I have seen death, and it’s a pink-faced fat man.
It was approximately 10:00pm on Monday, February 17th when it first occurred to me that perhaps I frequent the Megabus too often to be able to statistically avoid certain death. I was on a return-trip from Harrisburg where I had spent a long weekend with my niece and nephew and I was slated to arrive in Pittsburgh at 11:30pm but thanks to relentless white sheets of snow and wind, would perhaps never arrive at all. It was late, I was worn, and I was very aware that I did not want to die under my current circumstances.
It isn’t until you’re in white out conditions late at night uncomfortably squished beside sweaty frat boys and no working seat belts that you realize maybe a ten dollar ticket to go across the state really has some obvious weaknesses. On that particular evening, I was aware of them all.
It began when I noticed that what used to be a 4 hour trip from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg for less than the cost of a turnpike toll has now been converted to a 5+ hour trip from Pittsburgh to State College to Harrisburg (and then on to Philadelphia). This may seem a minor change, but I assure you that when you’re crunched up against a girl who brought a life-sized pink teddy bear on the bus because her boyfriend gave it to her over the weekend and she could only check one thing, every hour counts. It also means that instead of stopping at a reasonable rest stop on a major interstate featuring several restaurants for dinner, we stop at a convenience store named “Tom’s”, which results in meal arrangements including but not limited to Cheez Its, a family size bag of fruit snacks, and a king sized Kit Kat bar.
It was not my finest hour.
As if my experience at the shining American establishment that was Tom’s was not enough, my bus driver was kind enough to note that we should all return to the bus at 8:15pm and did not himself return to the bus until 8:30pm. I’m not one to get in a mess about a 15 minute delay, but given my proximity to pink bear girl, the bathroom door, and the (open) door to the outside, I was keenly aware of every extra minute needlessly spent in a three-layer sandwich of teddy bear stuffing and cold and poo.
It wasn’t always like this. There was a time, only months ago, when my trip from Pittsburgh to Harrisburg was a cost-savings stroke of convenient genius. I’ve frequented the Megabus so often that I’ve pinned it down to a beautiful science. I arrive exactly at the right time to be the first in line so that I get the absolute best position on the bus, I nest in my seat of choice with a pashmina and a Netflix binge, and I check out until I fall asleep.
There are a variety of typical concerns when traveling via Megabus. One of the most pressing is that if you get on at a pick-up point, you’re going to have a terrible time. That’s because everyone at the starting point has formed a nest already and is asleep by the time the pickup point is reached. Many seats are full and the spaces that are vacant of people are instead consumed by bags, legs, and teddy bears of various unreasonable sizes.
I am convinced that the true test of whether one is an asshole or not is how they handle the pickup point transition on a Megabus. It can be tantalizing to pay only a few bucks for a ticket across the state that affords you power outlets, comparatively decent leg room, a panoramic double-decker top view if you’re first in line, and, if you play your cards right, two seats to yourself.
There are a variety of tactics one can employ to ensure they get to enjoy their seat in solitude. The most common one is to sleep or feign sleep at a pickup point and to have a back or a body part across the adjacent seat so that someone will have to wake you from slumber to sit down. Others will just put on headphones and put a bag there to help deter people from asking while saving themselves from guilt by being polite and lovely if they do.
My preferred method is to leave the seat empty but to get out a bottle of lotion and obsessively rub my hands until all passengers are seated. It’s a perfectly innocent act, but when done with the right amount of intensity, is incredibly effective at inspiring strangers to wake up a sleeper rather than sit with me.
Over time, however, I have experienced pick up points with enough frequency that I ditched the lotion bit altogether and simply open the seat and take my chances. I’ve been that poor, wandering soul too often, and the choice between a 3-hour seat partner who is mad that I woke them up, annoyed that they have to ride with their bag on their lap, or showing indicators of homicidal tendencies is one I wish I didn’t have to make.
But those days are long over. I’m not afforded choice in my return trip anymore, my dinner is at a gas station, and my ticket time has increased. Especially in light of the insta-blizzard.
I remember texting Dave around 11:00 to let him know my bus would be late and that the weather was bad. He asked me how bad, and I said I was worried enough to move to a seat with a working seat belt. The snow was coming down so quickly and the wind so harsh that, looking out the windshield, I was fairly certain the bus driver was just hoping he was still on the road. I didn’t see how he could possibly know for sure.
I told myself to just go to sleep and that when I woke up I would be home, but it’s nearly impossible to sleep through the possibility of death. Having viewed the safety video no less than forty times, I thought it prudent to locate my emergency exits since at first glance I looked like the only human capable of assisting during a crash. To be fair, the teddy bear may have been able to also lend a hand.
From time to time I can harbor some Nervous Nelly tendencies so I tried to calm myself in spite of our crawling down the road like a half-squished slug and to watch House of Cards. That was when the Jesus music came.
Apparently our bus driver had concerns too, because just two hours after instructing us to relax and sleep until Pittsburgh, he put on his finest Jesus album to get him through the storm. Though artistic liberties beg me to say it was “Jesus Take the Wheel”, I am disappointed to admit that it was far worse than that. It was the repetitive kind that even born-and-bred-Baptist folk like me get grumpy over. One of those ones with a repeating chorus that goes on for 10 minutes in various iterations of someone speak-singing over a gospel choir and then riffing on a plethora of glory notes.
There’s nothing like waking up to a blizzard of snow and a choir of people yelling for Jesus to draw them close to really scare the daylights out of you.
I took to Facebook to announce my perhaps-impending doom and asked that instead of dying-by-Megabus, I would prefer my story be adjusted to something more eventful like “death by honey badger joust.” And just then, the storm cleared, the white curtains were parted, and the gospel choir was silenced.
We were cresting the summit that reveals the Pittsburgh skyline at 1:30am and it was a glorious sight to behold. I hugged the life sized bear beside me in jubilant relief. It was a 7+ hour trip from a snowy day in hell and I was pleased to not have to leave my obituary to those who survive me.
Take note: should I find myself in similar circumstances again, you can just go ahead and let this serve as it instead. Until then, I’ll be looking into planes, trains, and a new automobile. ♣
PS – My 30 Day Challenge for February is well underway. Thank you to everyone who voted for me to read books and not for me to have to hang out with humans every day for a month. Going vegan was a close second but is still certainly a contender for the coming months. In the meantime, my biggest struggle is in finding an hour to focus where I don’t fall asleep. Maybe my next challenge can be 30 days of real sleep?