Friday, September 01, 2006

Tips and Tricks For the Bus-Riding Gentleman

Travel is becoming increasingly hard these days. Rising gas prices have effectively ended the era of the affordable road trip, and the combination of bad service, ridiculously high ticket prices and overreaction to "terrorism" have ruined the airline industry (which was ALREADY losing money anyway). And don't even think about taking a train anywhere... you'd be better off buying two plane tickets and flushing one of them down the toilet.

No, the only viable cross-country mode of transportation for the average joe these days is the bus. I know a lot of you don't want to admit this, but unless your family is pretty much well off (or has saved up for a few years), you're probably not going to be able to afford to take any family vacations these days without the bus. It's an unfortunate situation that we have to accept, since the airline industry can only go down from here, and the "alternative fuels" crap with the corn oil is just not going to work any time soon.

So, here is a brief guide to those of you still willing to shell out a couple hundred dollars for a trip across the U.S., as written from the perspective of someone who just got back from a 50 hour bus trip.

1. Pack light.
The more luggage you pack, the more luggage you will lose. The bus will have to stop at least every 6-8 hours (or less), and with every meal stop is a new driver or a new bus. If you think that those greasy mullet-headed bagjockeys give a goddamn about your luggage, just take a peak at the unloading area. Chances are that they'll be pulling your bags out of the bus and throwing them at the ground as hard as they can. They only care about their $5.50 an hour, so don't pack anything valuable, or if you do, put it in a carry-on bag. The carry-on bag is extremely important, but I'll cover that more later.

2. Be a "Seat Republican".
If you're not careful, you will be stuck with the most miserable seat in the bus. It is important to be vigilant about your seat. If you get up, someone will take it, even if you're just getting up to go to the lavatory in the back of the bus (which is NOT advised for completely different reasons as well). This is why you must be a Seat Republican.
In other words, you must not empathize with any of your fellow passengers. You must not let your guard down. You must not show mercy. This is in stark contrast to the Seat Democrat, who lets his conscience get in the way of his own personal comfort. You have to get used to being a complete asshole if you want to keep from going crazy, and so it is necessary to be a Seat Republican.
The first step is to keep an eye on your fellow passengers. Is there one particular passenger than sees him/herself as the leader? If so, this person will most definitely try to tell the other passengers the "rules" of the bus, including how long they should take at each stop, which cafe they should all eat at, etc. The most important thing you must know about the "leader," however, is that he or she will always try to form a line to get on the bus a second after everyone gets off at a stop, since all the passengers are forced off the bus whenever there is a driver change). Of course, a few people will see this person waiting to get on the bus and will immediately form a line behind him or her, meaning that it is basically impossible to go get a cup of coffee or use the restroom without being stuck with the piss seat.
This person is the Alpha Seat Republican. They will always get the best seats, and will always ruin the entire bus trip for everyone else. The only method of combat is to become a Seat Republican yourself. Get in line right behind this person, even if your legs hurt from unnecessarily standing in a line for an hour and a half while your bus driver pinches a loaf. That hour and a half is nothing compared to the eight hours of sitting in an aisle seat next to a baby that is crying while pulling your hair and then throwing up and pooping on you at the same time.

3. Sit strategically.
Part of being a Seat Republican is knowing where and how to sit. First, always sit in the middle of the bus. The front of the bus is always filled with crying babies and old ladies that want to talk to you, while the back of the bus is filled with the same people that rode in the back of the bus in grade school. The middle of the bus is relatively quiet, and if the acoustics are just right, you should be able to block out most of the sound. Second, always ALWAYS get a window seat. Every window on a bus has a strong air conditioner right below it that blows away shit smells from the lavatory and keeps you from boiling in your own B.O. Don't be fooled by the overhead twisty-type air conditioner, it doesn't work.

4. Be ruthless.
Once you've chosen your spot, you must keep it. Sitting in a window seat is alright, but you'll never get to sleep if you have to sit next to someone. If you keep the seat next to you open, chances are that it will be filled by a 400-pound guy that spreads his legs out as far as he can. There are several methods of keeping this seat to yourself.
The first method is the "I brought too much luggage" maneuver. This is where your carry-on luggage pays off. Simply choose your seat and place the luggage in the seat next to you, and then either don't make eye-contact with anyone walking past your seat, or adopt a Johnny Rotten-esque sneer. Most people will be too shy to ask you to move your luggage until the bus is absolutely full except for your seat. This method is even more effective if you sit in the aisle seat and put your bag next to the window while the bus is loading. People definitely won't want to climb over you or ask you to get up while a bunch of people are waiting behind them.
The second (and best) method is the "sleeping baby" maneuver. Once the sun has set, simply take off your coat and place it over your head. Then either sprawl out over both seats or put your luggage next to you. People will definitely not want to mess with a sleeping guy, especially one with B.O. as bad as yours (and trust me, after 24 hours you will smell like the inside of a Subway restaurant).

5. For god's sake, don't watch any of the movies.
When bus drivers pick movies for the passengers to watch, they basically just go to a pawn shop and pick out 20 movies out of the bargain bin at random. Unless you're particularly fond of watching "Action Jackson" and both "Big Momma's House" movies, I suggest you find another way to occupy your time.
Of course, you could always bring a book. This is not advisable if you're hesitant to be a Seat Republican, though, as anyone sitting next to you will invariably start to ask you all sorts of questions about it, as if you were giving a book report. These people are as bored as you, and will resort to any and all topics of conversation just to keep from going crazy themselves. If you absolutely must bring a book, don't bring a sci-fi book, since then it will be very hard for you to explain the plot of it to your neighbor without sounding like a nerd, or a moron, or a nerdy moron. The ultimate bus book is "It," since any conversation about the book ends after only two sentences ("What is that book about?" "A clown that kills children.")
The best option is to listen to music, though. If you can bring enough music to last you the entire trip, do it. Wearing headphones also has the added bonus of keeping any uncomfortable conversation to a minimum, especially if you listen to Marilyn Manson or Slayer or some other band that makes people uncomfortable to be around you.

And finally...

6. Keep an eye on your bank account.
As stated before, every bus company is completely manned and operated by minimum-wage-slaves. This goes for the customer service reps as well, who also have thick Southern accents and use phrases like "six ways from Sunday." These people don't care about you, they only care about keeping their jobs and continuing to feed their twenty stepchildren wet cat food. They WILL mess up your ticket, especially if there's more than one stop on the way to your destination. I recommend buying your ticket online (after making ABSOLUTELY sure you've got your information correct) and then only dealing with a customer service rep once something has screwed up. And again, keep an eye on your bank account after buying your ticket, and don't be surprised if there's a computer error and $900 is charged to your account instead of $50. Remember, bus companies have to refund your money if you don't claim your ticket, even if they say they don't. Just keep fighting them.

Keep these pointers in mind for YOUR next bus trip, considering that I haven't dissuaded you from actually riding the bus. Ask yourself whether 48 hours of your time is really worth an extra $300 before you rule it out.