Sunday, October 18, 2015

Greyhound – On Luggage and the New Jersey Turnpike

Since I moved back to New York City in February, I have been living the freelancer’s lifestyle, known to some as “only getting dressed 3-4 times a week”. In said freelancer lifestyle, there are weeks that I am busy enough that I go several nights without sleep and eat exclusively at the deli next door. Then there are weeks during which I spend most of my time staring at the ceiling and contemplating life questions, like what it’s like to have gills, whether I ran out of cookies, the meaning of my existence and if I’ll need a liquor license to open a bar on Mars.

When it became apparent I would be having one of the ceiling weeks in mid-October, I decided to make a trip down to Virginia to see my parents. After all, there’s nothing like relaxing among family while secretly regretting not going to med school (sorry, dad). Considering I basically booked my ticket to Thailand on the way to the airport, I thought I was pretty damn amazing for looking up train tickets to Virginia a whole three days before leaving. Amtrak thought I was amazing as well, going so far as to offer me a fare that is only roughly equivalent to half of their annual profits (i.e. $90). Unfortunately the website Amtrak built back in 2001 that runs on a combination of HTMLolz and Ruby on deRails finally crashed. After an unsuccessful day of refreshing the page while eating cookies, I gave up. Flights from New York to Richmond typically cost the same as a flight to Europe, so that left me with one choice: the bus.

As some of you may have read, I hate HATE the bus. Whether in Germany, Trinidad, on the way to third grade or in my dreams, something exceedingly stupid happens 9 out of 10 times that I ride the bus. Thanks to the bus, I have landed next to a crazy Turkish woman buying dog food at 4 AM, someone having a heart attack, and briefly as the leader of a Chinese drug ring. Still, my parents’ couches are really comfortable, so I swallowed my better judgment with a swig of milk and booked a ticket on Greyhound. Fortunately, Greyhound tickets now come pre-packaged with two custom death threats to expedite the boarding process.

Much of the clientele that rides Greyhound between New York City and Richmond, VA falls in between the “silent killer < -- > outspoken batshit crazy” scale. This set of passengers did not disappoint with a count including one guy who was drunk (two vomits before 8 AM), three people who might have been carrying cocaine, one person with a smelly fish sandwich, at least four people who were probably on the wrong bus, and one college student who desperately wanted to tell me every detail about her life. I have learned to adopt the silent killer persona while on Greyhound and was thankfully able to deflect all of their attempts at conversation.

On the whole, New Yorkers are concerned about eating healthy. Sadly this concern does not always extend to the carbon footprints of their healthy food, making our fine city constantly congested with trucks carrying the latest ridiculous food trend through the five boroughs. As the bus driver claimed, somehow in the short distance between the Port Authority and the tunnel out of the City, the Greyhound bus I was on was swiped by one of said trucks. I believe this particular truck was carrying organic, gluten free, non-fat, no calorie, no flavor custom-made hand-crafted quinoa kale almond crusted bars.*

At this point, I was already several songs deep into my “Mala’s Favorite Hits, Volume 1” album (circa 1999) and didn’t even notice the truck until after the bus was supposedly hit. The bus appeared to be operating as normal, so the driver continued on to the New Jersey Turnpike as planned. Not ten seconds after we passed the toll did I feel two heavy bumps. While American roads have many potholes and pitfalls, placing speed bumps in the middle of a toll lane is not one. Naturally, I thus assumed this bout of bus idiocy included a large flattened animal. The driver finally took it upon herself to stop the bus, which is when she uttered some of the worst words any passenger could ever hear, “Uh oh! The side luggage compartment is open!”

Praying to God that my future did not include a lawsuit against Greyhound to recoup compensation for my bag and everything it contained, I followed a few other flabbergasted passengers outside. Thankfully, my bag lay in its normal Greyhound state – crushed under the weight of a colossal suitcase. For once, the poor logical thinking skills of Greyhound luggage loaders paid off; the enormous suitcase had held mine place.

Screaming at the passengers that it was a hugely reckless for us to be out on the road, the bus driver then asked for a set of volunteers to walk a mile in the middle of New Jersey Turnpike traffic to recoup the missing bags. Not particularly needing to be a hero, I shrunk back into my seat and did my best to deflate any sign of muscle on my person. Armed with her troop of volunteers, the bus driver set out down the middle of one of America’s busiest highways while reiterated how dangerous it would be for anyone to leave the bus in her absence. At least seven people stepped outside to smoke a cigarette as soon as she was out of view.

45 minutes later, the driver and volunteers reappeared with predictable recon – two crushed suitcases, and a mountain of clothes and shoes. Surviving a Greyhound bus ride requires a special brand of defeatism, and the passengers whose luggage was destroyed were remarkably calm thanks to already having given up on life.

Together, my fellow passengers and I filled out a form on what happened and waited for a replacement bus. Then we waited more. And more. And still more. Then the 9 AM Greyhound bus to Richmond pulled up beside us, honked, and kept going because it was full. And then a State Trooper came to the scene to tell us to wait some more. After more than hour of waiting, I could feel the tension inside the bus rise, because like me, most people on the bus live in New York City and could have walked home by now. But, determined to fulfill her duties as guardian of our road trip, the bus driver matched the passengers’ agitation with increasingly nervous cries for everyone to shut up and sit down. There’s nothing like a completely frantic person reiterated they are to drive you the next six hours in a giant metal box.

In the midst of one of the bus driver’s shouting bouts complete with a flashlight held as a sword, the replacement bus finally pulled up. The second driver apologized for the delay, as the bus was sent from Philadelphia. Thank you, New York, for never having anything to spare. I retrieved my bag from the wide-open luggage compartment and placed it safely in the corner of the new bus. In the background, the driver continued to argue with the passengers, this time to assure them that the two-hour delay would only result in us being five minutes late to Richmond. For those who can understand English and do basic math, this was clearly a lie, though everyone was sufficiently exhausted from waking up at a God awful hour only to see the 9 AM bus fly past us five miles from our point of origin.

I found my new seat on the bus and resumed “Mala’s Favorite Hits, Volume 2” (circa 2000). For a brief moment after we pulled back into traffic, I found a burst of inspiration and typed out the first two paragraphs of this post. But of course, the defeatism that comes with Greyhound soon reappeared. So instead, I turned my music and attitude up to high and spent the rest of the ride debating the same life questions as my ceiling weeks. I’ve decided I would not like having gills.

* To be fair, these are great for the environment. Well, minus the fact they require 7 billion gallons of water per bar to manufacture.

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