For those of you who go on bus trips with some regularity, this won’t be funny. This will be your life.
However, for anyone who has watched with fascination people getting off a big bus, blinking and squinting, dragging a sleeping leg behind them, and wondered what could compel someone to board such a contraption and turn over their lives to a retired man who will drive through West Virginia mountains in the middle of the night, come on in, I’ve got a little story for you.
I rode a big blue bus from the Kroger parking lot in my neighborhood to New York City last week. I was one of the 270 people from Lexington who traveled with the Dunbar Marching Band for the Macy’s parade. According to Mapquest, that’s 724 miles. Eleven hours and 30 minutes.
I’m new to being a band mom and I’m new to buses, so I started out with high hopes. I had packed a carry-on bag as per my instructions. It was filled with optimism, a good attitude, two crossword puzzles, a cheerful book, a blanket, makeup, a change of clothes, and two bottles of water. I didn’t notice that everyone else had packed large bottles of narcotics, alcoholic beverages, headphones and weapons. Even my mother-in-law, my traveling companion, was packing Pringles and a mild sedative.
After two hours, my cell phone rang. It was my husband.
“Where are you now?” he asked me in a cheery voice.
“We’re still in the Kroger parking lot,” I whispered, afraid the other parents would hear me and think I was a complainer.
“WHAT!!??” he shrieked.
“Apparently we have to travel as a convoy, so if one person on one of these five buses has to make one more trip to the bathroom, or forgot their wine, or has to do some last minute grocery shopping, we all have to wait.”
We both agreed it was a wise decision that he didn’t come with me on this trip.
Two hours later we were stopping for our first restroom break. I didn’t understand. I thought there was a bathroom on the bus.
“The bathroom on the bus is really only for emergencies,” the bus driver explained. “Cause ya know, whatever you put in there, you carry along with you the whole way.”
After that was the dinner break in West Virginia, then an 11:30 p.m. restroom break, then the 1:30 a.m. driver switch, then a 3:30 a.m. rest stop, then an early morning breakfast stop in New Jersey.
The breakfast stop was where, theoretically, we were supposed to change clothes and “freshen up” for our first jam-packed, fun-filled day in New York. But with 270 people, more than half of them women, and four bathroom stalls and four sinks, my hopes of looking like I could take the stage at the Rockettes’ Christmas Show were quickly going down the drain. Clearly, I would not be taking New York by storm with my good looks. Or my good smells.
“I can’t figure out why we can’t make this trip in 12 hours of speeding and peeing in that perfectly good toilet on the bus,” I said to some of the other passengers. They smiled and shook their heads. “Your daughter’s a freshman, isn’t she?” they would ask.
Nineteen hours later we pulled up to Radio City Music Hall and we got out of the bus, blinking, squinting and dragging sleeping legs behind us.
They say you make a lot of friends on these big bus trips. I’m not sure about the friends part. And my mother-in-law will never be able to attend a Dunbar function without a wig and fake mustache because of what happened on the way home.
It was at the 1:30 a.m. rest stop. The bus was kneeling and idling and all passengers were asleep when she turned to me and whispered, “Do you want your sandwich?”
We had tucked away two of the best sandwiches ever in our shopping bags from the United Nations gift shop, and stuck them in the overhead compartment. My mother-in-law had a turkey wrap and I had a smoked salmon and goat cheese on rye.
Let’s just say that while Connolly’s has the best sandwiches in Manhattan, the UN has the loudest, most crinkly shopping bags in the free world.