Guest Post: On the Road: Atlanta to New York
A few months ago, Greyhound asked journalists and bloggers in Atlanta to try out their new Express service. Since I was already planning to go to New York for the launch of my new poetry collection, Render, I jokingly asked the PR person, Jessica C., if I could get a free ticket to NYC. I couldn’t believe it when she said yes. On the afternoon of April 11, I departed from Atlanta for an 18-hour bus ride up the East Coast. I was going to be a brave soldier and do the whole trip without stopping for a break. I was thinking of it as practice for when I finally go to Australia and have to sit on a plane for 20 hours. It didn’t quite go as planned, but the Greyhound folks I met along the way – from drivers to ticket agents – were incredibly helpful.
The new Greyhound Express fleet is painted with a dark blue and silver livery and the interior is definitely a step-up from the normal bus. There are wide leather seats, more legroom, cup holders, an electrical outlet for your phone or laptop and free Wi-Fi onboard. The bus driver on the Atlanta to Charlotte, NC leg was named Brenda and she was funny and no-nonsense. We left the city just after 2 p.m. in a torrential rainstorm and hit early rush hour traffic, but Brenda got us to Charlotte on time.
After quick stops in Greensboro and Durham, we rolled into the night toward Richmond, VA – the halfway point of this trip and where those going on to NYC would change buses. We arrived in Richmond ahead of schedule at around 12:30 a.m. During this leg, I realize that I am not 20 anymore and there was no way I can do another 10 hours on the bus. Even at nearly 1 a.m., the staff at the Richmond terminal was incredibly helpful. They quickly switched my ticket to an 11 a.m. departure, showed me where to grab a cab and suggested a couple of hotels near the terminal. It was fantastic customer service.
After getting some sleep at the hotel, I returned to the Greyhound Terminal for my 11 a.m. bus to New York. The terminal was packed with people, and so was my bus. I sat in the aisle toward the back with a nice man originally from Senegal, who had been on the bus for two days coming up from Miami. There were some other interesting characters on the bus, including a man headed to Manhattan in search of work and a woman skipping her Friday chemotherapy treatment so she could eat a big birthday dinner that night with her family.
It’s during this leg of the trip that I found the Greyhound Express’ biggest shortcoming: the lack of tables. In Europe, most coaches have a set of seats that face a table similar to a train carriage. Greyhound should consider taking out another row of seats or at least adding some fold down, airplane-style tables. It was impossible to do any real work on my laptop on the bus without a flat surface. I’d also suggest adding seat-back pockets for folks to put their magazine, snacks or iPad.
The bus driver on our Richmond to NYC leg was also very efficient and made sure we were on schedule. We stopped for lunch at Chesapeake House service station in Maryland, the fifth busiest rest stop in America. But this was no ordinary rest stop: inside the big building was a convenience store, fast food choices galore and quite possibly the cleanest pubic restrooms I’d ever seen.
Although our driver made good time, once we reached New York traffic was gridlocked. Our arrival into the Port Authority bus terminal was delayed by almost an hour as we inched our way through the Lincoln Tunnel. A Greyhound staffer told me where to find the taxi rank and I was thrilled to finally be in Manhattan.
Would I take an 18-hour bus ride again? Probably not. While everyone at Greyhound was fantastic, taking long-haul public transportation comes down to personal endurance and economics. The real take away for me on this trip was how necessary Greyhound really is to this country. From families, to those looking for work, to senior citizens, to students –Greyhound is still an inexpensive way to travel. Would I take Greyhound again for a shorter trip? You bet. I’ve already got one in mind for later this year.