The Curse of a Long Bus Journey on the New York State Thruway

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Most if not all the travelers who read this site will not have traveled via a Greyhound, Adirondack Trailways or Peter Pan bus in New England, or if they have, it was a very long time ago. While we mainly focus on luxury and adventure travel and budget travel isn’t a core focus of ours, I took an Adirondack Trailways bus from just outside New York City to Albany New York over the summer.

I opted for this choice because of a scheduling complication and the fact that the route took me to where a friend could easily pick me up on the other end. What I didn’t factor in was how unreliable the time estimates are never mind how unsanitary the buses would be.

What’s ironic is that while doing that route via bus was certainly cheaper than Amtrak who wanted an wopping $110 for a short one way 3 hour train ride (I guess they don’t know about the Southwest specials that can get you via PLANE from SFO to Vegas or LA for that price return), I still wouldn’t call $45 a bargain for my Adirondack Trailways experience.

Here’s the thing – I’m close to it…the experience I mean. I grew up in the Adirondacks, so I know the route they take from NYC to upstate New York like the back of my hand. I know the trees, the roads, the cities, the people. When I was a student and in my early twenties, I took them all — Greyhound, Peter Pan and Trailways between NYC and Albany, Boston and Schenectady, and every variation in between. Syracuse – Buffalo – Rochester and Oneonta were also part of my repertoire as well even though for most of that time, I had a car.

Sometimes when it was so cold and snowy that the routes were more treacherous than some of the hairy roads and buses I took along unsafe cliffs in SE Asia and Africa. But, because I was a sturdy upstate New Yorker, doing such things in your life merely built character and wasn’t something you moaned about.

The bus stations at all of these destinations were something that every parent and grandparent feared however. I’d always get the warnings: never come in late at night or early in the morning and watch your bags and wallet like a hawk.

The stations seemed to be in the toughest of neighborhoods, where homeless Americans hung their hats and people who looked like they had smoked or drank more than they ate or slept, camped out. It was always like that. We knew the rules and what to expect and yet, what they never told us, was that this was a big part of what America was becoming in a post 1960’s life. The rich were becoming richer and the poor were becoming poorer and it was the beginning of an era where the upper working class and middle class were embarking on a road to near distinction. OR, at least that’s what it felt like.

My Adirondack Trailways bus experience went something like this.

I popped into the market on the main drag to purchase my one way ticket and the young woman behind the counter with a dialect that was neither southern, northern or anything in between. For someone who travels a lot, I still had a hard time making out her words, less so because of the accent but moreso because of the length of time it took for her to spill the words out: “oh yeah, Traaaaillweeys… I caaaeein neevvr figur’ oute how to saayyy thaat…”

“Hmmm,” I replied, “don’t you work here and sell tickets every day?” No response. I repeated myself and her response after a pause was,“teeeekit?” I caaan’t do that. I dooon’t knoowww howe, only thaat man in dthee baack caaan do thdat.” Rather than offer to go get thaat man in dthee back however, I had to go fetch him myself.

The bus was due to depart in six minutes yet it hadn’t arrived yet, so he sorta took his sweet time. Okay, so he told me to take a seat while he went on with his business unloading soda and water bottles into the cooler as if the bus was arriving in an hour, not six minutes.

Five to ten minutes later, he meandered over to the counter to take care of my ticket which took about five minutes or so, yet the bus hadn’t pulled up yet. 25 minutes late, it showed up and loaded its passengers after Ron, our bus driver tossed the heavier luggage below. The shop keeper’s lazy attitude had obviously become a pattern after getting used to so many delayed buses, so clearly there was no need to rush.

I grabbed a seat towards the front since at the rate we were going and his unwillingness to commit to long it would take, I figured I could be on this bus for six hours or more rather than the 3.5-4 hours I signed up for.

I quickly learned that the seats didn’t recline despite the obvious recline buttons and after checking 90% of the seats, I only discovered 3 seats that actually kept a recline without popping back instantly. Upon inquiring about this, I merely got a shoulder shrug.

The bathroom was…..well, it’s best just to skip that graphic visual for the sake of our readers, shall we?

The good news is that there were outlets on the bottom side of the seats (at least most of them) and the two I checked actually worked. It appeared that there was free wifi as well until it connected me only to disconnect me a few minutes later, never to reconnect again for the duration of the journey. When I inquired about this, I got another shoulder shrug.

The other good news is that while most of the bus terminals looked like desolate abandoned rooms from another time, Ron seemed to have a positive disposition and a commitment to getting his customers to their destinations safely. He joked and chatted and while he didn’t seem to have any answers to the questions that needed answers, he was at the very least pleasant about it.

I couldn’t give my friends an estimated time of arrival since he simply didn’t know. In New Paltz, a 30 something year old man with a psychedelic t-shirt on tried to hop on the bus saying he would pay for the ticket in Kingston.

When Ron turned him away and told him to buy a ticket at the station before boarding, the man returned with a shrug of shoulders saying the woman was taking so long that it wasn’t worth us waiting any longer since we had already pulled back into the station, delaying our departure even longer, while he went to purchase a ticket. The sad thing was that there was no one in line in front of him. In fact, there was no one at the station at all trying to get a ticket except for this one psychedelic t-shirt clothed man in his mid-thirties, who couldn’t seem to make progress on this simple transaction that was clearly frustrating him beyond explanation.

No grave surprise since the attitudes at the New Paltz station were more like F-You customer rather than How can I help you? The bathrooms were dirty, the café that was adjoined to it was closed despite the fact that it was only shortly after lunch time and the vending machines spat out chips with expired dates on the package. I drank my Diet Coke quietly avoiding the expiration date on the bottom since at this point in the journey, I didn’t want to know.

The bathroom already lost me at hello and the number of people on the bus who were coughing, sneezing and wheezing without covering their mouths was enough to put any traveler’s nerves on edge. It was less stressful on the third class train I took from Cairo to Luxor in Egypt.

This post may sound harsh and unfair, but know that I have taken a lot of buses and trains over the years in countless countries and as many frequent travelers know, third world countries now provide cleaner buses, more organized and courteous attendants behind ticket counters, better service and cheaper fares than anything I’ve found on America’s East Coast. Many third world countries now offer air conditioned buses with movies on board and seem to be able to do so for less money to travel further distances than the great ole U.S. of A.

Despite Ron’s great disposition (he was the saving grace), someone at Adirondack Trailways in Quality Control (if such a department exists) or customer relations (if such a department exists) might want to revamp a few things, or at the very least make a few upgrades to their buses and service.

While $110 on Amtrak is an outrageous price for a 3 hour journey via train even for the luxury traveler (remember, this is a ticket to get from A to B, not an “experience” or a “tour” you’re signing up for), I can now see why they’ve jacked their prices through the roof.

For anyone who has taken a bus, they’re less likely to return unless economically forced to and so, for any savvy traveler, they’ll fork over the additional $60-70 or simply rent a car to avoid the bus experience. Sadly, they shouldn’t have to spend that much for a train journey – it’s as if they’re jacked up the prices to tap into the business traveler market going from NYC to DC, Boston and other nearby cities.

It should be easier, more comfortable and more economical to travel by train and by bus in the states regardless of the fact that most people have cars. Perhaps if the experience was more enjoyable, we’d have less cars, therefore less pollution and traffic on our Northeast and East Coast roads.

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