My dream… to not ride the bus

Here kitty kitty, let's get you into that Kit Kat bar costume (courtesy of

Here kitty kitty, let's get you into that Kit Kat bar costume. (courtesy of

I haven’t had a car in ten years. There’s just no need for one in New York. I live right by the subway, which can take me pretty much everywhere worth going. (That’s right Staten Island, you’re worthless. I said it. You smell funny and all your names end in “kill.”) Owning a car around here would be one colossal and expensive headache. Street parking is horrendous; people on my block actually idle through the two-hour weekly street cleaning times just to get a spot. A garage space would run me $200 a month in Jackson Heights; parking rates in Manhattan far exceed my mortgage. Insurance – the one time I checked – costs roughly triple what it does in suburban MD. Add in the payments on a new Honda Civic or Toyota Corolla, gas, tolls and repairs, and the monthly total would be up around $1000 – a lot to pay for the freedom to leave the city once in awhile. So when I want to go see family and friends, I can’t just hop in the car and go. But I can drag my sorry, unemployed ass to the Port Authority bus station, where it’s always 3:00 a.m.

I loathe the bus. There has to be a more dignified mode of transportation. It’s really just city-to-city buses like Greyhound and Peter Pan that make me want to kill (and yes, I know about Bolt, the Chinatown buses and all the rest). Local MTA buses, which let me see all the neighborhoods I usually pass under, are rather enjoyable. One of my many goals coming out of college was to never (and never have to) travel long-distance by bus ever again, ever, until I die, and then in the next life too. Buses suck, for many and varied reasons, and by the ripe old age of 22, I’d had enough. But a decade and a half later, it’s still my mode of travel. I’m unemployed, and low price still trumps comfort. At least I still have a goal to aim for. Maybe a job would get me a little closer to reaching it.

There’s no cheaper and easier way from NYC to DC and back. The bus costs $40, and takes about six hours each way, when accounting for the subway ride to and from the station. Other options don’t compare favorably on these factors. All this talk of buses and bus stations is making me think of bullets for some reason, so let’s run through the travel options, shall we…

  • Plane – 5 hours (including check-in and cavity search), $120
  • Train – 5 hours, $103
  • Rental Car (come on cliche-monger, did you really think I’d say “automobile?”) – 6 hours (including pickup and drop-off), $200 (including tolls, gas, etc.)
  • Three-toed sloth pulling a Flexible Flyer – 46 days (in winter), $10,079.95 (give or take, those pesky smugglers are always changing their rates.)

Despite cost and travel time, the bus has some major drawbacks. And they all seem to relate to comfort. I’ll suppress the urge to create another bulleted list – though they make me feel so alive – and get right to them.

Going to the bathroom is the biggest problem. Public facilities are always pretty bad, but waiting until you’re home or getting in and out quickly without touching anything are often options. Now put that public bathroom in the back of a bus next to a smelly guy with tuna fish smeared on his shirt and move it down a bumpy highway at 65 mph. Someplace safe is many hours away, and holding on is required for balance. The best way to deal with the bathroom issue is to avoid liquid intake altogether. But this leads to dehydration. Dry mouth and chapped lips are fine for the drug addict sitting next to tuna fish guy; that’s part of his look. But they’re not so great for the rest of us. I still generally opt for dehydration over using the bathroom. Topping off the bus experience is the ground-in smell of Burger King, Sbarro and KFC. People always bring fast food on with them, no matter what time of day. And the smell lingers for the duration of the trip. After about two hours, hunger and nausea are waging war in my stomach.

And yet I still ride the bus, not because I want to, but because I feel I have to. The train is only another $60, and I can spare it. But the additional $60 worth of comfort probably wouldn’t be worth the guilt of spending the additional money. I can’t say for sure, I’ve never traveled from NYC to DC by train. I do know that I don’t have a job. And my tendency when faced with financial insecurity is to be as conservative as possible. People who travel by bus don’t feel like they have a choice. And maybe the goal of never having to take the bus represents an achievement, that I’ve reached another stage of life… a slightly more comfortable place. At the moment a job or a winning lotter ticket would have to be involved. Or maybe I just need to stop being so damn cheap. It’s only money, and not that much.

Adventures in bus riding, part 1

Adventures in bus riding, part 2

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2 Trackbacks/Pingbacks

  1. CoachTimi (Timi Gleason) on Wednesday, July 15, 2009 at 5:30 am

    My dream… to not ride the bus | Jobless and Less: But this leads to dehydration. Dry mouth and chapped lips ar..

  2. Adventures in bus riding, part 1 | Jobless and Less on Friday, July 17, 2009 at 3:19 pm

    […] day I’ll find a job and achieve my goal of never having to ride the bus. And on that day, I’ll happily raise my hand over my shoulder and extend my middle finger as […]