Pee Pee Bus
Peter Tatara - October 31, 2006
Two years ago, I started going out with an adorable Chinese girl. I was in college. She was in college. Since then, I've graduated, while she's still finishing up her education. While this means a long-distance relationship fat with empty beds and lonely nights, it has also earned me the esteem and respect of my co-workers. (Not the long distance part, but the romantic rendezvous with a supple college girl in the full bloom of youth.) So, when my girlfriend's fall break approached, I took a week off from work, bought a bus ticket, and headed up to see her for the first time in four months.
After sneaking out of my office a few hours before my workday was through, I took the 4 PM Shortline bus from New York City to Ithaca. My iPod, fully loaded, lulled me to sleep within 15 minutes of the start of the trip, and when I woke, it was nearly 10 PM, and I was just outside of Ithaca, NY.
A call to my girlfriend confirmed she was at the bus stop waiting for me.
"Why'd you get here so late?" she asked, pondering why I hadn't opted to take an earlier bus the following morning. She was concerned, with me just getting into Ithaca at 10 PM, that there was nothing for us to do. I know, she's naive.
My week with my girlfriend included long walks, intimate dinners, and of course buying her clothes and a giant, stuffed penguin. (Seriously, the thing's over three feet tall.) And then, as if it was all an instant, I was standing outside the Ithaca bus station, waving goodbye.
I got to the bus station around 8:30 PM, with my bus back to New York City scheduled to show up at 9:05. I was in a sweater, a suitcoat, some wrinkled khakis, and women's gloves. There were already a few people lined up, waiting for the bus. While I took a Shortline bus to get to Ithaca -- and I travel on Shortline most of the time -- Greyhound had the last bus out, and because I wanted to spend as much time as possible with my girlfriend, I opted to, as the bus company's ads proclaim, "go Greyhound."
9:05 PM. No bus. No problem.
9:10 PM. No bus. No worries.
9:20 PM. No bus. Starting to get a bit worried.
9:30 PM. A bus, but not my bus.
9:35 PM. I called my girlfriend and let her know what was up. I asked her to Google "Greyhound" to get me some phone numbers. Several others waiting with me began trying to get in touch with the bus company, too. Of course, all of Greyhound's numbers led to automated responses. Coupling this with the fact that all of Ithaca's bus station staff left hours ago left us feeling pretty alone. Several passengers went home. Several others went to a bar across the street. I asked my girlfriend to get me some numbers for New York City's Port Authority terminal -- my phantom bus's destination. Of course, the main Port Authority and Port Authority Greyhound numbers were both answered by robots. Finally, one of the numbers my girlfriend got me led to a human being.
"Port Authority," the man at the other end spoke, gruffly greeting me.
"Hi, I'm trying to get information on Manhattan-bound Greyhound Bus 227," I said. "It was supposed to arrive in Ithaca at 9:05 PM, but it's not here yet."
"Sir, you have to get off this line," the man replied.
"I don't understand," I responded.
"Sir, this is the Port Authority Terrorism Hotline," the man informed me. "This line has to remain clear."
He hung up.
I began debating remaining out in the night with my shivering companions. A few taxis, taking notice of the line of people outside the bus station, told us they'd give us a group discount. We pondered taking the cabs up on their offer. I started making a list of people I had to call and things I was supposed to do tomorrow. I didn't want to use up another vacation day, but there didn't appear to be any other option. A woman who works for a major publishing house started to feel ill, needing to be back in Manhattan for an important early morning meeting. I tried to comfort her. Had the situation been different, I'd have tried to pitch her a manuscript.
Another woman, still making calls, had begun phoning every major bus terminal in the North East, figuring at least one would lead her to someone she could talk to. She ended up making contact with a Greyhound worker in Albany, NY. He informed her the bus would arrive in Ithaca at 10:20 PM. He didn't say much else. Still, it was the first outline of an answer we had received.
I called up my girlfriend and let her know the update. She encouraged me to start heading back to her dorm, but as tempting as the offer to spend another night beside a body built for pleasure was, I quickly remembered her roommate had returned. I told my girlfriend I wanted to wait for the bus a bit longer. If it didn't show up, I wondered how much I'd have to pay the roommate to spend the night sleeping in the hall.
I blew on my fingers, my women's gloves not doing enough to keep my hands warm, and marched in place, waiting for 10 PM to roll into 10:20. Each minute seemed to come more slowly, and when we survived the centuries that separated 10:19 from 10:20, we were all still alone. The cell phones came out. My companions told family and friends the bus wasn't going to show up. A last call to the Albany terminal assured us the bus was on its way. So, again, one last time, we waited.
10:30 PM. Our bus pulls in.
The bus driver refused to speak much about what had caused the delay, but as we all climbed aboard the bus, met with the angry eyes of a half-dozen already-seated passengers, we soon found out. The bus skipped the Ithaca terminal entirely, making several other scheduled stops along its way to New York City, before the driver realized he was making such good time because he never picked up some of his passengers. He turned the bus around and drove back to Ithaca. I was happy. The other Ithaca passengers were happy. The other passengers were not. Hissing and fuming, they all glared at us. But rather than growling back, I and the other Ithaca passengers only laughed. Perhaps the cold, perhaps the alcohol, we didn't really care. We just wanted to sleep.
Only, then, after all of five minutes on the bus, we all started to realize something. One of my more-smashed compatriots perhaps put it best.
"The bus smells like pee pee."
It did. But not some lingering, ancient odor hidden in the shadows, the bus, once we got under way, was ripe with fresh, unapologetic urine. We laughed again, but looking into each other's eyes, we grew sick, and after a score of minutes, it grew worse as the rank urine fumes shifted to that of feces, and for the entirety of the trip, every fifteen minutes or so, the smells would switch. I -- and everyone -- went back to the toilet to try to remedy the issue, but it wasn't a matter of flushing of closing the bathroom door. Somehow, vapors from the bus's sewage container were being siphoned into the air circulation system.
It was only through tissues pressed to my nose that I was able to hold in the contents of my stomach -- preventing a pee pee, doo doo, and vomit trifecta.
The bus got into New York City at 3 AM. And after trying to find my way out of the labyrinth of locked exits that is Port Authority after dark and an out-of-service 7 Train, I stumbled into my apartment at 4 in the morning. I realized once I was home that, although I was off the pee pee bus, I still reeked of urine. The fibers of my suitcoat and sweater having sucked in five hours of concentrated wee, the overpowering stench refused to leave me. The next day, I paid a trip to my local dry cleaner.
What is the moral of this story? Why did I feel compelled to share it? You see, I tried to speak to Greyhound following my trip on the pee pee bus. I'm not normally one to complain, but in this instance, I feel I am somewhat justified. (Also, my girlfriend told me to yell at them.) My phone calls and e-mails asking for a refund or free tickets, though, have thus far gone unanswered. This being the case, it's only natural for me to go to the great town hall that is the internet to share my story. The folks at Shortline are always spot on, but beware Greyhound, as if you travel with them, you too may end up on the pee pee bus.