Megabus travel is the new bourgeois, that’s one point. If you didn’t already know it bus travel has proliferated in the last several years, at least in and out of NYC. And other places, too, because my son and I took Megabus in the Midwest last summer and we’re taking it from Chicago to Minneapolis and back for the holidays at the end of the year. It’s cheap. The economy’s bad. People in NYC don’t have cars and if they do they leave them home and hop on the bus.
Bus travel used to be Greyhound and the opposite speed of that lithe little dog. No more. And it’s not just Megabus, you have Bolt bus and any number of companies that can be seen boarding people on various corners around my neighborhood. Megabus is double-decker, it’s got Wi-Fi, it goes straight to the destination city, of which there are many, Boston, Baltimore, Philadelphia, Toronto, Syracuse, Rochester, DC, just to name a few.
So my son and I are giant fans of Megabus and for Thanksgiving we took off to Baltimore. The rest of our family is in the Midwest so we don’t go there for T-day—we save that trip for the end of the year. We used to go to my first-cousin-once-removed’s (that’s a real thing) house up in the Bronx but we got into a disagreement—if you’d want to call it that—and now we’re on our own. The first year we were a little shell-shocked but had a great dinner at Cuba Café on 8th Avenue, sadly now closed. But after that we went Megabus—last year, Philadelphia, this year Baltimore.
The Thursday of Thanksgiving was beautiful by anyone’s gauge and we were off work and school so there was absolutely nothing not to like. We hung around the house in the morning and headed over to 9th and 33rd in plenty of time for our 1:15 departure because we know Megabus routinely overbooks. And when we get there we find they now have an entire staging area set up next to the ominous and newly christened Manhattan West development project (which is going to mean the end of my neighborhood—but that’s another story).
Wow, Megabus has really gotten fancy, we think, kind of in an overall panic as we see a line of people half-a-football-field long waiting behind the Baltimore sign. At the same time one of the workers points out that my reservations are for the 1:15 a.m. bus and we already missed it.
My son is fulltime disgusted as we go to the standby line but at least we’re the first ones in it. As it turns out the Baltimore and DC lines are mixed together and the folks are getting rowdy because a DC bus apparently broke down and bumped all those people back one hour. “They’re such losers,” I throw out to a woman next to me. “Megabus always overbooks.”
“But you keep coming back,” she says, in a sad, disapproving way that makes it sound as if I’m enduring an abusive relationship.
“Well, maybe I do but it’s my bus,” I’m about to say, before my son drags me over to the standby line. The DC people get loaded onto a new bus that pulls up and my son and I somehow manage to cram ourselves into a 1:30-Baltimore, and we’re off.
Hotels are pure paradise, that’s another point. We stayed in the Hilton, forget it, and they had the whitest, fluffiest blankets and pillows you’ve ever seen. We walked into a mini, encapsulated land-of-removal-from-life and my soul just soared. I looked at that bed and the locked door and the keycard we had to go in and out and I realized that nothing could touch me for two days. My son and I went on the treadmills in the workout room—as if I have time for that in real life—lifted a few weights, drank their gratis bottled water and soaked in the sanctity of the little contained world that was now ours.
My son was able to lounge in the hot tub and pool and sauna but I had forgotten my swimsuit under the pressure of his 10-year-old timekeeper-self when we were leaving so I had to sit on the side. And that was fine. I kept nodding off at the table by the pool like some kind of heroin addict but it was peaceful and I watched my son and it all felt perfectly blissful and surreal. Back at the room, meanwhile, there was an all-day Sponge Bob marathon on the giant flat-screen TV just to keep us thoroughly removed from reality (or else oddly connected to it).
Baltimore is Charm City and The Wire, another point. I didn’t know Baltimore was known and Charm City but it is, and it’s charming. The stadium is in the middle of downtown. The Inner Harbor is supremely pretty and that’s where we got this picture here, just for you. We only checked a couple of the neighborhoods, Federal Hill and a glimpse of Little Italy, since my son was having a fit about doing something that I wanted to do. (He wanted to go on a submarine, which we did.) Federal Hill is a gorgeous, expensive-looking neighborhood filled with row houses just behind the harbor. Quite the opposite of the row houses we saw on the city bus on the way to the White Marsh park-and-ride, which were rough-looking and boarded up—The Wire.
Ending is hard, leaving is hard—another point. Megabus left us at the White Marsh park-and-ride on Thursday when we came in. It was dark and everybody else seemed to be getting picked up in a car by people they knew. My son and I got these vague suggestions to go in the direction of IKEA and Sears and we crossed this moonscape of a vast, empty parking lot as well as a highway before coming upon the lit beacon of a movie theatre in a dark, empty mall.
We went in like strangers in a strange land and found out where to wait for the city bus. On the way in I had tripped and sprawled on the grass by the highway as my son towed his camo duffle-bag-on-wheels over the curb. It seemed that only a second later we were tearing across the now-populated parking lot and running for the Megabus on the way home. We were laughing then but we weren’t laughing now.
My son and I walked in Central Park the next day—Sunday—and talked for hours about how we used to baby-sit together when he was young and what the people we worked for were like and the various outrages we had suffered before I got a better job and became a teacher. He loves hearing adult-like stories and he couldn’t get enough of them. And it was good for me, too, to think of all the phases we’d been through.
I kept telling myself in Baltimore that I wanted to remember what it was like to wander around that little Mecca of hotels surrounding the Convention Center. To step across the street to the Marriott to get espresso at 6 a.m. because the one thing the Hilton didn’t have was a coffee shop. I didn’t want to forget all that sense of escape and the fact that for two nights I wasn’t worried about our rent bill and or my job or my mom or how things seem to speed up sometimes and just spin. I tried to retain the image of those fluffy pillows backed up by the Sponge Bob marathon (un)reality but it all vanished mercilessly as I raced for the subway on Monday morning, late again.
Final point—it’s totally worth the adventure no matter how hard you crash when you come down. How do you weigh in on that?