mother of Prince George is it cold! It was 19 degrees in downtown Cincinnati when I was waiting for the Megabus (which was delayed two hours), but somehow 19 degrees in Chicago felt much colder than Cincinnati — must be the windchill. Needless to say, the first thing I did after checking into my hotel was buy some thick wool socks.

OK — that was the second thing I did. This was the first:

Ghiradellis chicago

Every time I’m in Chicago I must go to Ghirardelli to get a free chocolate square and then have to spend a few minutes wandering the store as if I intend to buy something and aren’t there just for the free sample.

The next day I met a friend at the Christkindlmarket in the Loop, where we got delicious mulled wine in collectable mugs, which I promptly spilled on my expensive scarf when I tried to chug it in order to see Santa. (Santa doesn’t allow booze in his house.)

chicago christkindlmarket 2013

This was my third time visiting Chicago since I moved. Every time I notice so many changes, yet when I get on that Megabus back to Cincinnati, the city resets to 2010 Chicago in my mind and everything shocks me again the next time.

filenes

The ghost of Filene’s Basement still makes me sad.

I had some time to kill before my bus back so I decided to visit Seven on State, the food court at Macy’s where Stephen and I used to eat ramen often. I think I knew there was no way the noodles could taste as delicious as they did in my memory, but I ordered them anyway. Of course I had forgotten that they changed the recipe for the miso ramen right before I moved and so I ended up paying $13 for a sub-par bowl of noodles at an upscale food court. I miss you sometimes, Chicago, but not your inflated prices and outrageous sales tax. (I know, says the girl who lives in Central London.)

macys miso ramen

I wandered into the American Girl Place, where I would have been in heaven 15 years ago, mainly to use their toilets. The doll holder on the wall of the stall amused me:

american girl bathroom

On my train from Milwaukee back to Chicago I happened to look out the window to this:

illinois london

For a split second I thought I was back in London somehow!

As usual, my trip was too short, but I had some precious time with some good friends. My Megabus ride back went a lot more smoothly than the ride in, and we even saw another Megabus while paying the toll:

megabus

yo dawg megabus

I’ll end now with the greatest moment of American football ever aired: a monkey… wearing a Bengals jersey… riding a dog… chasing rams. I think I could really get into football if more of this were involved!

monkey riding dog bengals

Cheers to the best weekend ever

21 Dec

I know it’s been embarrassingly long since I’ve made a proper update, but first things first:

stirrup-pants
Why don’t they sell stirrup pants anymore? Skinny jeans are still big, leggings are huge, and both of these are a pain to tuck into boots — unless you have stirrups. I was a big fan of stirrup pants growing up and stumbled upon a pair of stirrup leggings by accident at the Gap Clearance Center a couple years ago (have I written about that place before? It really deserves its own entry). I bought them for some ridiculously low price like $2, fixed the small hole in them, and they’ve been my go-to boots pants ever since. I wanted to get another pair, but can’t seem to find stirrup pants anywhere, except on ebay, where they come from China. As much as I love China and all things that come from there, if the tights and leggings I buy in the US are often too short on me, I doubt I’ll have any luck with one-size-fits-all stirrup pants from China. So the search continues, albeit not too seriously, because as my lack of updates shows, I’ve been busy.

So I went to Chicago. And Milwaukee. I have this habit of downplaying things (My standard response to “How’s London?” is either “rainy” or “expensive”), but it was one of the best weekends I’ve ever had. Truly. The kind that makes you immediately calculate when it can happen again (as you’re riding the Amtrak still a little buzzed from the night before), even though you know it will never happen again — not like that, at least. Everything went swimmingly, from meeting up with old friends and coworkers in Chicago, to celebrating my friend’s birthday Milwaukee-style (yes, a mechanical bull was involved. No, I did not ride it). Perhaps most importantly, I managed to reach that golden amount of alcohol where everything is hilarious, but you’re not sick. That is definitely something that I’ll likely not achieve again. Perhaps the only snafu of the trip was when the Chinese consulate told me I’m supposed to go to DC to get a Chinese visa because they have “jurisdiction” over people from Kentucky, despite Chicago being closer and easier for me to travel to. They still issued me a visa, but it’s only good for six months and two entries, unlike the usual multiple entries good for a year. It’s funny, last year when I went to Chicago my main reason was to get the Chinese visa. But this trip felt more about visiting friends and spending time in my former home, the visa was just a nice bonus. Even if I can no longer include the Chinese consulate in my yearly Chicago agenda, I think I’ll still be making yearly Chicago and Milwaukee visits. Megabus makes it hard not to.

