Saturday, June 23, 2012

Mega Bus

Despite the buzz it has created, Megabus gets a low grade for one of my least pleasant trips of the year.

The worldwide bus company offers eye-poppingly low fares. One way fares between Albany, New York and New York City ranged from $13 and $19, when I traveled last week. That is not the $1.50 suggested in the company’s advertising but is excellent value for traveling over 150 miles one way.

It appears these are online only fares. Yet, ordering online with Megabus is easy. Further, when I could not find my reservation in my e-mail, the woman at the company’s call center found it for me. She was friendly, efficient and was working in the United States. The other Megabus staff, drivers and staff at the stops are also generally friendly and efficient.

Low fares make Megabus popular and crowded. On my trip, the bus was either full or nearly full. At the Megabus stop in the City, on 10th Avenue between 40th and 41st Street, there were long, but orderly and good-natured lines of people heading for New England and for Pennsylvania.

The Megabus Albany to New York City run is not between traditional bus terminals. In Albany, the bus stop is at two small shelters at the north end of an open parking lot by the Albany-Rensselaer train station and the stop on 10th Avenue is on the street. If it was raining or snowing the City stop would not be comfortable.

The reason I give the service a low grade is that the company appears to have overbooked my trip. When my bus from New York City stopped in Ridgewood, New Jersey, there were three passengers trying to board and only two seats vacant. The driver directed a college-aged young woman to leave the bus because of no seats. She appeared to have a reservation from an online purchase and it was not certain what the company was going to do to make things right for her trip.

This situation was not just a problem for the passenger who could not travel. The bus driver was enforcing safety rules by not allowing the young woman to ride but the circumstances made him look like an ogre. While he and the passenger debated, the bus was not moving, passengers were squirming in the uncomfortable seats and the bus was delayed.

Several friends find Megabus fares, its routes and travel times irresistible and it certainly had a schedule that worked for me. But if you travel by Megabus, please . . . show up early, so you get the seat you paid for!

Monday, June 11, 2012

Crying Children and Southwest: A Revelation

A crying kid is not the first person one would think would offer a life lesson. However, on a flight home from California, I learned a lot from a little kid with big lungs.

Our Southwest flight was full. We had few seating choices as we boarded later in the check in. The only row with two seats together was in front of a family, with a crying child.

For two hours or so, adult beverages and an excellent mystery helped tune out the crying and wailing.

After awhile, the crying became hard to tune out. The noise was making me cranky.

However, when I walked back from the bathroom, I took a second to look at the family. The view from the behind was different than the sound from the front. The older sister was playing with her younger sister, trying to distract her with dolls. Unlike many families, where the kids are at each other’s throats much of the time, this girl was pitching in and trying to lead.

Then, later on in the flight, the little girl was calming down and peering over the seat. We started talking to the family. They were not bad parents. They were nice people. They were on their way home from a big family gathering in California, just as we were on the way home from our daughter’s graduation.

Sitting next to a crying child was annoying but the family worked together to calm the girl down. This was a refreshing change from the many times that families let young children just act out in public, standing there all the while with that look on the face that says, “Whose child is that?”

At some point in the conversation, the father said to us, “I don’t know why this is happening.” “We have,” he concluded with a puzzled glance, “flown before and never had this problem.”

I realized the phrase “I don’t know why this is happening” is universal to being a parent. Most parents try to do right by their children. Yet, regardless of how much hope and effort they bring, there are always surprises - - good and bad - - as parents, children and families move through life.

So here's to parents everywhere and, while we are at it, Happy Father’s Day!