Highway to Hell: Your most harrowing tales of budget bus struggles

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Welcome to your doom. Photoshop by Madelyn Owens

Thanksgiving is the most American of holidays. It’s a day of overindulgence, football, casually racist uncles, loose fitting pants…and hours spent in gridlock traffic on our crumbling highway system. Maybe you have the income to book a flight or a train on the Biggest Most Expensive Travel Days of the year, but most likely you will be braving a budget bus trip back to your homeland.

The low price tag comes with hidden costs: there’s the chronic back pain from the cramped seats, or a seat mate who packed their own tuna salad, of course. Sometimes though, things are much worse. A fellow passenger who won’t stop singing, a chugging contest in the back of the bus and threats of violence. Even worse, sometime YOU’RE the problem. To help you through the long journey ahead, our Brokesters share their most harrowing tales of bus life struggles.

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THE SELF INFLICTED

My worst experience on a Megabus, hands down, was my own fault. Incredibly hungover from a night of girly shots, vodka and vomiting, I got onto a packed Megabus with about 9 hours of travel time ahead of me. Every hour, on the hour, from Pittsburgh to New York, I puked up stomach bile into the horrible blue toilet goo (which would dangerously slosh at my eyes). The person I was sitting next to hated me more every time I would return to my seat covered in sweat, blue goo and puke.

– Britney Harsh

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PUSHING YOUR LUCK

I was just trying to get back to the city from the Poconos after a nice weekend with my girlfriend’s family, and had already been shut out of one bus. Another one was on the way though, they said, so I waited patiently with a few other dozen people. Then that bus pulled up and didn’t appear to have much room either. Not to worry, they told us, another one would be there any minute, probably, to take care of the rest of us. So, a whole bunch of us jostled for position hoping to get on the bus that was actually in the station, but we were orderly about everything. That’s when the casino shuttle pulled up.

It was like something out of a cartoon. A shuttle van from a nearby casino pulled into the parking lot, dumped out an enormous drunk woman who stumbled around before noticing the bus line. She shoved her way to the front and told people that she was getting on that damn bus. The driver came out to see what the ruckus was and the woman again told him she was getting on that bus, no matter what he said. And wouldn’t you know it, she did make it on that bus, first wedging herself in the door and refusing to move and then bull rushing her way on and refusing to get off. Just when things looked hopeless, an empty Martz bus pulled up behind the full, now completely fucking chaotic bus we’d been hoping to get on. That empty bus had enough room to whisk us away from the sad scene unfolding in front of us, and began pulling out just as the police pulled up to deal with the situation. Looking out the bus window, you could see local police officers trying to reason with the woman as we left the bus station behind, but things got even uglier, as someone on our bus got a text from someone on the other bus letting her know that the woman had bit one of the responding officers.

I don’t blame that woman though. I blame the casino for dumping a liquored up gambling loser on the general public, and I can only hope local authorities did too.

– David Colon

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THE BRODOWN

I was sitting on the second level of a Megabus bound for Baltimore. As the bus departed New York, it became apparent that the driver had absolutely no clue what happens on the second story. There was a group of drunken idiots behind me holding an all-out frat party in the last few rows of the bus. I was never a fan of frat parties to begin with, so being stuck in a confined space with one for four hours was a nightmare. I like drinking, but they drank and screamed “CHUG!” at each other and verbally harassed passengers for the entirety of the ride. Jane, get me off this crazy thing.

Margaret Bortner

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THE MONSTER IN THE BACK OF THE BUS

I was on a 9 hour Megabus ride (Pittsburgh  to NYC). It was dark, my phone was dead, the outlets and lights in my seat didn’t work so I had no way of entertaining myself with music or a book. I had no choice but to try to go to sleep to pass the time. And that’s when the nightmare began.

