Almost an hour into my very smooth trip into NYC from downtown Wilmington, Delaware, I look up and see that I am now on the New Jersey turnpike in Governor Chris Christie’s storm-damaged state, leaving the “driving to them.” Greyhound, that is, not the New Jerseyans or Chris Christie, they’ve got enough on their plate after Hurricane Sandy. The driver does look a lot like the governor, though, with a full head of hair, a fleece jacket, and a girth that’s about the width of the steering wheel. I immediately take a liking to him, realizing I might just need a no-nonsense driver on my first Greyhound bus ride.
He doesn’t say much, except to announce loudly and firmly that there is no smoking on the bus or in the laboratory. That’s the kind of leadership I admire from a seemingly bipartisan bus driver to his fellow east coast smokers who have all just thrown their lit cigarettes into the curb before climbing aboard… wait… hold up… the bus has a laboratory? So, either there are microscopes and tests tubes and Petri dishes in the back of this thing or there is an actual toilet on the bus. This comes as a huge relief, given I’ve just had a whole lot of coffee during my sunrise commute to the bus terminal.
As I settle into my seat, I’m pleasantly surprised to find there’s free Wi-Fi and electrical outlets in every row, my seat is super comfy and reclines, and the bus isn’t too crowded for an 8am departure. I even have a little footrest, not to mention both armrests and two seats all to myself.
During my short time thus far on the East Coast, a measly five months into my Northeastern lifestyle, I have driven into Manhattan a total of three times and have actually enjoyed the drive. Getting in and out of Manhattan via the Holland or the Lincoln Tunnel turns out to be much easier than I could have imagined – and on the weekend, it’s a cool breeze. Getting in and out of San Francisco, however, on a weekend is more like a slow, thick mist with bumper-to-bumper tourists trudging their way to the bay and the fogged-over Golden Gate for their long-awaited picture on the bridge, minus the Golden Gate Bridge, mind you, gone missing in the fog.
The ease of the commute in and out of NYC on the weekend is startling to me, particularly because I dreaded leaving San Francisco on a Saturday or Sunday to drive down to Silicon Valley to visit family because getting back into the city on time to score a decent parking space on Telegraph Hill was always a crapshoot, usually ending with me rolling a pair of “snake eyes.”
But, now, at 10am on a Monday, this Greyhound bus with a laboratory just breezed through the toll booth on route to the Lincoln Tunnel, no visible traffic in sight and not one delay, even though we passed several electric signs that read, “construction ahead, expect traffic delays.” Is this too good to be true? Will my surprise about the ease of getting into Manhattan on a bus on a Monday soon turn to frustration that I'm sitting stuck in traffic? I’m about to find out.
When I first arrived in Philadelphia this summer, I tried taking Amtrak from downtown Philly to Penn Station with my children in tow, because it was faster and easier than driving I was told. It turned out to be extremely stressful, however, and because of that, not worth the time it promised to save me... at least one whole hour, which is with young kids normally fighting in the backseat something to seriously consider.
The morning express train we took, though, was packed with commuters and tourists, and a man in a hurry almost pushed my daughter into the gap with his heavy suitcase as he fought his way off the train, spewing x-rated adjectives at us to move. My daughter then started crying and didn’t want to get on the train. Once I convinced her that she was fine and she finally agreed to board the train, we didn’t get to sit next to each other because they weren’t enough open seats close together. More crying, more stress… until I finally appeased her by letting her play on my phone a few seats away, much to my son’s chagrin who also wanted to play on my phone. I did get to relax somewhat, though, once my six year-old son finally dozed off to the rhythm of the bumpy tracks below. We needed that rest, too, because as soon as we arrived at Penn Station, we had to do our own share of “pushing” to get through a wall of people going this way and that, my children and I becoming sardines inside a sweaty, smelly can of commuters pushing their way upstream into Manhattan.
Greyhound actually uses air freshener – ala Fabreze, much like what I use when my car takes on that smell that no one really wants to know the origin of or acknowledge. I’m not sure if the Fabrezing is Greyhound’s official policy or just our Chris Christie lookalike’s policy, but I’m diggin’ it and wondering which Fabreze scent he chose; Holiday Bloom and Cheer or, perhaps, Meadows & Rain? Regardless, it’s way better than the smell of whatever the lady in front of me is eating for breakfast.
Forty more minutes and I hope to be at the Brazilian Consulate in Midtown Manhattan.
I have to get my visa renewed at the consulate today and I have to do it before noon. Lucky me, the consulate is a short walk away from the Greyhound terminal in the Port Authority building. Score. That’s why I chose to “Go Greyhound” because I can’t drive into the city even if I wanted to today. I came down with pinkeye, conjunctivitis, although it feels more like “redeye,” both my eyes itchy and cloudy like it’s raining poison oak inside my eyelids. So, I am leaving the driving to them today while I rest my eyes and listen to Marisa Monte, one of my favorite Brazilian songwriters, singing about the Statue of Liberty and “Baianas down on Broadway.”
As we approach the Lincoln Tunnel we slow to almost a stop, but I can actually enjoy the view now of the Manhattan skyline even though my itchy eyes would like to stay closed. But, it’s such a sunny winter day, and I can’t resist the postcard pull of Manhattan and its magnetic energy. I sit up and smile, something I never thought I'd do on a Greyhound bus.
The drive through the tunnel takes only about ten minutes, and we arrive at the Port Authority Greyhound Terminal in two-hours and fifteen minutes, exactly the time quoted to go from Wilmington to Manhattan. The drive was quiet, relaxing, and I even napped for a bit, all for $40 round-trip on a Monday, as opposed to an average of $150 on Amtrak. If I had driven my own car, I would have had to pay for parking in Manhattan (likely $50 to park in Times Square for the day) plus gas and tolls (around $80) for a grand total of $130. By taking Greyhound from Wilmington, instead of driving in or taking the train to Manhattan, I saved about $100-110. Cha-Ching! Thanks, Greyhound. My pocketbook is refreshed (not to mention my body and eyes) because I left the driving to you today.
In addition, and in case you were wondering, a trip to the “laboratory” in the back of the bus is actually not as bad as you would think. Bumpy? Well, yes (and I’d bring your Purell along since there’s no sink, let alone soap) but very convenient if you plan on having 16 ounces of coffee before your two-hour trip into Manhattan like I did.
I can’t help but think of straight-talking Chris Christie as his lookalike announces we have arrived on time at New York City’s Port Authority.
“Don’t be stupid,” go Greyhound. I hear ya loud and clear, Gov, and I have a ticket to ride.