After a few expensive trips to New York City I quickly learned that, despite the cramped seats and jungle-like heat, Peter Pan Bus was the way to travel.
My father calls it traveling with "the great unwashed;" while he absolutely has a valid point, so valid that I have in fact, sat next to people who I believed had not washed in a while, I don't have the flair for traveling the expensive route for cheap like he does. He is the man who gets upgrades to first class for free, or has (through proper and legal and ethical routes) convinced the police helicopter to assist him in official state business avoiding hours long ferry rides. I have no such flair, but upon his urging, I tried alternate ways of traveling. First I tried the Acela. Sure, it was fairly luxurious and clean and quiet, but it was also $86 each way, and that was at an off peak and therefore inconvenient time, before the gas crisis and with my AAA discount. It cut nearly an hour off the trip to NYC, but the money was just excessive, especially given the fact that Jam and I were living high (not on drugs, people) in those first few months of courtship. Next I turned to the regular old Regional Service, still expensive, but around $100 round trip and slightly more manageable-feeling. The train was cramped and filled with people pretending to have money when really they didn't necessarily have money, they just didn't want to be seen on the bus. Seriously, the airfare on JetBlue is less than the peak ticket price of the Regional Service. I had bitchy women on laptops and cell phones city next to me. In the Quiet Car, which I tried once in an attempt to escape the dozens of collegiate beauty queens on their cell phones on their way to NYU and Columbia to visit their boyfriends, the businessmen reading their Times and Globes would glare at you over their newspapers every time you shifted, opened a food wrapper, or zipped your purse. I found the Regional Service equally as irritating as the few times I had braved the bus.
What finally turned me off hideous Amtrak were the DELAYS. Good sweet Jesus, the delays were unreal. Jam and I wasted many an hour or two or three sitting on the floor of Grand Central hoping that maybe, just maybe, the train would roll in a little early from DC, but no, it never happened. I actually can't remember ever leaving NYC for Boston on time. Even when we did, there always seemed to be an obstacle. One time as we were pulling into the 128 Station, where my sister was waiting, a huge lightning storm moved over the area and struck the station and tracks. Of course, the train lost power and was stranded on the tracks about 20 feet from the platform for nearly an hour. The final straw may have occurred last summer, when I stupidly thought it would be fun to spend some extra time with Jam and catch the 3:15AM Regional Service back home - I'd roll into Boston at 7:30am and still be on time for work. Getting out of bed was hideous, but not nearly as hideous as the garrulous man in front of me who had a comment for every single thing he saw outside the window. I really wanted to kill him when he said to his sons "BOYS. BOYS. LOOKIT. LOOKIT. Connecticut's right outside our window. Doesn't it look like a big green jungle??!!" "SHUTTUP DAD" they replied. After that he did shut up, but then he proceeded to snore. Hours later, I awoke to the melodious sound of a screaming conductor "GET UP GET UP GET UP!!!" She screamed, walking down the aisles and slamming the backs of the seats with her arms. "We're pulling into Providence. We're a commuter train now, all the seats will be FULL so GET UP!" Wow.
There were certain benefits to switching to the bus. For the most part, Peter Pan adheres to a reliable schedule, and if there is a back up or delays, another bus is sent to deal with the backlog of passengers. I've never been on a bus that's been seriously delayed due to weather. Granted I haven't exactly been on the bus in the midst of a blizzard, but I've travelled to NYC during a serious morning snowstorm in Boston, rain, thunder, lightning, hail and everything in between. Also, the bus generally takes just as long as the Regional Service, and sometimes it's even faster! I have sat on a bus for nearly 6 hours before, which is misery, but when you consider the hours I spent on the floor at Grand Central it's all equal.