There was a woman in the back of the bus traveling with several other people. She had already had a few loud cell phone conversations  earlier in the trip; one brave bus citizen had tried to confront her early on and it went…poorly. Around 8pm, once it got dark and most people had settled in to try to go to sleep, she burst into song. It was just a snippet of a melody, but she sang it loud and proud. Every 10 minutes or so she would sing the same line. For the next. Four. Hours. Everyone was too afraid to say anything to her because of the previous explosive confrontation, so we all resigned ourselves to being startled awake by this human playlist from hell.

Madelyn Owens

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THE BUS WINO

I come to you today to lay my sins out for public absolution because, yes indeed, I was the one who wrought a nightmare on my fellow riders of the NJ Transit one year. It was about six years ago and I was dreading the slog back to Ocean County for Christmas. I was broke and working at Trader Joe’s but my one contribution to the family meal was through my employee discount at the store, namely by buying a whole shit ton of cheap wine to bring home. I loaded up a whole wine holder (six bottles) and trudged through the thick malaise of Port Authority on a Christmas morning to make it to my bus. The bus was pleasantly not packed, so I settled into my seat, put my belongings on the seat next to me and stared out the window at the encroaching grossness of New Jersey. When suddenly! The bus took a sharp (probably just a regular turn TBH) and my wine holder tipped over with the momentum, shooting the bottles clear across the aisle and under passengers’ seats. One shattered and the Three Buck Chuck rushed out onto the grimy floor. The bus started to climb a hill so the win sloshed with gravity’s flow up and down under the seats, with passengers’ screams and moans following the flow.

I apologized profusely, ran up to the driver for help, who had only a single roll of toilet paper to hand me. I was surely saved from being strung up like municipal lights along the Garden State Parkway only because it was Christmas morning, and the wine managed not to soak through anyone’s bags and ruin presents. The whole time I was cleaning up, one lady decided to become the NJ Transit sommelier: “That wine is terrible!” she yelled as I crawled under seats sopping up wine. “What is that? It smells like vinegar!”

When I finally recovered the broken bottle, I discovered it wasn’t the $3 Chuck that had broken open, but the one more expensive “splurge” bottle I’d purchased. Lesson: tie down your wine when travelling, and don’t trust the bus sommelier.

Tim Donnelly

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THE UGLY AMERICANS

I was heading to the Poconos from NYC, plugged into my music, paying attention to nothing, when the bus pulled over, police got on, and dragged the man sitting directly behind me off the bus. After we were stopped on the side of the highway for about an hour, the man got back on, sat down, and the bus continued on its way. I learned from the man, who was studying for his med school exams, that he had muttered an Islamic prayer under his breath, and someone on the bus had called 911 and reported him as a terrorist. Way to go, ‘Merica.

Margaret Bortner [Who has terrible luck apparently – ed.]

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THE SMEAR CAMPAIGN

On a post-Thanksgiving bus ride back from my boyfriend’s parents’ house in Virginia to Newark Penn Station (spoiler alert: this was a mistake), a big, scary woman sitting across the aisle from us was terrible in the following stages:

1. She spent the first three hours of the trip yelling on her cell phone.
2. The person she was yelling to on her cell phone for hours was ON THE BUS.
3. With the entire bus exasperated, my boyfriend and I politely asked the big scary woman to please quiet the fuck down. She refused.
4. Big scary woman screamed at us, said we were the ones bothering people, and accused my boyfriend of licking my nipples (we were bus-snuggling!) She threatened to beat the shit out of us when we got off the bus.
5. Continuing her tirade, big scary woman went so far as to plan the attack with a bunch of people in the back of the bus, whom she was apparently traveling with. When we pulled up to the station, the group gathered together to presumably kill us. Swiftly, we hopped off the bus, grabbed our bags, hid behind a small group of transit cops and made a run for it while the bunch was looking the other way.

Brokester moral of the story: contrary to Brokelyn code, don’t book a return trip to Newark Penn Station because of the slightly cheaper price. You may save a couple bucks at the time, but you’ll spend it at the emergency therapy session you book to talk about a big scary woman who threatened to kill you and your boyfriend on account of alleged nipple licking.

