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Do not ride the Megabus (triple exclamation point extremely necessary)!!!

This is what the Megabus looks like after it has been set on fire:

The smokin' Megabus

No, I did not set it ablaze, but after my recent experiences I would not blame anyone who did. As with most disaster victims, I had no idea what was going on until it was over. I was confused when the Megabus driver pulled over to the Kankakee rest area on northbound I-65, because there were no scheduled stops between Indianapolis and Chicago. Yes, the construction had forced us into one lane and an accident in that one lane had turned the freeway into a linear parking lot for an hour, but we’d finally gotten past the congestion. Why were we still traveling at 25mph?

When we pulled into the parking lot and the driver dove for the fire extinguisher under the front seat, I began to realize something was wrong. Then he opened the door and white smoke started to billow in, at which time I almost pissed myself and decided I needed that rest stop after all. I grabbed my backpack and hustled down the narrow aisle into a cloud of white smoke.

The smokin' Megabus wheels

During the stop and go traffic, our bus had decided it would rather stop and go at the same time. The brakes had locked up and we’d been smokin’ down the highway for I do not know how long. We had to wait almost three hours for a replacement bus to be sent through the mess of construction from Chicago, which according to the maps at the Kankakee rest area was 65 miles away. This is why I had Chex Mix, Junior Mints, and a Fiber One Peanut and Oats bar for dinner Thursday evening. It is also why I finished the book I’d thought would last the whole trip to and from Chi-town. This left me plenty of time to mentally inventory the items in my suitcase and decide whether I would miss anything that might have been charred to a crisp in the luggage compartment.

Thankfully, I did not have to be in Chicago at a certain time, however one of my fellow travelers was supposed to catch a charter bus to New York for the weekend, which I’m pretty sure didn’t happen. The replacement bus finally came, we transferred all our luggage (which thankfully hadn’t been barbecued), and we were off to Chicago with an overall 4 hour delay. I had been planning on taking the Chicago bus to my hotel, but decided not to risk another bus incident, and took a cab instead.

At this point, I was willing to forgive the Megabus corporation for the trouble. Busses break. That can’t be avoided, and they’d sent a replacement within a reasonable amount of time given the traffic circumstances. Also, the bus driver had gotten us to a safe place with water, food, restrooms and shelter. It had been annoying yes, but you can’t control what happens to you in life, only how you react to it, and all in all everyone had reacted well.

Then came Sunday.

I sat on the sidewalk near Chicago’s Union Station for the 11 o’clock Megabus to Chicago. A pair of hairy legs in green shorts stood next to me as I read a magazine, and if this had been an episode of Lost, this is where the camera would have zoomed in on the man attached to these legs in a flashback because he was going to play a large part in the upcoming events.

The bus was about 15 minutes late, but this is the Megabus, and I did not expect it to be on time. We loaded up onto the muggy and somewhat warm bus and the bus driver told us that although it was hot right now, once we got on the road the air would kick in and it would get cooler.

We got on the road, but the air did not kick in and it did not get cooler.

About 10 minutes into the trip, a man from back walked down the aisle and complained to the bus driver that it was still hot. “Get behind the line,” she told him. There is a white line painted on the aisle floor that passengers are not supposed to cross. This line seemed very important to our bus driver of Megabus 64184 from Chicago to Indianapolis departing at 11:00am on Sunday, July 26, 2009. The driver then fiddled with the knobs and got on the line with dispatch who told her to fiddle more knobs, and still the air did not kick in and it did not get cooler.

The driver got through the first toll both of the Chicago skyway and then pulled over to the side of the road, across from a McDonald’s oasis that sat in the middle of the highway. She got up and told us that because the air conditioning wasn’t working, they were going to send another bus for us. This announcement was met with groans, and after 10 minutes of waiting the passengers started to get unruly. People started yelling, “Let’s just go!” and several people started complaining to each other about the man who had whined about the heat. I sat quietly in my seat, trying not to attract attention.

I had to ride a school bus for all of middle school and high school. It did not have air conditioning. You opened the windows and you did not bitch about it. Yes, it was hot. Yes, it was uncomfortable. Yes, your sweaty thighs became glued to the vinyl seats and ripped at your skin when you got up. You lived with it because that was just the way it was. Yes, the Megabus was warm, but it was tolerable, and if they had designed the bus so we could actually open the windows, there wouldn’t have been a problem. I can only imagine that people who ride beat-up busses with their chickens in the seat next to them as they descend narrow mountain roads in Peru would have laughed at what spoiled Americans we were.

