We wanted our last stage of vacation to be as comfortable and trouble free as possible. We choose a NYC to Ithaca direct connect bus line noted for its free internet, on board snacks, and safe drivers. We looked into each other’s eyes as we snuggled into our comfortable seats and said “We made it!”. We were so wrong.
We had a bad experience with a bus from Ithaca to NYC. This was way back in March when we began our European trip. The relatively new bus line, the Red Bullet, had direct connections from Ithaca to NYC but the driver did not inspire our confidence when she stayed on her cell phone the entire four hours and drove fast the whole way. We decided not to return home on the Red Bullet. We choose instead the delux Campus to Campus Cornell Bus. The C2C bus line only travels between NYC and Ithaca where Cornell has a presence. It’s not cheap but it is safe.
The driver is considerate, the passengers are kind to each other. There are free snacks, free coffee, free soft drinks and free internet. We have ridden this once before and it is a joy compared with the multistop bus lines that take up to 6 hours. The Cornell bus takes about four and a half hours. It is direct, steady, and relaxing.
Our first hint of trouble was a big bump as we apparently ran over a rough stretch of road. Next our driver was signaled by a couple of truckers who pulled up alongside. We were only a few seats back from the front and heard him converse through his open window with the other drivers who indicated that there was a problem at the back of our bus. This was just before we started through the Lincoln Tunnel. Just before. There was no place to pull over. We white knuckled it through the tunnel trailing smoke from somewhere in the back. We could smell burning rubber inside the bus. The possibily of evacuating a burning bus in the Lincoln tunnel loomed in my mind. Everyone was quiet. Fortunately the driver was able to ease through the long tunnel and pull over into an emergency lane as we left the tunnel.
The damage was revealed. Somehow the frame of the bus had settled on top of the back tire tearing a gash on the outside edge. The tire had been smoking from this contact. This was not a simple flat. After a few minutes of driver cell phone conversation with Cornell, we heard the news. They would send another bus right away. With traffic that meant we would be sitting here at least 5 hours. Instead of returning to Ithaca by early afternoon we would arrive at Cornell in the late evening.
At first it seemed everyone was content to sit. However a more active group of young people asked permission to leave the bus and walk on the sidewalk nearby. This was granted but this attracted another problem.
A police officer stationed at the toll booth entry to the tunnel crossed the busy highway. He was angry. He told our driver to “keep your passengers inside the bus.” Several of the young men outside argued with the officer. The officer argued that drivers emerging from the tunnel would see people off to the side near our stranded bus and be distracted enough to slow down and possibily cause an accident. He had seen this before.
The reluctant passengers reentered the bus but it wasn’t long before a gray school bus of unknown registration pulled up in front of us and offered to give our passengers a lift. Some, mostly the group that had just been outside, took him up on his offer and left our bus. The toll booth officer was no where to be seen during this operation.
Meanwhile our driver was in almost constant communication by phone to Cornell making sure the next bus was on the way. He made periodic announcements. No one said anything. Passengers ate more chips and drank more soft drinks. Our driver kept the engine and AC on. Ariana and I read our Kindles and occasionally the news on the Internet.
About an hour later there was more action. A vehicle had sustained some damage from an accident in the tunnel and pulled up behind us. A large tow truck responded and soon that vehicle was gone.
Late in the afternoon a clean, fully stocked Cornell bus pulled up behind us. Our luggage was quickly transferred and we headed back to Ithaca. The two drivers conferred about alternative routes to avoid traffic on the way home. They weighed the options as we drove and it seemed like they made some good choices as we returned to Cornell in record time, albeit night time.
While we waited under a street light at an intersection in the middle of the Cornell University campus for our daughter to pick us up we noticed a young woman checking her iPhone. It was pretty obvious she needed help. It turned out she was from Latvia and was trying to located her lodgings for the night. Finally we were in a position to repay one of those countless gestures of help we had received in Europe!
Our daughter got a warm reception from all of us when she found us in the dark, sleepy and exhausted.
We drove the woman from Latvia to a place near downtown that was not clearly marked and waited while she confirmed this was where she would spend the night. Just in case we gave her our phone number and told her she could stay in our extra room if needed. We would drive back and give her a ride if she needed it. She didn’t. We got home about 11 or 23:00 (we do these conversions automatically now) and dropped into bed with the familiar sound of our bedroom fan humming a welcome home above us.
The next day we got an email from C2C Cornell with their apologies and free tickets for our next trip to NYC. We thought, great but it will be a while before we are ready to leave home again.
Next post – reflections on our travels and when we will be off again.