Cat Wolinski

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THE EPIC

One day last April I was taking the BoltBus from New York to Baltimore. I was jolted awake at about 10pm by our bus coming to a stop on the side of I-95 where it feeds into the Baltimore Harbor Tunnel. I was far in the back but could see a car had pulled in front of us. We were stopped by the police?

The car driver ran over and started banging on the door. The driver cautiously opened it and the guy motioned for him to exit. I thought for sure the driver was being arrested. It was dark and I couldn’t make out what was happening. Then I caught a strong whiff of fuel through the open door. “Ladies and Gentlemen,” our bus driver announced, “we all need to exit the bus now. We have a fuel leak. Please get off and walk about 100 feet down the side of the highway. Do not try to get your bags from under the bus. Do not activate your cell phones. PLEASE DO NOT SMOKE.”

While we waited and worried on the side of the highway, the driver was calling someone on his two-way radio. Ten minutes passed and he returned to our small group saying that we are to take our baggage from under the bus as quickly as possible. And for the love of God do not smoke! So we got out stuff, trying to step over the steady stream of diesel coming from under the bus. When finished and back in our cluster, the driver then said very calmly that we’d have to wait an hour for a relief bus, right there on the highway shoulder. Now we had been pretty calm up to the point, but this announcement released a cloud of obscenities and grief from the group. People were furious. We would have had a dead bus driver on our hands if not right then another BoltBus came to a halt in front of our group. “That was fast,” I thought. But it’s no relief bus; like our bus, it was packed. The door opened and the two drivers consulted. The new driver offered to take us all to Baltimore, but it would be standing room only.

A BoltBus holds 52 people; they do not hold 104. We discovered that, crammed in cheek-to-jowl, you can fit 99 people on a BoltBus behind the yellow line. I was number 101. Try as he might, the new driver could not fit the rest of us in the seating area. Under his breath he said to himself, “Oh, shit, I’m going to lose my license if I get caught,” and he waves the rest of us on. We were going to ride right up front.

There were three people in the door well, one person in front of the yellow line holding back the mass of people, and me, on the corner leaning on the driver’s back rest. After a couple of attempts, he slammed the door shut, turned out all the lights to hide our overstuffed cabin, and took off.

Since I was the de facto copilot in this highly illegal and dangerous stunt, I was enlisted by the driver to keep an eye out for police. I had no choice but to oblige.

The Harbor Tunnel was a cakewalk: smooth, no hard braking, no authorities. After that we had about ten minutes of city driving ahead until our stop at Penn Station.

Since we had a huge amount of unsecured people in this bus, I was certain our driver would take reasonable precautions in the city. I was wrong. He took the very first 90-degree turn at about 30 miles an hour while everyone gasped in the dark cabin. Then, with a straightaway with all green lights ahead,he floored it. We made it through several lights going about 45 miles per hour until one light turned yellow. The driver didn’t slow down. Then the light turned red. He couldn’t slow down in time. Before I could yell anything, he leaned on the horn and blew through the light.

“Jesus, what are you doing?! Your license! Think of your license!” I remember yelling. “Just look for police!” he hissed back.

Another hard turn, more gasps. Then a sudden halt. Another straightaway, two more blown red lights with the horn blaring. Then I spotted red and blue flashing lights on the side of the road two blocks ahead of us. “POLICE!” I yelled, doing my job.

He comes to a stop at the intersection, the airbrakes screaming. The driver was muttering, “Oh, man. Oh, man. Oh, man.” The policewoman stepped out of the car and… completely ignored us. She had pulled over some Camaro and didn’t even look our way.

Green light, another hard turn, and one last drag race through the streets straight to Penn Station. We made it.

Epilogue: a couple of weeks later a BoltBus en route to Boston from NYC caught fire and exploded because of a fuel leak. No one was hurt.

Conal Darcy

Do have your own bus-based horror stories? Share them with us in the comments so we can all vent/commiserate. Happy trails, brokesters!