The man in green shorts got up to talk to the bus driver, to which she replied, “Get behind the line please.” I’m not sure what else they said, but then Green Shorts not only stepped past the line, he sat on the steps next to the driver. All of this behavior was non-threatening, but he had literally just crossed the line which the driver seemed rather fixated on. After their conversation the bus driver got up and made a speech against us mutineers telling us she was not driving anywhere in a hot bus and no one was going to tell her how to run her bus.

Green Shorts then asked if anyone on the bus wanted drinks from McDonalds. Another guy told Green Shorts he was crazy to go across four lanes of traffic accelerating to 70mph, but I just handed the guy my water bottle and asked for a refill. If he wanted to risk his life, I was happy to get rehydrated at the same time. I was growing increasingly worried that the stuffiness, stress and dehydration were going to escalate my constant tension headache to a full-blown migraine.

Our savior managed to cross the traffic and return with two caddies filled with ice cold water and let us know it was much cooler outside the bus in the fresh air. The bus driver had gotten off the bus at this point and I was surprised no one leaped into the driver’s seat to hijack the bus to Indy. Everyone was rather pissed at this point, particularly me and one other woman who’d been on the doomed bus trip up to Chicago on Thursday. I’m sure sociologists would have been fascinated to study the changing group dynamics and the bond we all felt by hating the bus driver’s attitude.

I got off the bus and cut my arm crawling over a guard rail, after which I had to keep telling myself I would not get tetanus from it. I sat in the grass and my thoughts oscillated back and forth between, “I cannot believe this is happening again,” and “I hope this isn’t the part of the story where a car collides with the back of the bus and I am beheaded by flying shrapnel.” While I was trying to decide whether I would become more quickly dehydrated in the warm, stuffy bus or in the cooler outdoors in direct sunlight, Green Shorts was making a phone call. He snapped his phone closed and then said, “We’ll see what the police have to say about this.”

After about an hour and a half waiting on the side of the road, a replacement bus finally arrived. It wasn’t even a Megabus, just a white coach bus that came from God knows where. The men on the new bus started transferring our luggage, when the bus driver walked up to Green Shorts and told him he could not get on the new bus.

I know!

Again, if this were an episode of Lost, Green Shorts would have been one of the lead players who might be killed by the smoke monster by episode nine. I was playing the part of one of the nameless extras who kept their heads down and their names out of the credits. Green Shorts was not allowed onto the new bus, and although I did not actually see the cop cars, people on the bus said they had arrived. I’m sure the Chicago police had nothing better to do than moderate a power fight between a Megabus driver and a Good Samaritan passenger on their Sunday afternoon.

I know not what happened to Green Shorts, but eventually the driver got onto the new bus and we headed back to Indy. Halfway there…THE BUS BEGAN TO GET HOT. My new seatmate and I mumbled something about it to each other and made a pact to murder the first passenger who said anything about the temperature. I also tweeted the events as they happened on Twitter, and only later did I discover that not only had katydid6, another BlogHer attendee, been doing the same, I had been sitting next to her on the first bus! Yet, because I don’t have a Twitter app on my mobile phone, I was unaware of this until I checked my replies on my home Internet.

I spent the rest of the trip completely dehydrated, despite drinking two bottles of water. Once I got off the bus at Indy, I immediately walked two blocks and bought water from the closest available source, a hole-in-the-wall Chinese restaurant. Before I’d gotten more than a block away, I watched the Megabus roll off for its next destination, Columbus, or hell, I know not which.

So, take this as a warning, DO NOT RIDE THE MEGABUS!!! I have ridden the service roundtrip from Chicago two other times before and did not have problems, but after this trip they’ve scored a 33% failure rate with me. I was willing to blame the brake failure on the first trip to bad luck, but after the air conditioning fiasco it became clear to me that Megabus does not take care of their busses. The first bus driver had been complaining about the brakes for days to dispatch, and the second bus driver was aware the air was broken, yet nothing was done until the situations had escalated too far. In addition, the second driver’s poor communication skills escalated the situation to a place it did not need to go, further delaying and complicating our trip. I do not expect much from the Megabus. Their fares are insanely cheap, so much so that I don’t feel it’s even worth it to demand a refund. I expect them to be late. I expect the bus to be somewhat uncomfortable. However, I do not expect to be stranded on the side of the road for a grand total of 5 hours on a round trip that takes 6 hours.

