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The Third Bus Is the (Sort of) Charm




Plan A for Presidents’ Day, Monday, February 18, 2019:
·         Take an early a.m. Greyhound bus from Maryland to NYC with an ETA of 10:45 a.m. into the Port Authority.
·         Visit @StrandBookstore, @BookCulture, @SistersUptown, @WordUpBooks to scout locations for future bookish events and to browse titles in preparation for a #bookhaul on Indie Bookstore Day 2019 on Saturday, April 27.
·         Surprise loved ones with a late-evening appearance.

Please notice that getting on 3 different rickety buses (pics above), taking 2 hours to travel 20 miles round trip to nowhere, and arriving more than 5(!) hours late was not on my agenda.

To recap: Once loaded and en route, the 7 a.m. bus from B’more City to NYC started overheating about 10 miles away from the terminal. The driver pulled onto the shoulder, waited a few minutes, then proceeded to backtrack to the terminal. After pulling over the second or third time to let the engine cool, the driver called the terminal to report that he needed them to drive a new bus out to our location because he could drive only a mile before the engine overheated.

Do they respond with, “We’ll get a bus out to you ASAP!” 
No. No, they do not.
They claim that they have another bus, but there’s no driver available to bring it to our location. He just needs to baby it back to the terminal.

So the next time the engine overheats we’re on an elevated exit ramp without an actual shoulder. The view from the side windows shows a straight drop down into the cold, murky water. Fastening my seatbelt seemed prudent.

Many thanks to the B’more police officer who stopped to tell us that the bus was leaking a trail of fluid. He also parked behind us with his lights flashing to reduce the odds of our being rear-ended and launched into the Patapsco River. The driving-overheating-stopping along with complaints and curses of escalating frequency and growing volume continued until the bus essentially coasted back to the terminal on a wave of fumes around 9 a.m.

Two hours. For a 20-mile roundtrip that started and ended at the bus terminal.

More shouted complaints and curses as we trudged off the bus.
Some passengers got refunds, then boarded the Peter Pan express to NYC. (For less money!) One gorgeous couple (The woman’s natural hair was healthy, long, and lush, and her sophisticated casual style was runway-worthy.) rented a car, while the rest of us settled into seats to wait.

Sidebar: So if not having an extra driver was the reason Greyhound couldn’t bring a new bus out to the road, that means the new bus should be ready for us to board once our bags are transferred from the old bus, then we should depart again within a few minutes. Right?

Wrong.

Now the story (after we’ve been waiting for several minutes) is that the vendor is sending another bus. An hour later the claim is that maintenance is “working on” a bus. At around 10:50 a.m. passengers from the “broken down 7 a.m. bus to NYC” are asked to line up at Gate A, where we stand until 11:15 a.m. At which point it feels like the beginning of a horror movie when the audience starts thinking, “Don’t get on that bus!”

We finally get onto a bus (#7927?) that smells musty and looks disreputable (pic of ripped seat, which unfortunately represents the condition of at least half of the seats). Once loaded and on our way, the driver goes one block during which the breaks squeal and the seats bounce like mini trampolines before he returns to park at the terminal. (It’s like the movie Groundhog Day, only we keep coming back to this B’more bus terminal. Or that Eagles song where “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave.”)

The driver says, “I’m sorry folks. I’m not driving this coach to New York.”
He gets off the bus. (And quits?)

With much grumbling, profanity, and creative insults (no comments from me, just silent commiseration), we trudge off the bus and get directed to board the neighboring bus, which is already more than half full. The seats aren’t torn and it doesn’t smell musty, but it doesn’t smell good AND it’s filthy (interior ceiling pics). The floor was so sticky that the bottoms of my shoes made a squelching sound every time my feet moved. Dirt encrusted everywhere, except the seat cushions, which APPEARED clean. (Remember the bus if the first Speed movie? Alternate buses 2 and 3 were a few model years newer, but nowhere near as clean.)

At just after 12 noon this third bus (which I think was originally scheduled to leave at 10 a.m.) departed B’more and arrived in NYC around 4 p.m.

Glass half-full: No one was injured or killed (which was a miracle considering how hot tempers were flaring). It’s possible that the delays saved us from something even more unpleasant (like locusts).

Questions:
What’s the NTSB policy about stranded mass transit vehicles?
What would Greyhound have done if the first bus had been totally inoperable?
Left us on the side of the road? Made us arrange for our own pickup by taxi or rideshare service?

Also, mechanics certified to work on the buses aren’t authorized to drive them (at least when they’re empty of passengers)?

In fairness, my previous 4 or 5 M.D. /N.Y. roundtrips on Greyhound during the past 12 months went smoothly with punctual departures and arrivals, new buses that looked and smelled clean, and courteous, effectively knowledgeable Greyhound staff. Maybe odds and the vagaries of fate decided it was my turn to suffer some travelling inconveniences. The gross-out factor made this experience feel much worse than the time I missed my connecting flight from Germany to the U.S. and had to spend the night in Frankfurt. Danke. 

(Of course, the delay gave me plenty of time to read On Beauty by Zadie Smith. Time to read is always a perk.)

#customerservicefail

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