My thoughts here might have been more useful a week ago, before Thanksgiving. I still think they’re worth sharing and, hey, maybe helpful for the future (winter break is right around the corner).
NYU is odd in that it gives a surprisingly short Thanksgiving Break: Thursday and Friday only, leaving out the coveted Wednesday travel day. (I used to complain that my undergraduate university had short winter breaks, but now I’d give up some January time for the Wednesday off!) This, of course, makes traveling home difficult, especially if you’re going far. I was moments away from snagging a seat on the once-daily train to Vermont when I called my dad to make sure he’d pay for it. In those 5 minutes, the train sold out and I was relegated to the most dreadful form of travel: the bus.
For me, it’s a six-and-a-half-hour trip to southern New Hampshire on a Greyhound that hits every major city along Route 91 North. Traveling at any sort of convenient time would thus require me to arrive two hours early and still risk my seat. So, in a moment of brilliance, I booked a trip leaving Port Authority at 6 am.
I left my Brooklyn apartment shortly after 4, having perfectly timed the subway on the MTA website (http://tripplanner.mta.info/). My roommate walked me through the mean streets of Bushwick, trailed by a suitcase that weighed more than I do. Of course, stumbling down the stairs with that 150-pound suitcase made me miss my 4:23 am train, and I waited patiently for another 22 minutes. When I did board the train, I was the only woman in the car; the experience was significantly less creepy in that I was also the only person awake.
I arrived at 42nd street around 5am and was inevitably followed by the token crazy person muttering something about the world today; thank goodness for the big burly man next to me who placating-ly echoed his sentiments and provided a physical barrier between us. The subway entrances to Port Authority don’t open until 6am, so I had to drag my cadaver-sized bag up the stairs to the street, then back down to the bus terminal. Both will-call automated kiosks were broken, so at 5:15 I waited in line at the Greyhound booth behind a non-English speaker attempting to buy tickets upstate for his family of 4. I glanced at my ticket, noticing the one-hour deadline for ticket pick-up and crossing my fingers. At 5:27am, I made my way to the front of my line, cashed in my ticket, and was off to find gate 81. I was swooped up by an older gentleman who kindly pointed me in the right direction, where I found two 20-something guys asleep on the floor between the velvet ropes. Seeing the still-short line, I decided I had time to go to the bathroom. As I crossed the white-tile threshold into the ladies’ room, the older man who had directed me earlier yelled, “What are you doing? Don’t dawdle!”
I rejoined the line at 5:45, at least 6 different people asked if the bus made their stop In New Haven, Hartford, or Springfield. As the only one who seemed to know the answers, I felt like a true New Yorker. In a miraculous final leg of travel, a hearty Santa Claus-looking man took my ticket and welcomed me aboard. The rest was pie; or at least only rarely interrupted sleep.
In my first experience, I figured out some tips—the hard way.
• The train is always better than the bus.
• The problem with the bus is that even when you buy your ticket in advance, you don’t have a reservation. In general, Greyhound purposely overbooks the bus to make sure it’s as full as can be: great for their business strategy, bad for your timing.
• Take the bus at the most awkward time possible, so it’s less popular and more likely to have space for you. You can waste less time traveling by showing up a little later; time is like gold in graduate school.
• Take Dramamine (unless you’re one of those circus freaks who can read while riding). Even if you don’t get motion sickness regularly, taking Dramamine will allow you to get work done on the bus and free up some time for holiday celebrations.
• Get to the subway early. The trains regularly run a minute or two off the published schedule, and arriving on time assures you’ll miss it (Murphy’s Law, what can I say).
• When in doubt, avoid eye contact with anyone talking out loud before 6am; speed up, slow down, or tag yourself onto someone else nearby.