Three cheers for MEGABUS! I came, I rode, it rules. Definitely the best transportation innovation since the nitwits-that-be did away with rail service.
There were maybe half a dozen of us down at the Multi-Modal Transit Center on a misty pre-dawn Tuesday. I'd made my reservation online, as instructed, at www.megabus.com, and signed up for my one-dollar ride (each way, plus a 50-cent reservation fee: Take that, Ticketron!). Obviously, this pricing structure is not sustainable over the long haul, but certainly a deal for me, for now, and if that’s the way they want to promote the service, fine. The driver was courteous, even understanding because I'd written down the wrong reservation number. But my iPad knew I'd signed up, so in the immortal words of Pylon, everything was cool.
The iPad! It is to the 21st century what electricity was to the 20th. Making all our lives better. Voltaire (or was it La Rochefoucauld?) said that one generation’s luxuries are the next generation’s necessities. Who could live without the Internet in their pocket? Would life even be worth living?
The Mega-bus, qua bus, is just what one would expect. I think I saw the same pseudopsychedelic upholstery on a Scottish motor coach, the only difference being that the door and steering wheel were on the wrong sides. That's globalization for you. But this bus also has the Internet, a portable (if slightly censored) hotspot, not so hot if you want to look at that kind of video, but, hey, this is family transportation, and all I want to do is check my email, anyway.
My fellow passengers snoozed, or read, or ate snacks as we lumbered down 316 in the dark, heavy traffic at daybreak in Lawrenceville, comme d’habitude. Then the majestic sweep onto I-85 South, serious a.m. Atlanta traffic. This is the first good use I’ve seen of the zillion-dollar revised HOV lane. Usually I travel this route off-hours, when the sign pleads for a pitiful nickel for the privilege to occupy the far left lane. Thanks, but no thanks. The Megabus swept past the poor suckers in the other six lanes, no competition: life in the fast lane, for real. One hour, 40 minutes to Atlanta, as promised.
When I’m using public transit, I always dress for combat, sort of. Boots, leather. You know, contact sport. As a Wagnerian soprano once observed, comfortable shoes are of the utmost importance. One also must be conscious of the weather. An umbrella usually will repel rainclouds, but when it rains it pours, and without your automotive carapace you're exposed to the elements. Pockets are valuable, too. One doesn’t want to be rooting around in a bottomless bag for fare cards and singles in the midst of morning rush. Another thing that separates the driver class from the rider class is the schlep factor. You’re going to be lugging everything you bring around with you, not just tossing it in the back seat, so make your selections accordingly.
And while we’re at it, let me say that MARTA’s fare card system is way too complex. In the D.C. Metro, you put money in one slot, and a fare card comes out another: done. In Atlanta, it's 20 questions from the robot screen. There's a choice of about eight different operations and permutations, add trips, add stored value, how much, different kinds of cards, and a final silly query about whether you want a receipt. Oh, yes, that buck-seventy-five is coming right off my taxes. Sheesh. All I want is to get on the blasted train, pal. Take my money. Please.
Megabus makes an admirable connection to Atlanta’s MARTA system, coming to rest at the Civic Center Station on West Peachtree, about halfway between midtown and downtown. When you emerge from the bus, you could almost believe you’re in a real city. People, cars, buses, tall buildings, highways, wind and pigeons. You can scuttle straight down the stairs to the train, which is keen if it happens to be going where you want to go. You can head north, to the North Avenue Trade School (AKA Georgia Tech), Midtown, Arts Center, Buckhead, Lenox and beyond—even Doraville (touch of country in the city). Or go south to downtown Atlanta and, eventually, the airport.
On the return trip, a prompt 7:15 p.m. departure, I met a lovely couple visiting from Central Asia who popped over from Athens for a day in the big city. Penguins, soda pop and cable TV remain the highlights of our big sister city, its cultural contributions to the world. To be fair, we’re mainly known for football, an emancipated oak, and the double-barreled death-wish-granting cannon. Oh, and a string of wildly successful, world-famous rock bands. Sorry, Atlanta, I'll always prefer Athens. But with MEGABUS providing cheap and easy transit, we can each visit the other’s world whenever it suits us.