And now some photos that likely won’t mean anything to anyone unless you’re familiar with the evolution of Chicago’s State Street:

Finally visited the Chicago Christkindlmarket and had some delicious mulled wine.

I visited the Chicago Christkindlmarket for the first time and had some delicious mulled wine.

The old Carson Pirie Scott building on State Street is now a Target!

The old Carson Pirie Scott building on State Street is now a Target!

Now there's a DSW on State Street?! Probably good I don't live near there anymore...

Now there’s a DSW on State Street?! Probably good I don’t live near there anymore…

The old Loehmann's is now a giant Walgreens, complete with an expansive wine section.

The old Loehmann’s is now a giant Walgreens, complete with an expansive wine section.

What are you doing, Old Navy? You belong on the other side of State Street!

What are you doing, Old Navy? You belong on the other side of State Street!

 

My kind of town

11 Dec

When I left Chicago over a year ago, I honestly didn’t know when –or if ever — I’d be back. But on Monday I found myself spending time on my old friend Megabus, instinctively pulling out my phone when we got on I-90 to call Stephen to tell him to pick me up at the stop soon. Except Stephen was in London, not Chicago, and I was going to a hotel when I arrived, not my apartment.

Were my life a movie, there probably would have been some sentimental music playing as I got off the bus and was reunited with my favorite American city. There may even have been one of those panoramic shots that show me taking everything in and smiling with great joy.

In reality I hopped off the bus, lugged my carry on bag to CVS, bought a one-day transit card, then sat at a bus stop for a half hour waiting for a bus that never came. It was not a glamorous reunion with my old home, but I was still glad to be back. I was almost surprised how not weird it was, just like coming back to the US wasn’t weird. I remembered the block system (which I miss terribly in London) and was even giving out directions to tourists like a local. I hit up State Street to go shopping like I used to do, but was surprised to see some of the stores I frequented were closed down or in the process of liquidating. It broke my heart, but I had to remind myself that I don’t live there anymore and may not be back anytime soon.

This is the only photo I took on my trip. I used to love that store and now both Chicago locations are going out of business.

Besides seeing old friends and stores, my main reason for visiting Chicago was to drop my visa application off at the Chinese consulate. You have to apply in person to get a visitor visa and the London consulate would only issue me a six-month one (“But I’ve gotten a year-long visa before!” “Yeah, in Chicago, not London.”) so I decided to go to Chicago to apply for the year-long one (which curiously costs the same as a six-month visa). I arrived at the consulate Tuesday morning ready to collect material for “Fun Times at the Chinese Consulate Part III,” but everything went smoothly. I barely had to wait and the crabby waits-for-no-one straight-out-of-a-Seinfield-episode clerk took my passport, paperwork, cashier’s check and overpriced UPS return envelope without a question asked. So much for good blogging material.

Chicago will always hold a special place in my heart and it was nice to pop in for 25 hours. Sometimes I wonder why I like Chicago so much, considering it’s high murder and crime rates and ridiculous sales tax and high prices (which still seem low compared to London). As a college student Chicago served as an oasis and escape from the world of academia in Evanston. I went downtown to go shopping with my roommates or went to nice restaurants with Stephen. Once in a while I’d even go down by myself just to walk around or do some studying with a pomegranate ginger ale at Water Tower Place. I admit the city lost a little of its charm when I decided to live there after university and had to deal with things like finding and (affording) a parking spot, but I still enjoy Chicago. London has a very different big city vibe, for better or for worse, but sometimes I just need to see a skyscraper, whether that be in Shanghai or Chicago.

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.

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