I long ago wrote two posts about my experiences on the famed ‘Gambler’s Express’ bus and promised one more to make the report a true trilogy. After covering the most important riders, though – bored octogenarians and douchetastic junior analysts at Charles Schwab – I realized there wasn’t much more to say. Sure, young couples ride the GE. White trash families. Both are fun to observe, but in the end, there are only so many words for “Don’t Bother Me, I’m Crabby” t-shirts and Looney Tunes jean jackets. With one Greyhound model clearly exhausted, the time seems right to take aim at a more dressed-up relative: the commuter bus. Suits pressed? Coffee in hand? Grab the window seats, people, and hold on to your butts.
Mornings are tough. Whether hopping out of bed at 7:30 AM or noon (it’s morning somewhere), there are few people for whom the process of kick-starting another day is anything but a necessary evil. But they do exist. And magically, each one of these people finds his or her way every weekday morning to the Mount Laurel, NJ Greyhound bus terminal. At 5:45. Looking to avoid Thanksgiving weekend traffic, I decided to head back to NYC Monday morning at the same time. Crazies cleared from the road, I figured the Turnpike trip would be quick and painless.
Turnpike trips are of course never quick nor painless, but riding with the commuter crowd provides fresh new perspectives on human suffering. These are people who have chosen, for some ungodly reason, to work in a city nearly 100 miles from their South Jersey homes. It’s a grind, without question – three and a half hours round trip on a good day – and one I really can’t wrap my head around. Why work in Manhattan when Philadelphia is infinitely closer? Or why not just live in New York? The masochism of it all is almost too much to bear.
Luckily for me, the group is just as well versed in sadism. It’s 5:45 in the morning. I’m non-functioning, and daybreak is over an hour away. Please don’t talk. Please don’t turn on the lights. Please don’t conference call. Please don’t power-smile (like regular smiling, but for business purposes). With every standard social convention turned on its head, I wonder if I haven’t in fact crossed into The Twilight Zone.
These are strange, offbeat people riding what is basically a prison bus with slicker uniforms but somehow… they manage to keep it together. Amidst vain attempts at sleep, I began to understand how. The commuter crowd – from bald-headed Todd up front to Mary the receptionist in the back – is at its core, well… a family. They all know each other from years spent trekking to NYC and back, men and women adhering to a well-worn routine. They’ve shared successes, failures. Brought together by Dunkin’ Donuts coffee and the latest USA Today, it’s these mobile relationships they’ve formed that make the daily trip a little more bearable. They may come in a variety of colors and textures – auburn, tweed, black, camel-hair – and from different beliefs and backgrounds (in no other space can a Christian woman yell into her phone, “I swear to God, I’m going to kill you!” while her polygamist seat-mate absently mutters “Fuck me… fuck me” after hearing some bad news), but they are united in suffering. Mine and theirs alike. See you all again at Christmas!
How about you schmucks? Teleportation-smooth Thanksgiving travel or start-and-stop madness?