If you decide not to heed my advice and do ride the Megabus, expect the bus to be 2-3 hours late picking you up and dropping you off. Be sure to bring at least two large bottles of water (or preferably three to engender good will with thirsty passengers), enough food for two meals, and lots of reading materials. Preferably, you should also bring an extra bus.

****

UPDATED at 5:45pm on July 27, 2009 – As is the way of the Internet, someone from Megabus found my entry or my Twitters. I received an email from the Operations Manager today at 2:11pm apologizing for the poor service I experienced. They’ve refunded my ticket and offered a free roundtrip ticket on Megabus to make amends. I’m glad their customer service people are attuned to the Internet and that they’re at least aware of the problems I experienced. I accepted the free ticket because I have friends in Chicago I wouldn’t mind visiting as long as I’m not glued to a strict timetable. Megabus is not the most reliable means of public transit you will find, but I appreciate the fact that they listened and have done their best to make up for the problems I experienced.

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36 Comments

Jess • July 27, 2009 at 11:17 am

That’s crazy PQ! I’m just glad you were safe – I would never ride the megabus again either! eek!

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Katharine • July 27, 2009 at 11:21 am

Yikes! It’s the trip from hell to hell!

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Jolene • July 27, 2009 at 11:34 am

This sounds like a total nightmare, but funny to read–after the fact :-) Loved reading the whole story after getting bits and pieces of your twitter updates this weekend.

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Carmie • July 27, 2009 at 11:43 am

Wow… am I glad that my boyfriend talked me out of taking the MegaBus for our upcoming trip from Chicago to Indy (we’ll be there fore GenCon!). I was drawn in by their insanely low fares (roundtrip for the two of us, is less than a tank of gas) but I see those fares are low for a reason.

I’m glad you survived your trip in one piece! Thanks for the warning!

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Tina • July 27, 2009 at 12:16 pm

Despite the trauma, your post was hilarious. I especially loved the Lost references and the constant tweet commentary. Oh how that would have tranformed a train ride I once took from Rochester NY to Toronto when a man carrying what looked like a body bag, hopped onto the train–our car–and tried to hide in the bathroom, only to have Border Patrol drag him out of there, kicking and screaming, once we got to Cananda. I could have feared for my safety, but instead tried to lie low and continue the cutthroat gin rummy game my friends and I had going.

Regardless, glad you made it back and I will certainly think twice about public transportation again.

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Poppy Buxom • July 27, 2009 at 12:24 pm

I’ve made the drive from Chicago to Indianapolis many, many times. It’s so incredibly boring that it’s the ride from hell even when you’re in a fully functioning automobile with an excellent sound system, working A/C, leather upholstery, and cup holders.

Your bus rides read like Dante’s Inferno 2.0.

Call me selfish, but I’m glad you suffered through those two episodes of Lost. It gave me the chance to say hi to you at the People’s Party!

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sMhunter • July 27, 2009 at 12:58 pm

I feel your pain!!!

The first and last time I took the Megabus, our bus broke down at 11 pm in Madison (I was on my way to Minnesota). Luckily the driver has sense enough to stop at a gas station. 8 hours! later we got our replacement bus … 7 am we were back on the road. I understand busses break down, but I hear this about Megabus ALL the time. Cheap tickets=Cheap busses.

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ragtopday • July 27, 2009 at 1:55 pm

I’m so sorry you had such bad bus karma (on both legs of the trip, no less!), but I loved, loved, loved your LOST references! Apparently you were a “sock”, which is what Damon and Carleton call the nameless extras in the background (or maybe that’s true on every show – I don’t know). Just glad to know our PQ sock made it home in one piece!

Looking forward to hearing everything that happened in between those bus rides.

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Jen • July 27, 2009 at 2:24 pm

OK, I thought I had just had bad luck. I have been on two temperatures of Megabus, extremely hot (in the summer) and extremely cold (in the winter). I had just sort of come to expect being uncomfortable on them.

The other options from here to Chicago are driving, which leaves you the problem of what to do with a car, the train (also unreliable), and flying (expensive).

When is Obama going to personally build me a high-speed rail line from Toledo to Chicago?

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karl frankowski • July 27, 2009 at 2:36 pm

Ah, Megabus. I’ve posted photos from my similarly disastrous Megabus experience on flickr: http://www.flickr.com/photos/karlfrankowski/sets/72157621863216620/

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coyote • July 27, 2009 at 2:41 pm

Funny story. I don’t see anything particularly wrong with the 2nd bus driver’s behavior though (at least as it was related in the story). It sounds like her options were limited after it became apparent the bus was not going to cool down. Green Shorts, on the other hand, does come across as aggressive and threatening in the story, to me at least. But I wasn’t there.

