“The bathroom is in the back of the bus. Gentlemen, if you miss…you have to see me! Clean it up please!!”
‘Straight-to-the-point’ Douglas would be driving me and about 75 other passengers aboard a bus headed three hours southeast of Chicago to Indianapolis.
“Barring any traffic, we should be there on time, let’s just be safe. Indianapolis will be there,” he said during his slightly odd and slightly amusing pre-trip spiel.
Megabus is a fairly new long-haul bus company in the US and Canada owned by the much larger Coach bus company based in New Jersey. Its marketing idea mimics that of many long-distance bus companies I’d seen abroad. On the side of their buses they tout a $1 ride. I have known a traveler or two to snag these deals, but they are few and far between. It’s usually for the rides that get in around midnight or leave very early in the morning and there are only a couple ‘dollar seats’ for each trip. But if you’re flexible and on a tight budget – it’s a great deal. In full disclosure I too got a very good deal on my tickets (read: free) because I’d be writing this story on Megabus. The tickets I did reserve would have cost me $29 each way which seems like a pretty good deal, I think.
Megabus offers affordable regional bus service between nearly 50 cities from five hubs at New York, Philadelphia, Washington DC, Chicago, and Toronto. If you are based in New York City, you can hop a bus to DC or Boston. The buses in the Midwest connect cities like Cincinnati, Cleveland, Detroit, Minneapolis, and Chicago.
It was Thanksgiving week so my bus was largely filled with college students heading home for the holiday. I was heading to Bloomington, Indiana for a visit with my cousins. Well, the bus was going to Indianapolis…then we’d drive the final hour down to Bloomington. There are some double-decker buses in their fleet, but we were stuffed into a standard coach. The bus itself seemed pretty new with plush fabric seats, metal foot rests, fold-down TV screens (not sure what would be showing on these as they were off the entire time), a bathroom in the back, and pull-down screens for the windows to block out the already-setting sun in the western sky. On all their buses and on their website, they promote the fact that they have free Wi-Fi on the bus – a big plus to me since I was going to make this my office for the next three hours. But, to my dismay (and discomfort) the seats were pretty tight with not as much legroom causing my laptop to barely fit on my lap without the screen bending in against the seat in front of me, making typing a slightly cramped affair.
In fact, as I was rushing to the bus stop, located right outside Union Station in downtown Chicago, I wondered why I didn’t just look into taking a train. Or did I look? I couldn’t even remember. But it was too late now, I was already a sardine in this metal tube on wheels heading to Hoosier country.
So what can I really say about a bus ride? It was a pretty standard inter-state type bus, wrapped in a slick marketing campaign. But at least, the US is catching on with offering more public transportation routes to and fro. Now if only our train system could be upgraded to be on par to that of the European Union.
All that was missing was a small snack cart or offering. I was starving and had hoped to grab a sandwich on the way but was running late and did not want to make a fuss and possibly miss the bus.
A few days later, I boarded my return bus with a slight feeling of dread. But this one was a double-decker. It was like I was in London, but without anything British at all. I climbed upstairs and found an aisle seat next to a thin girl (have to admit, this is a plus for obvious reasons). This bus seemed a bit roomier and my knees weren’t hitting the seat back in front of me—keep in mind I’m only 5’4” tall. I was typing this post as we cruised through the fields of corn and soybeans and wind farms of Indiana. This bus seemed to be full of a mix of clientele and not just college students like the first ride. So all in all, not too bad. Not that college students are bad. Well, some are. Anyway, I realized on the way back that I’ve been out of the traveler mode for quite some time, so, really, for the price, this bus was clean and comfy. Of course I didn’t pay for the bad breath of the passenger next to me. She was graciously skinny and didn’t crowd me, but when she woke up from her nap…wooo…it smelled like something died in there.
Oh…and just like on the ride out, the Wi-Fi stopped working. If they are going to advertise free Wi-Fi on their buses, they really should improve the system since it only seemed to work 50% of the time on both my trips.
To see if they are in your city or to book your next bus ride—check out Megabus.