This was my third time making that trip. I had previously rented cars, but the rental car expense was getting excessive. So I had the bright idea to take a bus instead. The bus cost only a third as much as a rental car. Seemed like a no-brainer.
"Never take the bus," I had been told by several people through the years, "Do not take the bus. You will be sorry."
But I'm like, "What's the problem?" Yes it will take about 3 hours longer. But, I don't have to drive and it's so much cheaper. Seems worth it. I can stand a few hours on a bus. It can't be as bad as all that. What could possibly go wrong? So..... I checked it out and the buses are nicer than they used to be. There's charging for your phone, etc. Besides, lots of people ride the bus every day.
I bought the ticket. Scheduled to leave 8am Sunday.
Fast forward to a cold January Sunday morning in Bloomington. Now, Bloomington is a nice college town and they run city buses and have a nice, big, brand-new bus terminal. So we show up at the big new bus station. And it's closed. Because Sunday. Not open. No attendant to help out or explain anything. OK, no biggie.
We are early so we wait outside in the cold. And wait. A couple of other guys are there waiting too. Now this station has like 6 islands or whatever for the buses to pull up to. So we and these other guys are waiting up by the station building. We are stuck outside, and it's pretty cold. The bus is like 15 minutes late. I cannot check the tracking on the bus because the leg to Bloomington is a subcontractor and not Greyhound. So anyway, my son and I are goofing around and looking at our phones passing the time waiting on the bus to pull up. Well, after a little while, we look up and notice a bus standing waaaayyyy over yonder at the very farthest side of the depot -- like 40 yards from us. When did that get here? Why is it way the fuck over there when all the people waiting are over here, you know, by the freaking bus station building? Why was there no announcement, or at least a honk on the horn or something? Is that my bus? It never sounded its horn and there was no announcement or communication by the driver, no attempt by the driver to see if those people over there might be waiting on this bus, the ONLY bus here. Furthermore, this bus is in graphic tour/rental coach livery, painted up like a tiger, with no destination placard in the windshield or anything. It does not look like an in-service busline bus, but some sort of private charter or something.
While all this confusion is running through my head, and about the time I decide maybe I should walk over to see what this bus is, the bus pulls away: again with no departure announcement or anything. As it is pulling out of the depot I see, in small print on the rear of the bus, the company name..... yes that's my bus, my ride back home, driving away.... $#@*#!!! And those two other guys waiting? Not waiting on Greyhound. Those imbeciles are waiting on the city buses, WHICH DON'T RUN ON SUNDAY. We had reasonably assumed they were waiting on the same bus we were, since it was the only bus coming that day. But no, they were waiting on a bus that wasn't even scheduled to be there at all. I'd never taken a bus before and since there was no instruction I was just following the crowd norm and waiting with the other people. Who waits half an hour for an unscheduled bus that's not even running? WTF? And how was I supposed to know that my bus was going to pull up way the fuck over there, and not by the building, where the people were actually waiting? And doesn't the bus driver have a responsibility to announce arrival, boarding, and departure?
So, anyway, there we are, in the freezing cold, freaking out because my ride just vanished around the corner. That was THE bus. The only bus. All other transport out of Bloomington is closed. Because Sunday. And I have work tomorrow.
Only one solution: catch the bus at the next town where I am supposed to transfer buses.
Did I mention we had walked to the bus station? So we are suddenly in a terrible hurry and now we have to walk back to the apartment to get my son's car. Brisk walk back, stressing out the whole time. Of course the car is totally on empty, having just been driven back from Missouri. So, I'm driving, he is navigating. We stop for gas on way out of town, chewing up precious time. Finally get on the road to next town. How far is it? Is there time? It's 120 miles, and barely time. So it's hammer down. Going to Evansville. It's bigger. They have recently built a new 4-lane highway to there. It's nice and new and totally empty on Sunday morning. Literally only saw like 10 cars in 100 miles. 85mph cruise the entire way. Shortest 120 miles I've ever driven. He is checking time and navigating route to bus depot once we get there and also checking other options in case I miss bus. Oddly, I notice we have never overtaken the bus I'm supposed to be on. I figure it probably stops at other towns along the way, but still weird. Of course, the bus station is on the opposite side of the city, and downtown. We have to go all the way across town and find the terminal. But we manage to get there exactly at the bus' scheduled arrival time. On the dot!
And guess what? This depot is closed-up and vacant too. And no bus. Totally empty. Deadsville. Huh??
Soo.. It turns out we crossed a time zone. Really? A time zone change on a 100 mile drive within the same state? And we were going south! All that stress and hurry and driving like a bat out of hell to get there right on time, but then arriving a full hour early! Jeez! This depot is closed too, but turns out there are several people waiting out back, and these are obviously waiting for Greyhound: luggage and all.
So we have an hour to kill. We find the only open coffee shop and chill. Then back to the depot. More people waiting. Eventually several buses start pulling in. So it's getting late and my son wants to leave, and I'm like, "should be cool, what with all these buses showing up." So he leaves. The bus I was to be on from Bloomington also finally arrives. But none of the new buses are mine. I must say here that all of the drivers of the new bus arrivals clearly and plainly announced their bus' destination and made sure that people knew what the bus was (unlike the horrible bus driver of the Bloomington bus).
