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Just Hop on the Bus, Russ

by on August 12, 2015 6:10 AM

Maybe it was at Scotrun. Or Nescopeck. Or Berwick. Or Lightstreet.

Somewhere between the Poconos and the Bellefonte exit a few weeks back, I decided I had spent too many hours of my life driving back and forth between State College and New York City on Interstate 80.

So when my Manhattanite friends tempted me with one last getaway before summer’s end, I left the car in the driveway, shouldered my daypack, walked to the Wal-Mart parking lot via bike paths and side streets, and waited for the Megabus from Pittsburgh.

In the parking lot I ran into friends who were also busing to New York, which was a pleasant surprise. Together we laughed at the driver’s overly graphic speech about restroom etiquette and then one by one I experienced all the joys of not driving – writing, texting, working (the Wi-Fi worked – it doesn’t always), reading, sleeping and admiring the clouds and the superior views of the Susquehanna, the Lehigh and the Delaware rivers that one can enjoy from the upper deck.

****

When Megabus rolled into State College five years ago, one heard thrilling tales of passengers who bought tickets for a dollar. Financial genius that I am, I encouraged my city-dwelling daughter to look at the calendar and snag tickets for any weekend when she might want to come home.

Well, the apple-cheeked Play Mobil driver in the yellow uni and peaked cap who adorns the Megabus wasn’t as dumb as he looked. He wouldn’t let you buy tickets that far in advance and if you bought tickets too close to your travel date, you usually had to pay full freight, as I did last week – about $115 round trip.

By my rough calculations, the round-trip cost of driving to New York is $75, not including wear-and-tear on car and driver.

It’s a little screwy that people who take the bus because they may not be able to afford a car have to pay more per (slower) trip than a car owner does, but that’s taxation-averse America for you.

For those of us who get to choose, the $40 public-private differential is small enough as long as we’re going solo. The car trip costs the same no matter how many friends and relations you stuff into it. For each round-trip bus passenger, add another Benjamin.

Much depends, obviously, on how one feels about driving. For some people, behind the wheel is where they feel most in control of their lives. They pick the departure time, the route, the temperature, the speed. Unless someone cuts them off, they feel walled off from intrusion and interruption.

Above all, having to “keep your eyes on the road and hands upon the wheel,” as Jim Morrison sang, while performing this nearly effortless task absolves you from having to accomplish anything. You may be driving from Point A to Point B, but your mind is free to wander whithersoever it will.

I can appreciate the joys of driving, but only for an hour or so. On the State College-to-New York run, that gets me to Hazleton. And so, the bus.

****

After three days in New York, I lined up along a chain-link fence on W. 34th Street for the ride home. This can be the least pleasant part of the Megabus experience, especially if it’s raining and cold, which it was not, or sunny and hot, which it was.

I was an hour early, so rather than queue too soon, I walked over to the river to cool off. Did I ever.

The moment I set my elbows on the railing a swell slapped against the river wall and drenched me and my backpack with Hudson River water.

Thus refreshed, I boarded the bus. This time I had to share my row. A self-possessed young woman stuck out her hand and introduced herself. She was in New York for the Youth Assembly at the UN, was soon to Teach for America and hoping to eventually do humanitarian work in a troubled land other than this one.

In short, this was not someone who was likely to steal my Kindle or my cashews, so I went to sleep.

If Americans loved their cars a little less and maybe loved each other a little more we’d have train service from State College to New York. Train freaks tout Amtrak from Lewistown, a trip that is roundabout, expensive and slow.  

Those who are freaked out by New York’s hair-trigger horn honkers and impossible parking tout driving to Hoboken and taking a ferry, or parking in Stroudsburg and taking a bus.

But if you want to leave your car in the driveway, as I did last week, Megabus is probably your best option, occasional delay, iffy Wi-Fi and all. 

One piece of advice for the return trip: Don’t stand too close to the Hudson River.



A collection of Russell Frank's columns, titled “Among the Woo People: A Survival Guide for Living in a College Town," is available from the Penn State University Press. His columns for StateCollege.com won first place for commentary in the 2019 Society of Professional Journalists Keystone Chapter Best in Journalism contest. The winning columns: The Women’s March: Notes from New York, It’s Time to Change the Script and Mixed Messages at Bellefonte High. Frank is a member of the journalism faculty at Penn State. Before launching his academic career, he worked as a reporter, editor and columnist at newspapers in California and Pennsylvania. He is, by academic training, a folklorist (Ph.D., UPenn), which means, when you strip away the academic jargon, that he loves a good story. His views and opinions do not necessarily reflect those of Penn State University.
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