What the bus does offer is confined space with 54 other passengers and an opportunity to overhear conversations. Most of them are incredibly dull and even stupid, but a few are real gems. Once I had an old lady tell me her entire life's history, and it was rather colorful. Then there was an entire family - I still don't know what nationality they were. Well, ok, they were Americans, but not all born here. There were 3 generations of them on their way to Georgia to visit family, a mother, her married daughter and her husband and their baby, and two grown sons. The baby fussed the entire way down and the grandmother narrated the crying "ooww mommy!!!" she'd cry "ohhh mommmmy give me some meeeeelk! Ohhhh I am soo hungry! Ohhh but you don't want me to get tooo fat, no???!! Ohhh but feeed me!" As if this wasn't enough her oldest son kept interjecting "lookit the pra-jects. Yeah. That's what NYC is all about, tha prah-jects. Yeah, look at them project boys on the cornah" I cringed. True we were in Harlem, true we were near projects, but seriously, is that necessary?? We go by a movie set. "oooohh maybe they are making a movie with someone famous!" says Granny. "Yeah, a prah-ject movie" says son. I turn to the boy next to me who had been fastidiously studying his LSAT book. He looks at me and shakes his head. "If I die and wake up in hell, I'll know I'll be there because I'll be on this bus. This is my hell" I say to him, but we both laughed.
One of the most special bus occurrences happened over New Year's Weekend. I left work early so I could spend the afternoon in Manhattan with Jamaal. In line I noticed a mother daughter pink duo. Both were dressed in head to toe pink, the one difference being that the mother actually had pink shoes, while the daughter was rocking some white Uggs. Daughter had bleached platinum hair with visible roots, a ton of makeup, including dark lip liner, a Tiffany's heart silver chain, a pink velvet bebe lounging suit, skin tight, and the aforementioned white Uggs. She looked like a beast. I mean, she was a pretty girl, but you would've had to strip about 8 layers of makeup off of her to see that. Her cell phone was literally glued to her ear, and remained there for almost the entire 4 hour trip. Just as we are approaching the Bronx and I am starting to feel the glimmer of hope that it's only a matter a hour or so before I get off the bus, the driver veers to the right to take the GW Bridge. This is a common Manhattan-evading tactic practiced by Peter Pan drivers and it annoys me no end. The GW is crossed, Manhattan is paralleled as we drive south down New Jersey, and then we cut back through the Lincoln Tunnel. I swear this saves absolutely no time. The GW and the tunnel are always crowded. The only nice thing is the pleasing view that you see when you are going into the Lincoln Tunnel - you look right across the river into Manhattan, and I think it's my favorite view of New York, much like my favorite view of Boston is actually from the harbor - everything is so sparkling and clean from there. Anyways, we start to cross the GW and I hear bebe lounge suit go "Oh my God. oh my God. Why are we going this way?? Um Hi? Hello? Can anyone help me?" Everyone just does what they've been doing for the whole trip - we ignore her. She dials her phone "Mom? MOOOMM?? It's me, yeah hi, why did I just go by a sign that says "Welcome to New Jersey?? No I don't know! No I asked but no one answered." She starts again "Excuuuuuse me? Driver? People? Hi Why are we in New Jersey?" I get irritated and whip around and say "this is the way we go. We cross the GW Bridge to avoid the Bronx and Manhattan. Then we parallel Manhattan as we cut through Jersey, then shoot back through the Lincoln Tunnel and we're literally right at Port Authority." I could tell I was moving to fast for her. "Um Ok. But do we stop and drop off people in New Jersey." "No" I say to her, staring at her vacant eyes. She gets back on the phone "So we're totally lost" she says. Ugh. When we finally get to the Lincoln Tunnel entrance, there's a ton of traffic, of course. We roll along the ramp and get high enough to see Manhattan. As I am enjoying the view, blondie dials her phone. "Brian" she shrieks "Oh My GOD I am so lost on the bus!! Yeah. I can see New York, yeah, but it's so far away. I dunno, like wicked wicked far. BRIAN! I am looking at New York from ACROSS THE OCEAN!!!!" Finally an older man turns around "Honey, that's the Hudson, we're about a mile as the crow flies from Manhattan and you'll be at Port Authority in about 8 minutes." "Oh my God," she says "I must be like, mildly retarded or something." Heh, you're telling me.
