Surprise Beach Day

The folks at Megabus believe that any sidewalk serves the same purpose as a “station” or “shelter.” Last August, when I arrived at a barren strip of asphalt by the Hudson River, I was excited to get some sun. After an hour, I was curious about where the bus was, and after two, about the survival rate of skin cancer. I spent the third on my phone, penning a screed against shining magnifying glasses on ants. By the time it came, I'd assigned everyone in line a Lost archetype; I was Kate because I was sexy and had a backpack.

My skin started peeling before we reached our destination, so I joined a long line of country artists before me by leaving a piece of myself in Chattanooga.

The Realist

Merriam-Webster defines a “realist” as “one who accepts and deals with things as they really are.” This reminds me of a driver who, despite the sign on our bus reading “Baltimore,” pulled into a White Castle in New Jersey and announced, “This bus isn't going to Baltimore.”

And wouldn't you know, he was right. As I sat on my suitcase, squinting through the engine smoke with my chin on my fist like “The Thinker,” I learned a valuable lesson about “hope.”

The Rehoboth Renegades

On one trans-Pennsylvania trip, I got sweaty around Scranton. A woman in front of me was also bothered; “JOHN,” she whispered to her husband. “Are you, like, burning?”

“YES, Barb. On FIRE,” he clarified. Barb stood up and walked to the front of the bus.

“Excuse me,” she addressed the driver. “Is there a problem with the AC?”

“Yes,” he said. “It's broken.”

“Well,” said Barb. “Can you fix it?”

“I'm driving,” said the driver. “I can't stop until Delaware.”

Barb was already dialing when she returned to her seat.

“Yes, hello,” she began. “My family and I are currently aboard one of your vehicles. The AC is broken and,” she lowered her voice, “your driver refuses to do anything about it.”

John grabbed the phone.

“Listen up,” he said. “It's 80 degrees and this bus is a fucking tinderbox. We've got old people on here,” an elderly couple to my right perked up, surprised at their sudden turn as bargaining chips, “and we're trapped.” John put on his best Argo face.

“Do you really want their blood on your hands?!”

There was a moment of silence, then he hung up; the two of them fumed for an hour, which didn't help the temperature. When we finally pulled into a rest stop, they cornered our driver at the door.

“Look,” he said. “I'm not an engineer.”

“That's it!” cried John, his eyes coal. “We're finding another bus. We can't fucking take it in there. And we're from Rehoboth!!”

He grabbed his suitcase and stomped across the Delaware cement with the indignant colonial glare of George Washington crossing a nearby river, Barb in his wake. I munched an Auntie Anne's pretzel and watched them approach every bus in the lot, only to be turned away, no room at the inn.

The minute before departure, they sulked back onto the bus, and although it may have been a mirage, I swear I saw the driver give a small, satisfied smirk in the rearview mirror.

Mr. Fix-It

Sometimes your driver is an engineer.

On a spring ride in Virginia, I looked out the window and glimpsed what I first thought was a mockingbird but turned out to be the door of the bus flying off its hinges. Our driver pulled over, screwed the bolts back in, and went right back to earning what can't be nearly enough money.

The Road Warrior

On my last trip before COVID, a mother was talking to her daughter behind me in line.

“I can't believe it's so late, honey!” she said. “The last one was right on time.”

Then from in front of me, a cold, soulless cackle. A woman turned around, her leathered visage criss-crossed with wrinkles like so many interstates.

“That,” she said, “is the exception. Not the rule.”

For the next hour, she spun her tales.

“The driver forgot to get gas before Canada,” she said. “And the stations there have a contract with Greyhound. We hit ‘E' a few miles out of Buffalo and sat on the highway for three hours. I saw a moose and thought about riding it.”

The mother shivered, held her daughter close.

“The worst was Cedar Rapids,” the vet continued, “We were at the top of a hill and the breaks broke. We went down at about 100, and the driver got on the intercom and told us to pray. It must have worked, though, 'cause we just hit a deer and spun out.”

She drew on her cigarette, exhaled the smoke like so much exhaust.

“I didn't ride MB for five years after that. But I came crawling back…”

“Okay,” decided the mother. She picked her daughter's My Little Pony duffle off the cement and led her down the street to a taxi. The woman and I watched as they drove off into the sunset.

“Well,” she turned to me. “Not everyone's cut out for the road.” And with that, she buckled her helmet and boarded the bus, as I followed reluctantly in her shadow.