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