Last weekend I was pleased to board the bus in Boston and find it fairly empty. I even had a seat to myself. The bus driver was jolly and joked with the passengers. When the woman in front of me copped an attitude about us being 15 minutes late leaving the terminal he said "see if you got your little attitude going on when I get you to the city on time." She sniffed indignantly but didn't reply. Heh. We even took a pee break at McDonald's! After 50 pit stops at shady Roy Roger's I wanted to jump on the bus driver for taking us to McDonald's. He even talked to the kid who gave the McDonald's manager attitude. "You gotta chill, man" he said when we got back on the bus. I settled down happily with my Animal Behavior book and snack wrap and we made decent progress towards the city, free of traffic. We sped down 2nd Ave, a new view for me, and cut through the park. As we were making our way through the park the bus driver said "um I think something is wrong with the bus. I might have to stop." No biggie I thought, we're about 14 blocks from Port. "Get your coats on, just in case" he says. We make nearly to the end of the park when I notice that there is smoke coming from either side of the bus. Then there is that lovely burning smell, which I recognized from all the times the MBTA trains have caught on fire. The bus lurches onto 66th and the driver runs out with a fire extinguisher. Attitude in front of me catches my eye and shakes her head. "Wow" I said, "Not what I really wanted to see." "Get off the bus!" the bus driver shouts at us. "Get your stuff and get off this bus and stand on the sidewalk towards the front of the bus. Get away from the vehicle!!!!!" People are not frantic, which is good, but they're not exactly moving either. Then a woman in the very back pipes up "People, the bus is on fire and I'm in the back and there's a gas tank back here and if the fire is big enough and hot enough it could blow up and I'll be the first to die." Because I am evil I thought 'I'd prefer you being the first to go' then felt like a bad person. I wasn't too worried because 1. the driver thought he could handle the fire with an extinguisher and 2. if full out fire was imminent, we would've been bailing out the windows and 3. the gas tanks and engine aren't THAT close to each other. She kept complaining though and this hurried people along.
As soon as we were assembled on the sidewalk people started in on the bus driver: "where are we? how long will it be til we get to Port Authority? Can you give me my bag? What's happening?" The poor guy is on the phone with Port trying to figure out whether or not it's safe to get back on the bus or should people wait for a new bus or what. The a##hole kid who made such a big scene in McDonald's talks to two skinny blondes who were on the bus together: "the whole trip has been f*cking ridiculous, absof*ckinglutely ridiculous." I wanted to say "what has been ridiculous about it, exactly? The fact that someone sat next to you and that pissed you off? The fact that McDonald's didn't give you the right order because you ordered while talking on your cell phone? The fact that the bus driver told you to chill because you were an embarrassment to him and every other passenger on the bus when you made a scene at the rest stop? The fact that he told you you made too much noise on your phone, or the fact the bus caught on fire and the driver is trying to handle a situation, that's totally out of his control, in a manner that would most convenience you?" Of course I didn't, cause he was obviously a confrontational person who would just start freaking out at you if you dared say anything. So I just stood on the sidewalk listening to everyone bitch. Finally, the skinny blondes became so obnoxious about demanding their luggage that the bus driver whipped open the cargo holds and said "TAKE YOUR BAGGAGE AND LEAVE I DON'T EVEN CARE!!!!!!!" Heh. So everyone made like a vulture at a lion kill and swooped in to grab their luggage. The blondes and the ahole guy got their suitcases. I expected them to march towards the nearest subway station or hail a taxi. Instead, they stood helplessly on the street corner and said "so, um, like, where are we?" HA!
I called Jamaal and he said "the nearest subway stop is 66th and Broadway. Take the 1 to 34th." "Awesome." I think the three morons were probably still traipsing through the city when I arrived in the lobby of Jam's office not 15 minutes later. Sigh. Some people. They do make for a good story though, don't they??!