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Lydia • July 27, 2009 at 2:41 pm

” . . . you should bring another bus.”

That was laugh-out-loud funny, Jennette.

I’m glad your trip is over.

You are a great storytellher.

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Shannon • July 27, 2009 at 2:44 pm

I’ve actually been on a bus with chickens. Although it wasn’t in Peru but rather Laos in South East Asia. And the reason I was riding with the chickens is because I was riding on top of the bus with the luggage. There was also a HUGE farm hog. Safety aside, the roof was probably the best place to be on the bus. Inside was not airconditioned, the aisle is filled with plastic stools so that more people can fit in and well, lets just say that spitting is not just an acceptable part of the culture but a way of life, including indoors. Besides that, riding the bus while clinging to side (and yes people did that too) was just exhausting looking.

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Chrissy • July 27, 2009 at 2:59 pm

I love the LOST reference!!!! hahah if not the smoke monster, green shorts might have been an other!

Still.. no Megabus ever again.

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Erin • July 27, 2009 at 3:14 pm

Yeah, I live in Chicago and frequently see the Megabus driving around. One day in traffic, I happened to be driving behind one of these buses. As it made a turn, I saw a whole bunch of water splashing out of the side all over the street. Nope, it actually wasn’t water, it was gas. Whoever refilled, left the gas tank open, and whenever they made a turn or went over a bump gas splashed around everywhere. It’s probably not safe to be sloshing highly flammable substances all over and around you wherever you go. Maybe your bus driver is the same guy and has a habit of leaving off the gas cap.

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Diane Fit to the Finish • July 27, 2009 at 3:51 pm

I would have absolutely lost my mind! You are to be commended for not losing yours!

One time I missed the bus back to college, and my Dad drove like a bat out of h*** down the interstate with me hanging out of the window! Unbelievably, the bus driver actually stopped and let me on!

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Another Passenger from the Bus • July 27, 2009 at 5:49 pm

I was on that bus yesterday. I was on the phone with customer service trying to get an explanation as to why she wouldn’t go. I finally got her name from customer service. The driver’s name was Debbie. There were no supervisors at Megabus yesterday when I called, but I was given the name of the supervisor and told to call tomorrow (Tuesday) to file a complaint with her. The driver’s attitude was horrible. She was rude and I can’t believe she kicked off the nicest guy on the bus because he spoke for us all by asking her to please just DRIVE because we all had places to be. He walked across a BUSY highway to bring people ice. Our destination was Indianapolis and we ended up getting there 2 hours late and we got stuck in the Brickyard 400 race traffic that was letting out. I was livid. I encourage you to call customer service tomorrow and complain as did I.

And the best part is that she was telling us she was an LPN. Who gives a crap? LPN’s are wonderful, but I normally don’t see them driving a bus nor have I ever met one with an attitude like Debbie’s.

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PastaQueen • July 27, 2009 at 5:54 pm

@Lydia – I have to give credit to my friend DanaDanger for coming up with that line.

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PastaQueen • July 27, 2009 at 5:57 pm

@Another Passenger from the Bus – I just updated my post to reflect the fact that the Operations Manager emailed me and has done his best to make amends for the incident, as well as promised to speak to the driver about it. I figure that is the best they can do and I appreciate that they listened.

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RG • July 27, 2009 at 7:13 pm

I rode a lot of megabus this winter when they added a stop on their Boston-New York route just in time for my new arrival in nowhere, aka Hartford. It was cheap enough to do a day trip into New York without losing the time of driving and parking, must have been at least 10 roundtrips and NO problems. The only complaint I have is that the bus goes to Penn Station in New York by driving through New York traffic from the north. If they dropped us off on the north end (where a lot of us are heading anyway) I’d have gotten to my destination 1.5 hours faster.

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RG • July 27, 2009 at 7:18 pm

@RG – Oh, I just remembered there was one problem – I was often the only person to get on/off in Hartford. One time the driver drove right past the Hartford exit and I was still asleep. Fortunately within about 15 minutes I had a hunch what had happened and asked the driver how close we were; he turned around and dropped me off, poor guy. There were maybe 5 people on the bus, and I expect he made up the time.

