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Toronto-New York by overnight bus: a test of resilience

Shannon Skinner's Travel BagSHANNON’S TRAVEL BAG: travel tips for women

Shannon Skinner travels by overnight bus from Toronto-New York City: a test of resilience.

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 This past weekend, I went to New York City. It was a last-minute decision to attend a reunion with Oxford University alumni and also visit a dear friend. Since it was so last minute, I had decided to take the overnight bus. Besides, I was up for an adventure.

I had recently heard about the overnight bus from Toronto to New York City and how popular it is with students and people working in the entertainment industry. I have not taken a bus, particularly an overnight one, since, well, I can’t remember. In my twenties and early thirties, I traveled extensively, much of it by bus. I had wondered if, now in my forties, I could handle 9-10 hours pulling an all-nighter in a sardines-can-on-wheels.

So, I put it to the test.

On Thursday, I arrive at Toronto’s downtown bus station in the early evening, fully prepared for my 10 hour trip (except for a bottle of water that I neglected to bring) and my first impression about the clientele is, how do I say, slightly different than what you might see in an airport. On the bus, I notice that most of the passengers are women.

We get off to a good start at roughly 9:30 p.m., and I am happily on my way to the Big Apple, but roughly about an hour into the trip, the bus stops at a set of lights on the highway — and stalls. I know this is not a good sign. The driver, who I think was a comic-wannabe, can’t get it started again and is clearly sweating it. Eventually, after about 10 minutes or so, he fires it up and tells us in his comical way he “hopes” we would arrive at our destination.

Hopes?! Okay, so I think:”Let’s find a little more certainty here!”

And off we go…again…

Thankfully, the bus is an express, with short stops in Buffalo, Syracuse, Rochester, picking up and dropping off other passengers and, of course, a pit stop at Canada-U.S. customs. In Buffalo, we get a new driver, whose physique makes me slightly uneasy because he looks like a prime candidate for a heart-attack.

By now, the bus is freezing. I politely ask our driver with no name if he could “turn up the heat,” as did another young woman. But, he is not interested in co-operating. “I like it cold,” he says. “I’m a cold-weathered person. Sorry.”

I guess it is his bus, he calls the shots. This means I freeze.

Then the bus driver informs us that he was told by another bus driver that Greyhound is fully aware that this bus has a problem with the heating and yet still puts it out on the road – and the bus drivers are not recommending people take this particular coach (Greyhound coach #1329).

Okay. So, we’re still freezing. I manage to catch a few winks, until the bus finds its way on the shoulder of the highway. The distinct sound of the pavement underneath, and the vibration, jolts people awake, me included, with some people gasping. So I think to myself: “Maybe this wasn’t such a good idea after all.”

Smooth sailing again and before I know it I arrive at the chaotic Port Authority in Manhattan with a stiff neck and cramped hips, but happy to be back in the city that does not sleep.

Sunday night comes too quickly, though, and my weekend is over (I didn’t get to the full reunion as life got in the way, but did get to one important reception). On the route back, I manage to get on an earlier bus than I had booked — the 7:30 p.m. Thankfully, there was no change fee and I just had to stand in line, as it is first-come, first-served. The ride is much smoother than the outbound one, the bus is more updated — and warm. However, a newborn sitting in front of me cries for what seems like an eternity. No way to escape the screaming, and my patience tested, I feel trapped. And grouchy. Although I’m not sure what is more annoying: the screaming baby or the mother who was constantly “sshhh’ing” it. Somehow, because I am feeling almost desperate to sleep at this stage, the sounds seemed amplified.

There is one redeeming factor on this bus trip for me — though it certainly is not the wild-hair, bespectacled woman who snaps at me for mistakenly sitting in her seat. It is the young man I sit next to on the way home. He is student at a college in Rochester, and a New York native. I’ll call him Jay. Jay dons a big, shiny, faux diamond earring stud and a baseball cap. He looks like a rapper. I learn that he is a DJ and studies communication, and has big dreams. I also learn he is putting himself through school and has a deep desire to succeed and inspire others – to give back. We talk about personal development, education, money, dreams — and Les Brown and other motivational speakers. Maybe one day, he says, he’ll be a motivational speaker, too.

Even though we are years apart in age, I connect with this young man and adore his spirit. Listening to his dreams inspires me to keep following mine.

Thank you, Jay.

Finally, we arrive in Toronto at 5:40 a.m. at a deserted and quiet Union Station, and I hop on the first subway train of the day – at 6:05 a.m. I am home by 6:30 a.m., just in time to start my work day, albeit with a foggy brain (and not before a much-needed nap).

As for my test of resilience: I passed. I think taking the overnight bus is a terrific option for students and travelers on a shoestring budget. But, next time I travel to New York, I think I will fly.

Ticket Cost: $118, round-trip (fares may vary, so check in advance)

Reservations: click here

Tips:

1. If you are traveling the Toronto-New York route in the colder months, do NOT take Greyhound coach #1329. Wait for the next bus.

2. Be sure to pack a bottle of water.

3. Wear comfy clothes – yoga pants are ideal.

4. Book on-line in advance for best fares. Seats are on a first-come, first-served basis.

 

 

© Shannon Skinner 2012

 

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