Columns

2012.12.26 Don't forget a sleeping bag

on . Posted in By The Way

By DAVID GREEN

Daughter Maddie is living in Chicago and coming home for Christmas. I assume by the time you read this I should be talking in the past tense, but it's Saturday and she's still there.

She talked about riding Megabus to Toledo on Christmas Eve because her other Chicago-to-Michigan friends have already departed. 

Are you familiar with Megabus? It's the cheap alternative to Greyhound. I'm not sure how they make it work, but tickets are really quite inexpensive, yet the buses are very nice.

One way they cut costs is that no bus station is used. Here are the instructions for finding the bus in Chicago: "Chicago's stop for all arrivals and departures operated by Megabus is located adjacent to Union Station on the east side of South Canal Street, about 300 feet south of Jackson Blvd."

It's similar in Toledo. The bus stops along a street near the old Southwyck Mall site.

I haven't been on a Greyhound in five years or so, but I'm guessing that it doesn't match Megabus in amenities: free WiFi and places to plug in your electronic devices right at your seat. However, I'll bet the driver doesn't wear a spiffy uniform like the Greyhound guy.

Maddie has taken Megabus several times and she enjoys the ride. When she mentioned it this time, I wrote back, jokingly: Christmas Eve on Megabus. Now you know you've really made it in the world.

I hope she knew I was joking. I better have been because I was soon thinking about a trip that I made going home for Christmas when I was about her age. It made Megabus look luxurious.

I've been trying to reconstruct the adventure in my mind today. I think it started on Campobello Island, New Brunswick. I was on a bicycle trip and I met a man on the beach one morning who told me and my bicycling partner, John, to stop by when we reached his area in Maine. We did stop by and I ended up living in Maine for a year.

I think the man might have been the son of the home owner where we stopped. The owner was a professor in Boston (Harvard? MIT?) and spent the summers in Maine.

I worked in a little country school that year as the class clown and when it was time to go home for Christmas, the school's teacher made arrangements for me to stay with the professor and his wife in Boston until I found a ride to Michigan. I have absolutely no idea how I got to Boston.

In those days colleges had ride boards. If you needed a ride or had one to give and wanted passengers to help pay for gas, you posted a note on the board. I found a ride to Detroit, but it wasn't leaving for a few days so I had to remain a guest with the strangers who probably didn't want me there. I left the house every day to get out of their way, but all I remember now is telling some Scientology people that I wasn't interested in taking their stress test. My loss, I suppose. I might have become best friends with Tom Cruise and John Travolta.

Departure time came and I got in the car with four other people. I soon learned that the car's heater didn't work. I copied the others in the back seat by getting out a sleeping bag and sitting inside that—at least until it was my turn to drive across snowy Ontario. That was a little tricky because the brakes didn't work, either. You had to coast and use the emergency brake that was controlled by a lever, if I remember right. There was only one close call when I was at the wheel. Something to do with a sharp turn onto an exit. I made it home for Christmas.

Getting back to Maine was easier overall. I took a train to a friend's apartment in Montréal and then…I don't know, I guess I figured something would happen. My friend's friend decided to drive me back just for the adventure, and it did become an adventure. There was some kind of car trouble out in the wilds with deep snowbanks looming in the dark on either side of the road. The details are gone. Either we got the part we needed or we limped on in. It was before the days of duct tape.

Any time you want to ride Megabus, Maddie, it's OK by me. But just in case, don't forget to take a sleeping bag.

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