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Mom Taxi Julie • July 28, 2009 at 3:06 am

That’s just crazy!! Poor hairy leg man, I hope the cops just gave him a free ride to where he WANTED to go!

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PurpleGirl • July 28, 2009 at 5:36 am

So they just left Green Shorts on the side of the road? That’s insane! Sorry you had such a rough trip!

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Braveheart • July 28, 2009 at 6:05 am

I feel so sorry for Green Shorts. Its amazing how often people who do good deeds get crummy outcomes.

I have had some pretty awful bus rides in my life (mostly in remote places in Africa)but I think your recent fiasco would trump mine.

Glad you made it there and back safely.

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superpaige • July 28, 2009 at 9:55 am

Wow. I’m glad you survived.

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Ro • July 28, 2009 at 11:16 am

To bad this happened to you. but glad your alright. Summertime travel – eeww! BUT! At least it wasn’t in the middle of winter – the other way around. Very informative writing.

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JudithinNYC • July 28, 2009 at 1:53 pm

I feel like finding Debbie Driver and kickig her butt. Poor Green shorts guy.

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Quix • July 28, 2009 at 4:49 pm

Wow – that’s really something that they listened and offered you a free ticket. I’ve never done a bus trip since I’ve been an adult (used to do them all the time as a kid), I usually wuss out and either drive or splurge and fly.

Sounds like a rough time, but made for a thoroughly rousing blog entry! :)

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She-Fit • July 28, 2009 at 8:04 pm

WOW… note to self… don’t ride the megabus in Chicago. Thanks for the heads up. Sorry you had to put up with all that.

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Sara • July 28, 2009 at 11:25 pm

I have taken exactly one (non school sanctioned activity transport type) bus trip in my life. I’m not keen to repeat the experience–and even less so now.

Sorry about all the misery!

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Mary :: A Merry Life • July 29, 2009 at 8:35 pm

WOW. Just wow.

You aren’t the first person to have a horrible experience on Megabus. Right after I bought my ticket from Chicago to Memphis stories flooded in about what a terrible idea that was… but my ride was great. I chose to ride overnight which left me with plenty of room to myself. Our bus was early picking us up and we got home half an hour early. Our bus driver was AWESOME. I feel so lucky now to have been on that bus and had such a good experience now that I’ve read your stories. Yikes!

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brass lady • July 30, 2009 at 3:22 am

I had similar experiences with MEGA BUS UK, which I think is the same company. Once the bus was on fire and I travelled in a hot bus more than once. From a point an on, I decided it wasn’t worth it and started paying more and travelling by train. I never travelled with MEGA BUS again!

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notawhineybitch • August 9, 2009 at 12:38 am

yea….i took one from cincinnati to chicago then to milwaukee. the only bad thing was the time change cuz every body though the bus was late when it was on time….threw me off a little…but other than that it was perfect, cheap and reliable, i think u just had one of those rare bad experiences…….

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John • August 13, 2009 at 9:42 am

Heh, that’s a pretty funny store. If you like Megabus, you should check out BusJunction. It’s a search engine for discount bus tickets and includes all the major lines like Mega, Bolt, Vamoose, and Greyhound.

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elana • June 27, 2010 at 7:53 pm

@Jess – yes my experience was very bad too. i did not detail all that happened on the return trip but i had no food and i had to move my seat because of everybody yelling into their cell phones combined with second hand stereo from other folks ipods. we were rerouted off of i95 onto route 1. check out my website you’ll see i wrote about the ticket on my car which was the fault of mega bus. they had no idea how to give a discount on broadway even tho’ it was on their website

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scott • September 29, 2010 at 8:33 am

I’ve ridden the Megabus from Detroit to Chicago 3 times now. This last time, there was a constant loud squealing sound coming from somewhere. The bus was on time, and made good time until there was a traffic slowdown on westbound I-94 at Kalamazoo. Traffic was backed up for about a mile, could see several police cars and a fire engine with flashers going on the side of the road, near the burned-out hulk of a double decker bus… Upon closer examination, it was a Megabus… The bus must have caught fire, and then burned to a blackened hulk. Sure am glad I had not taken the earlier bus to Chicago! Hope that all the passengers got out OK.

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Jennette Fulda tells stories to the Internet about her life as a smartass, writer, weight-loss inspiration, chronic headache sufferer, and overall nice person (who is silently judging you). She does this at JenFul now, but you can still have fun perusing her past here.

Disclaimer: I am not responsible for keyboards ruined by coffee spit-takes or forehead wrinkles caused by deep thought.

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