About this time I realize I can now track my bus since it's actually Greyhound. I check the app and.... It's running 4 hours late! Four hours late! For real? I check with one of the other drivers, and they confirm, yes, my bus is four hours behind schedule. Crap, I've already been in Evansville for two hours! Then I check my itinerary. In St. Louis I am to get a connecting bus to Columbia, which will take me to Midway, just 20 miles from Boonville, where my wife is to pick me up. But this four hour delay means I will miss the last bus to Columbia/Midway. I will be stranded in St. Louis tonight. I'm still not making it home, and not making it to work tomorrow. My son is long gone: I'm solo. Fine.
Remember I mentioned that we had checked other options on the drive down? Well, the airport here is open, and the car rentals at the airport are open. Obvious solution: cab to airport and rent a car to drive home. Awesome.
I call about a car:
Yes we have cars available, all we need is a credit card.
I have a debit card and over $1000 in the account.
No good, has to be a credit card.
What if I pay cash?
No. We don't take cash.
What if I book online?
No. Still need a credit card.
So there is no way I can rent a car now, today?
So I'm stuck with the 4 hour late bus. Four more hours to kill. Did I mention it's Sunday? In a super-conservative city? Everything is closed. Like zero traffic downtown. I found an open Starbuck's - thanks google maps. I'm racking my brains. I can get to St. Louis, but then what? How do people get to Columbia from St. Louis? And it hits me: MoX. YES! I call them. Their last shuttle leaves from Lambert Field at 10pm, and they take walk-ups. Perfect. I should just make it. I check cab availability from the downtown bus depot to Lambert. $50 but totally doable. This is actually gonna work. So I walk around some more. Find an ATM and get the $60 cash for MoX. Find a restaurant for lunch (the converted old Greyhound terminal, which I find ironically appropriate). I must have walked 3 miles total.
Back to the depot. My bus FINALLY arrives. I board, something like 8 hours after I was supposed to get on the first bus. Boring uneventful ride to St, Louis. BUT... remember how I mentioned the bus was supposed to have power outlets for phones, etc. Yeah. They were NOT working. I've been burning up my phone battery all day because of my situation. Since I was going to be on a bus I had packed as lightly as possible. Only one small carryon is all I had. Good thing since I had to schlep it all day. But I didn't pack an auxiliary battery for my phone since there was supposed to be power on the bus. But no. My phone is definitely going to die, so I set it to airplane mode and power saver and I don't use it anymore except to call home. By the time I do eventually get home it's down to 3%.
Anyway, ain't nobody on that bus happy, including the driver: we are all on the bus that is 4 hours late. Morale is low, people are pissed. So why was that bus so late? The original driver apparently had just had enough and walked off the job, leaving the bus right where it was. They had to call in a replacement driver to retrieve the bus. It says a lot about the company that they had a driver just quit on the spot like that.
Anyway, the passengers were cool, for the most part. Half of them were college students it seemed. One of them said his mom had called the company and she said Greyhound said they might run an extra bus when we got to St. Louis so we wouldn't be stranded overnight. This is a 75% full bus after all. Looks like maybe I'll get a bus to Midway after all! Throughout the trip the driver repeatedly told us there would be agents in St. Louis to address our concerns, St. Louis being a major depot and all. We were all looking forward to having our situation addressed by the agents in St. Louis, and maybe getting a bus to continue on. Like any good company, Greyhound would take care of its customers.
Soo.. we pull into the St. Louis depot at 8:45 or thereabouts, and disembark the bus.
There are no Greyhound staff in the place.
Greyhound's counter is dark and closed. Amtrak is staffed, but Greyhound is absent, just gone. Info desk says that they won't be back for 45 minutes. Can you believe it? They ghosted us! They have known literally all day that a problem bus was arriving at its terminal station at this time. They have had all day to prepare. A real company would have had the site manager there to handle it, no matter what the hour. An airline would have hotel vouchers, at least. Greyhound? Nothing. Lights out. Abandoned customers. Stranded travelers. People were livid. Security officer was tetchy. Voices were raised. It was not a pretty situation.
But this was all meaningless to me. I couldn't wait on Greyhound as my window would be closed by then. As part of the spiel for new arrivals, the Information Desk pointed out all the connections available and they mentioned the Metro. I had totally forgot the St. Louis MetroLink! I wasted no time. I was out the door immediately. To the ticket kiosk and onto the platform. I got there just ahead of the train, and was able to hop it right away. Trip to airport took no time (MetroLink goes up to 50mph with no stops except stations). Got to Lambert lickity split and only cost $1.50. MetroLink is awesome.
You know it's been rough when the MetroLink ride is the literal best part of your day.
I got to the airport with 45 minutes to spare. Complemented the train driver on the efficient ride. Went into the airport and called MoX to let them know I was there and for the driver to expect me. Turns out MoX has a person on staff 24/7. They don't run 24/7 service, but if you call them anytime, a real person will answer the phone. They are awesome.
I chill at the St. Louis airport for 45 minutes, go to the rendezvous point, and MoX shows up. Turns out I know the driver. He had been a FedEx driver for many years. He and I talk for several minutes as we wait on his clock to count down (they are very precise about their departure times-if you miss them it's your fault). His scheduled pickup was a couple flying back from vacation. I don't know what they thought about the driver and I chatting like old buddies. I was just so happy and relieved. So now I can finally relax. It's just a 2-hour van ride back to Columbia. I dozed off for most of it. Got to MoX in Columbia at midnight. Midnight. My wife and daughter drove over to get me. I finally got home around 1am. It was quite a day.
And that is how I spent $110 to travel 365 miles in 16 hours.
So, yeah, don't take the bus.