Another one rides the bus.

I want to go to Cardiff, Wales, while I’m in the United Kingdom. The train fare from London made my head spin: $83.50 to $131 each way.

Who’s for the MegaBus?

Yes, the MegaBus operates in the United Kingdom as well as in the United States and Canada. I’ve never taken it, but I just booked myself a ticket: The fare is $10.33. Round-trip.

This might very well be the British equivalent of “riding the dog,” and I’ve heard some pretty hair-raising tales of Greyhound bus travel. But since the trip lasts only a little over three hours I’m pretty sure I can cope.

There is no assigned seating so my plan is to get there really early and be one of the first ones in line. I want to sit as close to the driver as possible, in case the bus passengers there are like the ones I meet here in Seattle.

Once while taking the #174 bus from the airport to downtown I was sitting toward the back near some loud, loud guys. At  one point when the driver slammed on the brakes we all heard a thunk! and then the sound of a bottle rolling around on the floor.

Moments later the smell of beer was apparent. Within a few minutes, the scent made its way to the front of the bus. The driver came back to fuss at the malfeasors but they claimed it wasn’t their bottle. No, it belonged to that guy who’d gotten off earlier.

The driver stomped back to his seat, muttering, “I shouldn’t have never been a bus driver.”

Caution: Bad language below

That little pause made me miss my connecting bus, the #358, by approximately one minute, according to the folks who were also waiting. The next one came half an hour later. During that time, I was mesmerized by the woman who leaned against the post office and had a long, long conversation with someone who wasn’t there. I mean a real conversation, complete with hand motions, exasperated expressions and even, at some points, moving her head around as though to follow an invisible person’s movements. Maybe her imaginary friend was pacing.

About 10 minutes into the 358 ride, there was a ruckus at a bus stop. Some guy bolted onto the bus, chased by a weaselly little guy with a mullet and a Tony Orlando mustache. “You asshole! You creep! Get back here!” he bellowed.

The driver started chanting, “Get off my bus. Get OFF my BUS!”

Meanwhile, Mr. Mullet was yelling, “You fat little cocksucker! Get back here! If I ever see you again, I’ll kick your ass, and that’s a promise, not a threat! Bitch! Cunt!”

“Get OFF my BUS! Get OFF my BUS!”

Finally, the Bad Language Bear left the #358, still sputtering with rage.

“Boy, how often do you see something like that?” another passenger marveled. “A guy who rips off a drug dealer and then escapes on the bus?”

The driver didn’t even look away from the road. “About 3 or 4 times a week, on this route.”

I hope he writes a book.


30 Comments

  1. Well, I’ve never had quite your adventures on the buses, but…

    I was taking French classes a few years back, and as they were at night, in the winter, I decided to take the bus home most nights instead of walking. I’d get on the bus, and to pass the time, practise what we had leaned that night in class.

    Until I realized I had suddenly become *that* person – the one who talks to themselves while riding the late bus…. ;)

    • Donna Freedman

      @K.B.: Sometimes I feel like “that” lady in my neighborhood, the one who walks around wearing an old coat and carrying a bag, and talking to herself. I tend either to:
      1. Run through my to-do list out loud (“After I get back from the store I need to set up that interview and then vacuum and then…”), or
      2. Talk my way through writer’s block (“What’s this piece about, really? Where’s the focus?”)
      Oh well. Maybe living alone makes you a little weird.
      Merci beaucoup,
      Donna

  2. Donna, maybe you have just become eccentric, like me. Oh me, oh my, I tend to do the list thing aloud. Even worse is the fact that sometimes I am just moving my lips. Or, is it good just to move the lips and not utter a sound? Yes, I live alone, too. I had a blog post this week about my eccentricity. Barb piped up with a funny comment about what people say about her. The $10 busfare sounds so cheap that I would be a little on edge. Remember, 40 years ago, the people on the Greyhound could only afford to hitchhike. If the ride or language is too rough, you can always just take the train back and pinch pennies elsewhere. Go to Stonehenge for me.

  3. Donna,
    I used to read a Glasgow Bus Driver’s blog that was an interesting and funny look at who and what got on his bus at night. The BBC made a radio show out of it and I think there’s a book out, but he shut the blog down because he was afraid of losing his job.
    http://news.scotsman.com/latestnews/It39s-been-a-journey-concludes.5451508.jp
    Can you email me your travel schedule so we can plan a meeting if you are anywhere close to me on your UK journey. I’d love to meet face to face and it would be fun if we could schedule a coast path walk together.

