Sunday, September 16, 2007

Megabus, baby!

I could write a book, but I’m old, tired and irritable, very irritable. Nothing negative has happened in the past 72 hours to make me that way, it’s just a fact of life.

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times. (That’s catchy, I should trademark that.) Actually I had a great weekend. I wish I could say that more often.

I spent the weekend in Stinktown, my first since December 2005. Dang, it doesn’t seem like it has been that long, but it’s true, it’s true. (Copyright Kurt Angle. No, I’m not a pro wrestling geek.)

I’m not a tree hugging son of a bitch, but I have been intrigued by a mass transit concept introduced to the United States a few years ago: Megabus. Megabus has a very limited schedule of bus routes in this country, but it’s trying to revolutionize the bus industry.

I learned about Megabus a couple of years ago. Somehow I wound up on the e-mail list for Megabus press releases. The company offers coach bus trips to several destinations in several states and recently added a limited line in California, which includes destinations in Nevada and Arizona. Several months ago Megabus added a direct line from Minneapolis to Milwaukee. Since that time I have been anxious to try it.

Megabus has bus stops, not terminals. You don’t go to a de facto homeless shelter to board the bus, you go to a random intersections in a downtown district, typically. It’s a bit odd, but it’s effective.

I rode Greyhound between Stinktown and Minneapolis a few times during my college years, but once I graduated to a Toyota Cressida lo those many years ago my Greyhound days were over.

Megabus offers tickets as low as $1 each way, if you’re lucky enough to book your trip early. I could have booked one of those $2 round trips earlier this summer for a weekend in August, but I didn’t act quickly enough. I didn’t want to travel that weekend anyway, I wanted to stay here in God’s Country and bicycle 65 miles in the rain as part of an organized bike ride. So had I booked it at the low low price of $2.50 I would have flushed all that cash down the toilet. (There’s a 50-cent booking fee for tickets.)

So I ended up booking a weekend in Stinktown for $16.50 round-trip, and that weekend was this past weekend.

Megabus pimps itself as a low-cost alternative, and it smells like a bus service that is designed for business travelers on a budget. It makes sense. If I’m a two-bit drug dealer who needs to get to Chicago to pick up a brick of cocaine, I can roll into a Greyhound bus terminal with a stack of greenbacks and buy my way onto the next bus to Chitown.

Megabus has a limited number of seats available on a daily basis and you have to book online, so if you’re a felon who is running from an outstanding warrant, you’re probably not using a credit card to book bus tickets online. That helps keep riff raff off Megabus, I figure.

The drawbacks to Megabus are plenty. I had to be in downtown Minneapolis before 7 a.m. on Friday to catch the one bus to Stinktown. No problem, of course, because I like being up until 1 a.m. the night before departure, getting up at 5 a.m., driving into Uptown Minneapolis to park my car and then taking Metro Transit into downtown so I can walk seven blocks to the Megabus bus stop.

Megabus doesn’t make a dozen stops per 100 miles like Greyhound, but when I drive to Stinktown I can stop at exit 28, which I do any time I travel through Wisconsin via I-94. I also have the luxury of stopping at adult bookstores that show up inexplicably along interstate exits between God’s Country and Stinktown. (After all these years I have yet to do so, but it’s only a matter of time.)

Considering how far $16.50 will get you in this day and age, I can hardly complain about the inconveniences. And for the most part Megabus was devoid of riff raff.

But I learned one important thing: you may need a credit card to buy a ticket, but that does very little to keep level 3 sex offenders off the bus. My ticket was a printout of a confirmation e-mail. The printout has unique ticket numbers on it, but it doesn’t identify who I am, so the driver has no idea if I bought the ticket. If the bus crashes and burns to ashes Megabus can present the media with a list of who bought the tickets, but that won’t tell company representatives who actually used the tickets.

Megabus helps keep riff raff off the bus, but not completely.

And lucky me, my trip to Stinktown turned out to be slightly more colorful than I cared for. Everyone on the bus seemed to be mentally stable, except for one woman. I could tell she was 13 cards short of a full deck when she was dropped off at the bus stop.

We all boarded the bus in downtown Minneapolis and headed for the University of Minnesota, our second and final stop before heading to Stinktown. After picking up mostly college co-eds at the U, we were about to depart when psycho woman chirped loudly from her seat in the middle of the bus, “Hey bus driver, can we get a movie on?” (The bus had several overhead monitors, but they weren’t used.)

The driver heard this as he was climbing into his seat and yelled back (due to lack of a microphone and speakers) that “there’s no movie on this bus.”

The woman chirped up a few times after that. The driver yelled back, asking her to keep it down. I was a bit nervous at this point.

But the whack job kept quiet for a while after that.

Many people dozed off during the trip, but I don’t sleep well when traveling, unless I’m exhausted, so I was awake most of the time.

I did doze off for a few minutes, however, so I missed the psycho working her way back to the token restroom on the bus. (I try to sit as far away from that door as possible.)

