Monday, August 27, 2012

Eighteen dollars to Wisconsin

Posted By on 08.27.12 at 03:25 PM

On Friday evening the Megabus station—that's to say the Megabus sidewalk, just south of Union Station, as the Megabus has no real station—had sort of a zombie-apocalyptic feel. It was filthy, for one thing. The sidewalk is wide on that block of Canal, the better for passersby to discard Dunkin' Donuts wrappers on. There may have been a bus coming but nobody seemed really sure. The many travelers on the sidewalk were threaded through with random people asking for money or digging through the garbage cans, which contributed further to the block's trash problem. There was a wet pile that could've been vomit. A woman asked me for $18 to get on the bus; I gave her a cigarette instead, she asked about my semicolon tattoo, and then she moved on to the next guy.

I'm on record as being a Megabus superfan, but it's not without its glitches. There was the time, for instance, when a busload of us got as far up 94 as Jefferson Park or so, on the way to Minneapolis, before one passenger realized this wasn't the bus for Saint Louis. On the way back downtown it was observed by a number of passengers that the bus was filling with the smell of gasoline, and so after cracking a window and dropping the wayward passenger back on Canal Street we headed to the bus barn on the south side—44th Street, I think, or thereabouts—to trade the vehicle in. It was about 11 PM.

We still made it to Minneapolis on time.

So the other night a woman was going around asking for $18 to get the bus to Madison, and a friend and I were waiting on a bus to Madison. For those trips, it turns out, Megabus has partnered with the Wisconsin-based Van Galder line, which boards in front of Union Station—one block north from the rest. This presents a problem for those of us who don't read our tickets very closely ("Look for the Van Galder Bus," the ticket says, it turns out). Luckily somebody's noticed the potential for confusion, because on Friday night a driver wandered through the waiting scrum and called out for people who were trying to go to Madison, leading them back up the block like the Pied Piper.

We followed him. The woman who'd been asking for money had given up talking. She'd now planted herself near the corner of Jackson and Canal and made a sign about her need for $18. The bus driver didn't miss a beat: he reached for his wallet, pulled out a $20 bill, and handed it to the woman. Then he kept walking. My friend and I looked at each other, touched.

On the other hand he forgot to tell her that the ride to Madison departed the next block up. She never made it onto the bus, but at least she was $20 richer.

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