After a depressing encounter on a Greyhound from New York to Philadelphia, I resolved to find a more reliable, less-nauseating mode of mass transit between the two cities.
On my first attempt, I found myself sharing the only seat left with an old woman who was digging to China through a large polystyrene clamshell of buffalo wings. Each of about three dozen wings was an adventure in lip-smacking, bone-snapping exuberance. Every morsel of flesh squeaked repugnantly in her mouth. I could avoid most of the sounds with my headphones, but the vile, eye-watering stench streaming from her lap was inescapable.
Then, having no napkins, she spent a good five minutes licking her hands clean. I didn’t have the nerve to see what she wiped them dry with.
I was living in Philadelphia and working in New York, and I knew that I would have to start making some smarter choices about my twice-a-week commute. I settled on Bolt Bus.
Bolt Bus is operated by Greyhound, but the price, the wi-fi (in those days, one of the few options for mass-transit internet access we had), and the sheer volume of hourly departures were unbeatable. Also, every ninth ride was free. In the course of two years, I found things to be mostly reliable, but I saw enough of the Bolt Bus to have had some pretty deranged experiences. And nothing beats the time the driver had a full-fledged meltdown on the New Jersey Turnpike.
I knew we were in for something memorable when, after we had all taken our seats, the driver got on the intercom and announced:
“Hi, y’all. I don’t know about you, but I’ve had a long, hard day. I need a damn break. I’mma take 15 minutes and close my eyes. Why don’t you watch this safety video while we wait.”
It was kind of like one of those videos you get on an airplane while waiting to take off. It makes sense, I guess, that such a thing exists: A bus is like a little plane without wings. And without oxygen masks. But I had never seen such a video. But instead of instructions about how to open an emergency window or how to exit the bus in the event of a breakdown, this video was all about Welcome to Bolt Bus. This is why Bolt Bus is awesome. Please avail yourselves of our marvelous array of amenities.
This was not the regular driver for this departure time, and this was not a good first impression.
First of all, he arrived late. Then he shooed the arriving passengers off the bus and hurried the departing passengers on, creating mass chaos as people tripped over each other to deposit or retrieve their bags in the cargo compartment. And now this video.
I don’t know about you, but I’d rather stand outside and watch people walking down 34th Street than sit in a bus with a broken-down driver and watch a promotional video on a bus service I’d already decided to buy a ticket for.
All things considered, I guess it was better that he attempt a nap before starting to drive.
After being schooled on the finer points of bus ridership, we all sat in stupefied silence, waiting for the driver to wake up.
About 20 minutes later, we were somewhere in darkest New Jersey, and the driver got on the intercom again.
“And all y’all talking about me. You can stop right now. I can hear you talking about me back there.”
What? We all looked around at each other. You? … You? … Were you talking about him? No one near me seemed to know what he was talking about. Someone giggled.
And then I could feel the bus slowing down. He pulled to the right. He was actually pulling over. We came to a stop. He pulled over completely and threw the bus into “park.” And then he grabbed that intercom and he ripped into … somebody. If it was someone near the front of the bus, which is the only reasonable explanation, I don’t know why he felt compelled to take every last one of us to task.
“I can hear you laughing. You’re laughing at me. I don’t know who you think you are. Come up here and see for yourself. Don’t make comments and look over my shoulder. Talk to me directly. If you think I’m driving badly, you don’t know what you’re talking about.”
Whether or not someone was actually talking about him before — we were all certainly and very audibly talking about him now — as in What the fuck is wrong with this guy?
I don’t remember what else he said. I stopped paying attention, because I, like dozens of others around me, got on the phone. Some were on Twitter. Some were on Facebook. A few people were making phone calls. I busied myself tapping out an email.
Dear Bolt Bus,
Something weird happened on the 7 o’clock bus from NYC to Philly tonight, and I’m not sure how to characterize it, but I feel like I need to say something about it.
The next day I got a response:
Thank you for letting us know about this incident. We will forward your email to the operations manager who will address the driver.
Boltbus Customer Service
I have a feeling there were more than a few similar complaints. We never saw that driver again.