I regained consciousness and heard a woman behind me asking, “Are you OK?” She was speaking to the psycho woman in the can, evidently. Psycho was spending a lot of time in there, it turns out.

I was awake when some dude helped the slightly overweight psycho back to her seat. (Walking was a challenge while the bus was in motion, evidently.) He brought her back to her seat and she hugged him quite enthusiastically. The dude was a little weird from the onset, I determined, but I’m too tired to detail that goofball now.

So all was quiet again, but 15 or 20 minutes later the psycho got up and made her way to the back of the bus, again. And she spent plenty of time in the can. Nobody asked her if she was OK, but I heard her let out a few random hoots and hollers while inside the confessional.

Side note: I have never used a charter bus restroom, but I have to assume, based upon appearance, that U.S. Sen. Larry Craig would never use it if he was traveling by bus. It has to be too small to accommodate his “wide stance.”

After another long session in the can, the psycho was escorted to her seat by the same goofball.

What Megabus didn’t tell me online or via confirmation e-mail is that we’d stop at a traveler’s plaza outside Madison for 20+ minutes. (It was announced as a 15-minute stop.) I got off the bus simply to stretch my legs. I planned to have lunch in Stinktown so I bypassed convenience store snacks.

As the bus started rolling out of the parking lot, the psycho chirped again. “Hey bus diver, can we get a movie on or somethin’?” She chirped three or four times. The driver ignored her. The thought of yelling out in response to her crossed my mind, but I didn’t pull the trigger. I’m sure everyone on the bus would have appreciated it had I done so. Too bad I’m not nearly bold, or beautiful, enough to take matters into my own hands.

The rest of the trip to Stinktown was uneventful. Although we arrived 30 minutes behind schedule and had to endure the psycho, it wasn’t a painful experience.

Many of us got off the bus in Stinktown, but several people remained, as the bus was continuing on to Chicago. The psycho was standing part way in the aisle as we were trying to get off, saying “God bless you, college students.” Our bus stop, near the Amtrak station, had several new passengers waiting to take our place.

Construction in downtown Stinktown made it tough for Chip to navigate to the proper intersection to pick me up, but I was able to catch up with him a block away. (My adventures in Stinktown, and Chicago, shall wait until another day.)

My biggest regret about taking Megabus in the summer was that my only option for departure on Sunday was at 11:25 a.m.

In the winter I wouldn’t care so much, but it would have been nice to be stick around Stinktown until 5 p.m. and then drive back to God’s Country. When I travel on a Sunday I tend to leave earlier in the day during the winter than I do in the summer. A breakdown on a Sunday evening is a major inconvenience any time of the year, but in the summer you won’t freeze to death. Having to be downtown shortly after 11 a.m. on Sunday was kind of a bummer.

The return trip was quiet and uneventful. It turned out the psycho was back on the bus, but she must have taken her medication, as she was quiet and a non-issue the entire way. The bus arrived in Minneapolis about 45 minutes behind schedule, but that didn’t surprise me, based upon Friday’s experience.

Will I use Megabus again? Perhaps. I’m not a tree hugger, so using mass transit doesn’t give me that warm feeling below the waistline, but I like the idea you can travel really cheap with minimal riff raff if you plan ahead. I don’t plan to use Megabus in the summer months, but I’ll keep an eye on reservations for the winter. I will book any round trip I can get for $2.50 because even if I can’t make the trip that weekend, that’s half of what I’d lose in a non-winning blackjack hand. If I can book four trips that cheap this winter, yet only use one of them, I’d still make out better than I did this past weekend. And this weekend didn’t exactly cost me an arm or a leg.

As soon as I win the lottery, however, I’m renting a Hummer and driving to Stinktown for one hell of a happy hour celebration.


Tequila Mockingbird said...

WTF? where the hell is "stinktown"? i tried to read your post but i kept becoming distracted because i didn't know where the hell stinktown was. a place with a name like that certainly does not invite tourism. why not just call it "rancidville"...

Arthur Fonzarelli said...

I had hoped that by referencing Milwaukee periodically, it would be obvious that Stinktown is a nickname for Milwaukee, but perhaps not.

Stinktown has a nice ring to it. Rancidville, however, is not bad.

Tequila Mockingbird said...

you suck for not having a way to send you email. but anyway, happy talk like a pirate day. honestly, by 9 am i wanted to punch people in the gut, but i did not.

and dont be alarmed that you read my blog every day. i warned everyone it would be addictive.

Dinesh Ramde said...

Phonzie, your talents are wasted at whatever paper you're languishing at (I know, that ends with a preposition but it would have been too awkward to rearrange grammatically). Even when there's not much going on in your stories, your style and wit make your posts quite entertaining.

Methinks me ought to check out Ms. Mockingbird's blog. If she was good enough to make your lofty Links list, my expectations will be high.

Leonard Okoth said...

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