  4. Elizabeth

    I live in Chicago. I understand and could tell public transit tales forever, many of which would be unfit for children to read. Regarding the woman with the imaginary conversation, did people stay away from her? The general advice is, if you’re ever REALLY scared by what’s going on around you (waiting in the dark at a bus stop with unsavory characters, on the subway without any conductors and someone is sizing you up, etc), start singing like a crazy person. Everyone stays away from a crazy person.
    Enjoy your trip and stay safe!

  5. I’m another Chicagoan and I have definitely done the crazy-person-on-the-bus routine, though not singing, just serious-conversation-bordering-on-argument with myself. Throw in some nervous twitching, and it works like a charm.

    To be fair, I’ve heard nothing but good things about the Megabus here in the states, namely that it’s cleaner and faster than the Greyhound. My dad – who’s taking the Megabus from Cincinnati to Chicago next week – told me the company is owned by the Brits.

    Hopefully you’re in for a pleasant ride!

  6. Donna,

    I found your website by way of the comment you left to ‘Roger’ on thesimpledollar.com today. I just wanted to tell you that you hit it right on the head ~ you are 1000% correct in your response and it really made me think too about my own parental predicament.

    Enjoy your visit to the UK. I lived there for some years and went to school there. Going back for a visit either this year or next. Have fun and be safe.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Quest: Thanks for your comment. I think that the people who responded to Roger’s question completely missed the possibility of an underlying problem and focused instead on “Your mom just doesn’t want you to move out” or “Don’t let her drag you down, man!” The fact that Trent — who bills himself as Mr. Family Man! — advised him to let his mom “hit rock bottom” concerned me greatly. Seriously: If something happened to him 30 years down the road and Sarah went into a deep depression, would he want their kids to ignore her?
      I appreciate your stopping by, and hope you’ll take some time to look around. Oh, and be sure to check in on Fridays, because I announce my weekly giveaways then.

  7. And this is why I LOVE the fact that you have your own site!!!!!! You would defiantly have to water that one down for MSN!
    I would love to go on an adventure with you! I’m sure that you will be fine in England and even if they cuss at you, it is still ok because they have such adorable accents! I’ve heard it and it is really adorable.
    I have a joke that would fit in with this story, I’ll send it to you. There is a picture of someone at a bus stop.
    Have a great weekend.

  8. Donna, I love reading your financial tips, etc. But, I am really bothered by the language in this column. I do not allow anyone to use the “c” word around me; it is a violent, abusive word, and I’m disappointed you felt you could use it in your column.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Lynda: I was in newspaper mode there, reporting what I saw and heard. I put the “warning, bad language below” subhed in so that people could choose to stop there.
      We’ll have to agree to disagree on this one.

  9. All I can say is that I once had a very passionate (but legal) love affair for about 8 hours on a greyhound in the middle of the night with a cute male stripper. . . he really was the safest person to talk to and this was LONG before ipods or laptops or wifi and I had no book.

    • Donna Freedman

      @CandiO: Eight hours on a bus with nothing to read? Arghh! I’d have lost it.

  10. Donna I’m hoping that your MegaBus trip is less eventful….it will be I’m sure. Under $10.33 is a good price and Cardiff will be lovely.

  11. Oh, Donna! This one had me LMAO. Can’t hardly WAIT to read about your trip to England and Scotland.
    As for the language used by the disgruntled drug dealer, you did post a warning. Besides, I’ve used some of those words myself when I needed to get a point across to someone who wouldn’t take me seriously otherwise.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Catseye: Language has power. ;-)
      I am looking forward to posting from the U.K. If I get that camera and learn how to use it in time, I’ll post photos of oddities I encounter. I seem to have a gift for encountering them.

  12. average joe

    All a hoot! Glad you didn’t water down the dialog ;-)

    Here’s a recent NY Times article about various cheap bus companies, including MegaBus (which comes out pretty good).

    http://frugaltraveler.blogs.nytimes.com/2011/01/04/a-guide-to-cheap-buses-including-how-to-score-1-tickets/

    Have a great time.

    Keep writing!

    • Donna Freedman

      @Average Joe: Thanks for stopping by. And yeah, I think MegaBus will work out fine. I found out that the next time I visit my dad in South Jersey I could take it to Washington, D.C. for about $7 bucks each way. Score!

  13. We were in San Diego once, and decided to take the bus to Anthony’s, a famous restaurant in (we found out) a really crappy neighborhood. By the time we leisurely finished supper, it was late — and no bus. Some guy started following us, getting closer with each block. He was within half a (very short) block when a bus went by, going the other direction. We flagged it down and got on — fast. (And watched him staring at us from the spot where we’d just gotten on.) Turns out it went across the street from our hotel! I’ve blessed late night bus drivers ever since.

