Rid­ing like a dream from sta­tion to sta­tion

The Washington Post Sunday - - TRAVEL - BY ME­LANIE D.G. KAPLAN travel@wash­post.com Kaplan is a free­lance writer based in the District. Her web­site is melaniedgka­plan.com. Find her on Twit­ter: @MelanieDGKa­plan.

When you’re a child prone to car­sick­ness, the wheels on the bus go­ing round and round are noth­ing to sing about. On field trips, I sat at the front of the bus with my teach­ers while the cool kids sat in back jok­ing or jam­ming to a Walk­man.

Over the years, my aver­sion to bus travel only grew. Head­lines re­minded me that buses oc­ca­sion­ally ca­reen off cliffs, cross me­di­ans or catch fire. As an adult, I have man­aged to avoid in­ter­city buses. In ad­di­tion to a fear that heavy brak­ing, curvy roads and stale air will un­set­tle my equi­lib­rium for days (I never grew out of my sus­cep­ti­bil­ity to mo­tion sick­ness), I worry that I’ll have an un­bear­able seat­mate, run out of snacks or feel trapped when I need to stretch my back. I imag­ine buses de­layed by hours, stuck on the side of the road or stalled in traf­fic.

Of course, it’s easy to steer clear of buses when you love be­ing in the driver’s seat. I road-trip through time zones like some peo­ple binge on Net­flix — I can’t get enough. I like to leave be­fore sun­rise, stop on a whim, play loud mu­sic, drive in si­lence, pull over when I’m hun­gry and reroute when I hit traf­fic. Plus, I pack the car with things that don’t board buses — my bike, pad­dle­board and bea­gle.

When Chi­na­town buses rolled out in the 1990s, lead­ing the wave of dis­count bus lines, their low prices tempted me. But I’ve still opted for the eco-un­friendly car or the wal­let-un­friendly train and never re­gret­ted my de­ci­sions. I’m not alone. A friend who trav­els of­ten told me that she would sooner poke her eyes out with knit­ting nee­dles than take the bus.

Then, last month, I needed to travel from San An­to­nio to Austin for a flight. I asked my Aus­ti­nite friend Chris, one of the coolest kids I know, about trans­porta­tion be­tween the cities. It’s a no-brainer, he said. Take the bus!

Just like that, I shelved my fears and booked a trip on Me­gabus.com. The 90-minute leg was just $5 (!) so for another dol­lar, I splurged on a re­served seat and ta­ble up front.

In San An­to­nio, I rolled my suit­case a half-mile through down­town to an empty park­ing lot at Fourth Street and Broad­way. The blue dou­ble-decker bus ar­rived slightly be­fore our sched­uled 5:30 p.m. de­par­ture. A dozen peo­ple, most of them young, lined up by the back of the bus like they knew the drill. We left our lug­gage on the pave­ment with the driver, trust­ing that it would end up in the cargo com­part­ment.

I took my seat. A young man sat across the ta­ble from me, and we each had empty spots next to us. A woman and two kids sat across the aisle, and I looked long­ingly at their bag of road-trip snacks.

As our driver inched the bus out of the park­ing lot, he wel­comed us and men­tioned the re­stroom in the back. If you talk on the phone, he said, please use whis­per voices. My table­mate made a quiet call and be­gan watch­ing a movie on his phone. There was a time, I’m told, when one could ex­pect to meet fel­low pas­sen­gers on a bus — wan­der­ers, tourists, ro­man­tics. I looked around and saw video on de­mand.

We merged onto In­ter­state 35 go­ing north, and af­ter re­turn­ing a few texts, I re­laxed my gaze out the win­dow. The cen­tral Texas land­scape isn’t my fa­vorite, but it was re­fresh­ing to stare aim­lessly at the hori­zon with nary a thought of speedome­ters or gas gauges. I rec­og­nized names of small towns I’d once vis­ited and day­dreamed about a long-ago Texas ro­mance.

We passed Cow­boy Har­ley-David­son of Austin, just out­side the city, and I texted my friend Chris our ETA. We hit some traf­fic but still ar­rived ahead of sched­ule, a few blocks from the capi­tol dome.

I stood up from my com­fort­able seat and stretched. Yee-haw! My bless­edly un­event­ful ride was over. The bus hadn’t flipped or ig­nited, I hadn’t turned green, and by the time I had ex­ited at the rear, my lug­gage was on the pave­ment. I ca­su­ally grabbed my bag, waited for Chris to pull up to the curb and hopped in his car. Like I knew the drill.

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