Megabus Hell

Now a full-fledged Megabus veteran, I’ve had plenty to gripe about. My customary 500 trip is rarely smooth, and it’s sometimes nightmarish.

A driver misinterprets a detour sign as saying I-66 leading out of Washington, DC is closed and makes an impromptu deviation through Richmond, adding many hours to the trip. What’s worse than heading west on I-66? Heading south on I-95.

On one trip, the AC must be turned on/off manually, so passengers are either freezing or boiling. After awhile, the driver forgets to turn it on at all. When I periodically feel the bus braking, even at 60 mph, I ask the bus driver. He describes some sort of governor that kicks in when something gets too hot. On another summer trip, I’m so cold (meaning everyone else is surely an icicle) I break down and buy a sweatshirt, choosing a Hokies logo instead of a trucker’s special. Next time I’m prepared with a fleece, but still have to buy a throw. Of course, the air gets turned down and I don’t even use it. (Thankfully, this is a regular stop so I’m able to return it on the way back.)

A pair of certified ball-busting drivers make one round trip particularly memorable. Outbound, the power drunk female takes special delight in pointing out that anyone drinking or using drugs will be summarily discharged on the spot. No one ever mentioned this before - not surprising since I’ve never, ever seen anyone even remotely engaged in this behavior. Then she circuits the bus demanding that we all keep the seats next to us completely clear. I am chastised for crossing my legs, which cause one foot to brush the edge of the bench. After being instructed to keep all our bags on the floor (so they will get well-coated with trip-scunge, or better yet, suddenly roll under someone’s feet and cause a fall), one woman is told she can not rest her purse on the next seat, even briefly. The reason? “You didn’t pay for that seat!”

Almost halfway through comes the woman driver’s turn at the wheel. Apparently the bus’s transmission balks at a certain speed (though it hasn’t been a problem for the male driver), causing us to thunk-thunk-thunk along. Instead of speeding up or slowing down slightly, the woman holds to this precise speed. Shortly we arrive in Christiansburg, the only boarding stop on the trip. The male driver, somehow tasked with reporting the equipment problem, can’t be more equivocal. He suggests proceeding to the usual rest stop (about 30 miles further) and monitoring the situation. When asked, “What if the bus doesn’t make it?” he replies, “I’ll do whatever you tell me to.”

So we sit in the barren Virginia Tech parking lot for over two hours while another bus is sent. No one even attempts to get off, maybe because they hear the female driver deny me permission to disembark for a five minute smoke break. (Ordinarily, I’m outside smoking and chatting with the drivers.) After moving to the replacement bus, we are told that because of the breakdown, the customary rest stop will be skipped. A few hours later, once the contents of everyone’s bladder has been transferred to the sewage storage tank via the onboard toilet, the female driver pulls into an interstate rest area and stops in a verboten zone. She races to the restroom, leaving the male driver scratching his head. After some grumbling from passengers, he announces we will have a brief stop so people who need to take medication can get food/drinks to go with it. The rest stop turns out to be a McDonald’s. Eventually we arrive at our destination, three hours late.

With the same pair of clowns as drivers, the return trip is almost as bad. The bus is packed to the gills, and freezing cold. When a slew of passengers complain, they’re told to get some coffee. Trading stories with the outraged customers, I hear about drivers who refuse to load luggage, telling passengers to climb in the hold and place their bags themselves (so much for insurance regulations) because of the driver’s “bad back”. I offer my tale of a driver who made me check everything but my tiny handbag, then placed his own triple-X duffle bag across two seats. The thing reminded me of the shoplifters of yesteryear. One passenger says she can’t wait to get home and go on Facebook, claiming her last driver told passengers that’s how to get  complaints noticed.

Apparently us cracking on the drivers doesn’t go unnoticed. After an “all aboard”, both of them race into the bus as a bevy queues up at the back door. I’m barely inside when the door slams behind me, leaving five or six passengers pounding on the door - a far cry from the first trips I made, when drivers fastidiously counted heads before pulling out, every time. The icing on the cake: the AC gets turned off completely. Like airplane cabins, the bus upholstery is saturated with stale people-odor. Even minus the rotten onion smell of human perspiration, the air is revolting.

On one recent trip, one besotted couple lounging in the grass has to sprint for the bus. The trip after that, a fellow I’ve been chatting with gets left at an interstate rest area. My repeated attempts to alert the driver are ignored because the individual I describe resembles another passenger. “His wife just met him and picked him up,” the driver insists. “That’s odd,” I say, “because his bad and his cell phone are on his seat.” Finally convinced, the driver turns around at the next exit. Then, because the misplaced passenger is at a rest area that cannot be accessed from the northbound lanes, we have to backtrack even further. The retrieved passenger takes this minor mishap in stride, relieved to see the bus pull in just as he’s about to climb into some southbound long-hauler’s rig. Later, I ask a clerk at a regular rest stop how often passengers get left behind. “You wouldn’t believe it,” she answers.

The bus stations themselves are no picnic. In DC, we are called to board people behind me in line skirt around and end up near the front. After standing at the head of the line for two hours in Knoxville, I am shoved aside by rowdy throngs shoving their tickets at the driver and scampering aboard ahead of me. Retrieving my bags in DC, a security guard tries to shoo me away before I can get my luggage strap secured. Apparently she thinks I am about to start unpacking my bags while other passengers bustle about demanding their stowed items.

I am amazed at what qualifies as baggage. One man brings a huge storage tote. A young woman shows up with a fully loaded two-drawer nightstand: the ultimate in hard-sided luggage. The calm, polite passengers I saw on my early trips have been replaced by folks who crowd the drivers so much that not a square foot of space is left to stack (or more aptly, toss) unloaded baggage. One man, sleeping off his football game binge (he and his buddies talk and laugh loudly throughout the first hour), claims my almost-whispered two minute cell phone conversation disturbs his sleep.

Do I still take Megabus? Yes, I do. Megabus and Ambien are made for each other. As my round-trip ticket price goes from $6 to $9 to $18 to $27 and now to $58 or $68 (and the bus windows get greasier and greasier, apparently because the alleged cleaners almost always overlook the ubiquitous head-smears), it’s still cheaper - and easier - than driving. More importantly, I’ve learned a few tricks. Now that all the buses (all I’ve seen, anyway) are double deckers, location is more important than ever. That’s all I’m going to say though. I have enough competition as it is.

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