  14. lostAnnfound

    I never heard of MegaBus. How do they get away with so cheap fares? This makes me think twice about some trips I’d like to take, but the cost of getting there was more than I would want to pay.

    • Donna Freedman

      @lostAnnfound: Go to megabus.com and check out the many cities in which the company operates. Funny’s right: That’s in the eastern part of the country now, although you can get as far west as Minneapolis.
      The reason it’s so cheap is that there’s very little overhead: No bus stations and no ticket agents. You make an online reservation and bring the code with you when you get on the bus.
      Oh, and there’s free WiFi. Maybe I’ll post while I’m on the road between London and Cardiff, especially since the London hostel charges for WiFi (I’ve already got a website that will help me seek out free WiFi in the city).
      Some sample fares:
      Chicago to Minneapolis, $25
      Philadelphia to Washington, D.C., $1 to $5
      Boston to New York City, $13
      Raleigh-Durham to Washington, D.C., $5 to $12

  15. Hm. Looks like in the U.S. the Megabus is only in the East.

    I’ve sure had my experiences with the city bus, the lightrail, and the Greyhound. What…gas is $3.00 a gallon? Worth every penny!

    In fairness, though, we had great experiences riding the Greyhound in Canada. There, the drivers don’t seem to hate their jobs. Riders are by and large clean, quiet, nonthuggish, and sane. It’s not a comfortable way to travel long distances, but when the drivers and passengers behave like normal people, it’s OK.

    • Donna Freedman

      @Funny: Ever see the Canadian troupe “The Kids in the Hall”? There’s a routine about a long bus ride and a singalong:

  16. Hi Donna,
    I enjoy reading all of your articles, be it here or another site, and hope you have a great trip to the UK. Just a note of warning, the Welsh are the worst. My friend and I went a trip to the UK and the time we spent is Wales was, by far, the worse part of the trip. Servers refused to wait on us, our hotel refused to connect my boyfriend, who is Irish, to our room when he called and refused to even admit that Americans were staying there. We are from the South and tried to be polite and friendly since we were visiting a foreign country, but our courtesy was not returned in Wales. I would never, ever visit that country again and I’m a Tom Jones fan! I hope you have better luck. Let us know how it goes.

    • Donna Freedman

      @MW: I’m assuming that yours was an isolated, unfortunate experience. After all, people who come to our country may hook up with terrific service/kindness or they may land with unfriendly business owners who have it in for “foreigners.” I hate to think that if they did they’d make the leap to “All Americans are jerks.”
      Sixteen years ago my daughter and I spent 10 days in London. I kept getting asked if we were Canadian. After the third or fourth time I said, “No, we’re from Alaska. Why do you ask if we’re Canadian?”
      “Because you’re so polite,” was the reply.
      Hoo boy. The ugly American spirit lives on!

  17. Just so I don’t leave it on a negative note, I would like to add that Scotland was absolutely beautiful and the people there just as lovely. I loved England as well. I hope you have a great time!

    • Donna Freedman

      @MW: Thanks. I’m looking forward to it and already feeling that I won’t have enough time!

  18. Well, now I’m laughing all over again. Offended by c*** but not by c***sucker or b****. Go figure.
    I was on the red line in Chicago last summer and twice in a day there were two totally different men who launched into the same “I’m tired of your s***” monologue. The first one I heard while I was on the platform waiting for an early a.m. train at Clark and Division, the details of which I regaled my traveling companion when I came back to our B & B. The second one was up by Addison St. near Wrigley Field. My companion asked, “Is this the same guy?” I said, “No! This is someone else!” I have the magic touch!! But more disconcerting was later that evening we were up in Old Town and a man started screaming anti-semitic epithets at my companion. I’m sure the guy was drunk, but I was flabbergasted. Companion, however, took no offense: he’s a Roman Catholic of Italian descent.

  19. I live in the UK and, it is quite clear that the down-at-heel image of Greyhound passengers does not really apply here in general. I’m a big user of Megabus, National Express and the newcomer Greyhound and have only ever found the company around me very civilised. This may be because rail fares are expensive and the passenger profile is more middle-class than in the US.
    One question – why is the company called Greyhound and not Grayhound?

    • Donna Freedman

      @ChrisH: The company is named for the greyhound dog, which I assume connoted speed. The buses had (still have?) greyhounds painted on them. Hence the term, “Riding the dog.”
      Thanks for reading, and for leaving a comment.

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