|Richmond, VA Greyhound Station|
April 12, 1:00 a.m.
I ask the cab driver outside the Richmond bus terminal to take me to the closest decent hotel. About a mile or so away, we pull up in front of the Comfort Inn Conference Center. The room is dated, but pretty standard. I check for signs of bed bugs, don't see any, and try to ignore the moldy spots in the corner of the shower. It will do for a few hours of sleep. The room was $69, so you get what you pay for. I have to be back at the Greyhound station by 10:30 a.m. to resume my trip to New York City.
I come downstairs to check out of the hotel and the clerk working the desk barks that I'll have to wait because she's trying to enter some credit card numbers into the computer. She's also talking to someone on the phone about credit cards. After she hangs up, I ask if she can call a cab for me. She informs me that I'll have to do it myself then adds, "Good luck with that." When I ask the clerk what that means, she says that the cab companies don't like to come "all the way out to the hotel and take people to Greyhound. You'd better start dialing now. You'll probably have to call them all and maybe you can find one." The clerk didn't give a shit one way or the other about my predicament or that of another guest, who also needed to get a cab to the Amtrak station. I wound up calling three cab companies before I found one who would come to the Comfort Inn. I waited outside with the frantic woman and when my cab pulled up, I offered to share it with her. Just as we got inside, her cab pulled up so she decided to take it. I hope she made her train. For the clerk behind the front desk at the Comfort Inn Conference Center on on W. Broad Street in Richmond, get some customer service training. And perhaps Comfort Inn needs to invest in a shuttle or have an arrangement with a cab company. What kind of "conference center" doesn't have transportation for its guests?
The Greyhound terminal is packed with people. My 11 a.m. bus to New York is obviously going to be full by the number of people already lined up at the door. Indeed, they wind up turning people away and forcing them on to a later bus. I was glad I had purchased my ticket the evening (early morning) before. Every seat on the bus is taken and I'm sitting in the aisle toward the back with a nice man originally from Senegal, who had been on the bus for two days coming up from Miami. I couldn't even imagine. There's also some other interesting characters on the bus, including a homeless man who has his meager belongings tied up in a sweatshirt and a woman who is skipping her Friday chemo treatment so she can eat a big birthday dinner that night with her family.
Over the course of the trip, the homeless man will borrow people's cellphones to make frantic phone calls to distant friends and relatives about wiring $25 to NYC so he can sleep in a shelter that night. I hear him tell his seatmate that he had been working in Florida, but the work ran out and he was hoping to get a job in Manhattan. He's 56 years old and has a haunted look in his eyes. He glances nervously around him and holds the sweatshirt with his things closer to him. The woman celebrating her birthday and skipping chemo is on her cellphone for nearly the entire trip (lucky for her Greyhound has those recharging outlets on each seat). She talks to her daughter, sister, ex-husband, current husband, a cousin, her sister again, the ex-husband again, another cousin picking her up at the bus station in Newark and countless others. She must have unlimited minutes.
Greyhound advertises the comfort and amenities of its Express service, but there is one thing sorely lacking: tables. In most buses I've taken around Europe, there areas that have a set of seats that face into a table similar to a train carriage. Greyhound should consider taking out another row of seats or at least adding some fold down, airplane-style tables. It is impossible to do any real work on a laptop on the bus without a flat surface. And why are there no seatback pockets? That seems like a no-brainer.
|Passing through rainy Baltimore|
We're passing the exits to Washington, DC and headed toward Baltimore. My seatmate is asleep and is taking some of my leg room. The comfy seats don't seem quite as comfy as they did before.
Passing through rainy Baltimore. I thought about trying to read, but I can't get comfortable or focus with the hum of chatter and the chemo/birthday woman in front of me cackling with one of her family members on the phone. We speed past a sign that says 186 miles to New York City.
We stop at Chesapeake House service station, which Wikipedia informs me is the fifth busiest rest stop in America. But this is no ordinary rest stop: inside the big building is a convenience store and fast food choices galore. I have a cheeseburger from Wendy's. Once we're back on the bus at 3 p.m., there is only one stop left to make in Newark before we reach Port Authority in Manhattan.
|Newark Penn Station|
After sitting in traffic, we finally arrive at Penn Station Newark. The bus empties considerably. We sit at the station for about 25 minutes. It's cold and rainy outside and I suddenly realize I should have brought a heavier coat.
I have now decided that the bus adventure was an epic failure. We should have been at Port Authority a little after 6 p.m. and we're currently inching our way toward the Lincoln Tunnel.
|New York at last!|
After more than eight hours on the bus, we finally arrive in Manhattan and pull into the underground parking at Port Authority. Hallelujah! I was going to take the subway up to my friend Jackie's apartment in Harlem, but the queue to buy a Metro ticket is long because some of the machines aren't working. I join the taxi rank on 8th Avenue and after about a 15 minute wait, I'm zooming toward Harlem along the West Side Highway. Jackie has tea and sympathy awaiting me.
As I stated in my previous blog, everyone at Greyhound was very gracious. I have no quibble with them or the service (except adding the tables), so really what it comes down to his personal endurance. I should have known I couldn't handle 18 hours on the bus and made arrangements to stay overnight in Richmond in the first place. It would have removed the extra stress. The real take away for me is how necessary Greyhound really is to this country. From the homeless, to senior citizens, to students, Greyhound is still an inexpensive way to travel. Will I ever attempt an 18 hour bus trip again? Hell no! But... if I had to give a reading in Charlotte or somewhere else in the region, I would probably do it again.
Tomorrow, I'll have an update on the Rainbow Book Fair.