This past weekend I went into Philadelphia to celebrate Angela’s birthday with her — the first time I’ve been able to do that since she left for Drexel. The weekend itself was really fun! On Friday, for Angela’s bithday, we went to Vinny T’s (yes, same chain) with a group that started out as 7 and grew to 16. I’m not sure how happy the waitstaff was about that, but they made it happen. We ordered family-style, so everyone got to try a few different things. Somehow, the tab was still only $20 each (minus Angela), which included tax and tip (and, um, about 8 pitchers of Sangria). We were surprised and several of us kept going over the math, but it was right. I still can’t believe it wasn’t more. Anyway, after that some of us went out to a couple of bars, and for the most part it was a pretty tame night — Angela and several of her friends had been celebrating birthdays most of the week by that point, and knew they were going out again on Saturday night for a double-birthday celebration at McFadden’s (yup). THAT was absolutely insane. (Click through to Flickr, and if I know you in actuality you can see some photos.) The rest of the weekend was taken up by some halfheared tourism in Center City, a quick trip to REI, and a semi-brunch with a GSLIS friend (semi because they wound up eating after us, at another table).
So while the weekend itself was fun, the traveling part was not. Baltimore and Philly aren’t that far apart — just over two hours driving, and about an hour on the train. Given that distance, and the fact that Greyhound is $40 to Amtrack’s $117, I decided to give Greyhound a shot this time. This turned out to be a bad decision.
On Friday, I arrive at the bus station just shy of an hour before the scheduled departure time (I was taking an unfamiliar bus route, and Greyhound suggests you get to the station an hour early anyway). Once I notice a few people lining up in front of the gate for my bus, I get up and go join them. We wait. And wait. When the bus was about 20 minutes late, someone went up to the ticket counter to ask what was happening. The best the ticket agent could offer was that “according to the computer, the bus is on time.” Well, according to reality, the bus is nowhere to be seen. Since there’s clearly nothing to be done and no backup plan being developed, we keep waiting. The bus eventually shows up, about 40 minutes late.
Before taking our tickets, the driver tells each of us that the A/C is broken and gives us a chance to decide if we want to wait for the next bus. We all got on the bus. We’re barely on the highway (and still within city limits) and the driver has to pull over because two thugs are yelling at each other and threatening violence at the first stop. The driver tells them (repeatedly) that he will call the state troopers and have them removed from the bus if they don’t shut up. They shut up. Of course, about 90 minutes later, they’re at it again. We pull over again, just beyond the tolls in Delaware, and quite near a state police barracks. The driver hollers at them, and then gets off the bus with his cell phone. We were all pretty sure he was calling the state police to send someone over, but he gets back on the bus, glares at the thugs, and we drive off.
Wilmington, Delaware, is the first scheduled stop, and as we pull into the station we can see the Wilmington police waiting for us. A cop boards the bus and escorts one thug off; another cop boards and escorts the other thug off. They try to settle the matter, which is really a moot point — one of them was getting off in Wilmington anyway. The other thug is allowed to get back on the bus, and we move on. I get to Philly about an hour late, but since I had been texting Angela with updates and landmarks, she had just gotten to the station as well. For the rest of the day, in the back of my head I wonder if I shouldn’t cut my loses and just take Amtrack home on Sunday. I ultimately decide that the whole situation on the way up was just an anomaly, and I’ll take the bus back as planned.
The ride home was uneventful in and of itself, but the overall experience still wasn’t that great. That said, it was my fault. As I noted, Greyhound recommends that you arrive to the station an hour before your departure time — this is becuase they apparently don’t stop selling tickets when the bus is full. Now, that’s fine if you’re riding a route that has frequent service — like Philly-NYC, which was running about every 30 minutes on Sunday afternoon. The line was huge, and no matter what time people’s tickets said, they were put on the bus in the order they were in line, with very few exceptions (mostly having to do with what other little stops along the way were being made). Baltimore – Philadelphia doesn’t have nearly that level of service.
Sunday, Angela and I had a pretty full day — we had to drive a friend of hers home (about 20-30 minutes away), and were going to meet a friend of mine for a late brunch after that, then take me to the train. The brunch meetup didn’t work out as planned – my friends got stuck in traffic, so while the four of us ate at the same restaurant, we didn’t sit together. Angela and I went over and joined them when we were doing eating, so we at least got to catch up for a few minutes.
Anyway, I had it in my head that my bus left at 3:25. I pushed my luck with how long we sat with them at the restaurant — I got to the Greyhound station at I think 3:07, and realized that my bus actually leaves at 3:15. I got in line and was the fifth person. They seating a woman with a little kid, and the three of us (plus some more peopel who’d come in behind me) were out of luck. At first, I thought about calling Angela and having her check to see what Amtrack’s schedule looked like, and tell me how to get to the station. Ultimately I decided that I didn’t want to push my luck any more than I already had that day, so I wound up sitting on the floor in my spot in our line at the gate until 6pm, at which point the next scheduled bus to Baltimore showed up. People behind me got mad that they didn’t get on the bus (which was funny — they were behind me, and so cut it even closer than I did). There was lots of angry muttering about why Greyhound wasn’t getting another bus for us (for quite a while there weren’t enough people in line to justify that). Again, all from people who showed up even later than I did. I just sat on the floor and read until I ran out of book. I finally got back to Baltimore at close to 8:30, and took a cab home.
I wasn’t mad about this situation on the return trip — it was my own fault. I normally get to stations and terminals early so I don’t miss my train or flight or whatever. But I find it frustrating that they oversell their buses to the extent where part of their regular business practice is to leave people behind when they run out of room, even if those people have a ticket for the bus that’s leaving. (I overheard one woman talking about how she was forced to stay overnight somewhere because there was only one bus a day to her destination, and she wasn’t close enough to the front of the line to get on. And they wouldn’t even promise to get her on the bus the next day — they just told her it depended on how many people were already on the bus, and how far back in the line she got when she arrived at the station the next morning. Not even the courtesy of “yes, we’ll take your name and make sure you’re the same number in line that you are now.”) I know airlines oversell as well, and I know that people are routinely asked to give up their seats because of this, but in most cases you’re put on the next flight out, or given some kind of compensation (from what I understand, anyway). And when Amtrack oversells on an unreserved train, you can still cram yourself on and stand, no matter how much it sucks. Is this why Greyhound is so much cheaper?
For now, I’m switching back to Amtrack, and keeping an eye on Bolt Bus and Mega Bus (which I might try to NYC later this summer, if I can figure out how to get to the pickup, which is out in the ‘burbs) to see if they start service between Baltimore and Philly. And if gas prices ever come down I’ll consider a rental car. But I think I’m done with Greyhound.