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Get on the bus, Gus
by Marilyn Bagel

Simon and Garfunkel had it right when they penned the lyrics, “Get on the bus Gus.” As many of you recall, it’s a line from their hit song “Fifty Ways to Leave Your Lover.” But it has a much different meaning for me now that I’ve discovered THE BUS, the $50 round-trip miracle from Washington, D.C. to New York. Actually the one we take leaves from Bethesda, Maryland, a D.C. suburb where we live. Before I continue, I have a confession to make: I come from a long line of musical theatre-holics. My idea of heaven is sitting within the first five rows of the stage, close enough to see the actors’ spit. We typically have subscriptions to a couple of area theatres. I also regularly bow northward to pray in the direction of Broadway.

My daughter caught the theatre bug when she was three and now at age nineteen performs professionally. I’m much more comfortable working behind the scenes as a scriptwriter. Although I have a flair for the dramatic, I never had a memory for lines. Creative concepts — yes. Old boyfriends — yes. People who have done me wrong — yes, and forever. I can still recall the trauma as a young kid when I dropped out of a Sunday school production at the last minute because I didn’t think I could remember my lines. I had the role of a pencil in a Purim play. I’m not kidding. You couldn’t make this stuff up. Maybe that’s why I became a writer.

But I digress. Back to THE BUS. I already had your attention at “$50 round trip.” We used to take the train from Washington to Manhattan but the fares have jumped up quite a bit, which made us rethink taking that mode of transportation with any regularity.

The first time my daughter and I took THE BUS, we didn’t know what to expect. We had heard good things about it. Besides, where else can you go anywhere nowadays for $25 one way, except maybe to a movie with a large popcorn, Diet Coke® and Twizzlers®? The bus is clean and there is a restroom on board. Across the street from our Bethesda departure point is a Starbucks, and we’ve made it part of our ritual to get lattes and scones to take on board. In general, people bring food along for the ride.

What impressed me from the outset were THE BUS company’s efficient systems. Easy. Simple. A no-brainer. You reserve your seats online. They send you e-mail reminders about your reservation, with the option to make changes or cancel it entirely. You pay when you’re on the bus in cash or — get this — by check. Not only that, for every one-way trip you take, you get a coupon. Four coupons entitle you to a free one-way ride. We’ve ridden several times gratis.

Now I realize that on THE BUS, we’re at the mercy of highway traffic. However, I want to point out that several times we made it to Manhattan in three-and-a-half hours. THE BUS drops you off at Madison Square Garden. You can’t get more convenient than that. The ride back to DC usually runs four hours. It’s up to the driver as to whether he wants to make a pitstop at a rest area for food. Otherwise, this is a non-stop trip.

So just who takes THE BUS? If your images are those of folks who are all down on their luck, forget it. There are couples of all ages, young people headed back to school, families, pairs of women heading to conferences, men-on-cell-phones traveling together, well-heeled ladies with their LV bags, and a few senior citizens for good measure. You hear the buzz of conversations. Here plans are hatched. Problems are solved. Even deals are made. Like mine.

During the stagehands strike, when I didn’t think we could get tickets for a particular show we wanted to see, I bought tickets to another. Fortunately, the strike was settled right before our trip and I was able to get tickets to the original show, which left me with a pair of fourth row matinee tickets I didn’t need. On our ride up to Manhattan, I overheard two women who were sitting behind us discussing that they were planning to see as many shows as they could. With that, I turned around to them and while apologizing for eavesdropping, ask her if she was interested in my matinee tickets. She immediately grabbed her wallet, peeled out $180 and bought them from me on the spot.

If all this is possible on THE BUS, who’s to say that adventure, romance, and intrigue may not be far behind? After all, nowadays when dark chocolate is the new vitamin and text messaging is the new foreplay, just think of THE BUS as the new Orient Express.

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