Eleven hours. It took eleven hours of travel to arrive where I am today, sitting on the couch in John’s apartment. The eleven hours of travel is worth it to share in his life, in person, for a little while. This week is his Spring Break, so our time together is more open and relaxed than usual, when he has stacks of homework and I have only the weekend away from school.
I typically travel by bus, usually through Megabus. This time I left home for the bus station at 8 AM, and my bus left at 9:10 AM. After four hours of travel, I spent three and a half in bus station purgatory before the final leg of my trip, 50 minutes late. A 50-minute delay is almost to be expected and nothing compared to other traveling nightmares that haunt my memories. Take the time I had a layover in New York City at midnight. I had traveled from my college to home the night before, inconveniencing my parents for the ride, because my hometown has a bus hub. My bus, however, was over an hour late, giving me a half hour grace period before I would miss my connection in NYC. On our drive to the city, the bus driver stopped for a soda, and we were late by only a few minutes, but those few minutes caused me to miss my connection and enjoy a layover in the wee hours of the morning in the Port Authority terminal in NYC. Port Authority is less than pleasant at 2 AM, with broken seats supporting solo travelers with scraggly beards and beat-up luggage. It’s not necessarily a safe place for my solo-self to doze, so I steeled my eyes against sleep, tried not to run out my iPod battery, and waited. For four hours.
Early on in our long-distance relationship (LDR) and during one of my first trips to visit John, my bus was five minutes too late for my connection in a small town. The bus driver informed me that there were no options until the morning; I could stay in the YMCA until it closed at midnight or travel home with him and sleep on his couch. I did not take him up on that offer.
I could tell you about the savory traveling companions, the trips characterized by nausea on bumpy buses, and the countless times I’ve raced via taxi cab and crowded sidewalk from Port Authority to Penn Station in NYC. The icing on the cake, however, was a non-occurrence. That is to say, my bus never came. I waited in the cold outside of a closed bus terminal across from a nightclub which, my experienced fellow stranded traveling companion informed me, often experienced gang fights. I called the bus company more than four times, and each of those four times received differing explanations about the state of the bus: it had broken down and was running 45 minutes late, it had already come, it was never coming. I waited for six hours until, at 2 AM, my roommate insisted upon picking me up. I received a refund for my troubles .
While such stories are daunting, I enjoy traveling, moving along highways at a fast pace, passing land and buildings, observing the world going on without me, brushing up against the lives of others. For this reason, and for the guy waiting for me at the end, I endure the potential failures of public transportation in the United States, which needs drastic improvement, no doubt about it. And I’ve learned that even frustrating situations can contain a hint of wonder.
During this most recent trip I heard from a passenger that the mall wasn’t too far from my layover station. Sure enough, it was just a five minute walk, so I treated myself to window shopping and a delicious solo lunch, an experience which reminded me of the Samantha’s article, “The Many Ways to ‘Go Solo’. From my seat I observed other eaters, a young couple and another with a baby, and pondered their choices of a wrap and chicken fingers over my spicy chicken sandwich. I passed two and a half hours in the mall, a much better place than the bus station. During the overnight at Port Authority that I mentioned earlier, I sought out Times Square, which I had heard was not too far away. I found it in all its brightly lit glory, and at 2 AM wandered with all of my luggage down the sidewalks, eyes gazing upward, mouth hanging open. It was my first time in Times Square and it was a wonderful way to experience it. And during that six-hour wait at the bus station, I met four strangers, including a former-gang-member-turned-preacher and a trucker, whom I never would have come to know without our shared experience of being abandoned by a bus.
The best part of a LDR is when it becomes just an R, a relationship in person. But to achieve this requires travel, and travel is unpredictable. Thankfully, it can be just as unpredictably beautiful as unpredictably frustrating. So don’t let a few rough experiences get in the way of seeing the things and meeting the people happening right outside your bus windows.
Here are some transportation ideas and deals for getting to the one you love:
Megabus (in the U.S., Canada, and the U.K.): http://megabus.com/
Bolt Bus: https://www.boltbus.com/
Greyhound bus company: http://www.greyhound.com/
Amtrak (trains): http://www.amtrak.com/servlet/ContentServer?pagename=Amtrak/HomePage
Kayak (for flights, hotels, cars, and more): http://www.kayak.com/
Student Universe (travel deals for students): http://www.studentuniverse.com/