Mega Busted: The Trials and Tribulations of Traveling Without a Car

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If home is where the heart is, my home is scattered around the country. (Not unlike how I think I'd like my ashes to settle one day.)

New York has become my default "home." There's no longer a childhood room awaiting my arrival in Maryland; only one of my high school friends still carries an Ellicott City address. Everyone in my life, from high school to college and beyond has shuffled around, landing in cities from coast to coast; two even left the country for a couple of years to explore foreign lands.

So, when I get "homesick," it's for a home that doesn't actually exist. It's for my parents' beautiful South Carolina patio. For my grandfather's chair perched in my brother's Mississippi abode. For playing with Legos in my college friends' eastern Maryland rental.

And for the rest of my family and friends, in Washington, California, Florida, Massachusetts, Illinois, New Jersey, Maryland, North Carolina, Pennsylvania, The United Arab Emirates, and Mozambique.

Don't get me wrong — This city is home enough for me. Its skyscrapers and packed sidewalks blanket me like the winter snow. But, like so many New Yorkers, sometimes leaving the city is the only reprieve.

Ay, there's the rub. Since I sold my beautiful Toyota Camry last year, I've been without a personal vehicle, relegated instead to electronic communication, LaGuardia Airport, and Megabus to get away.

"The trials and tribulations of traveling without a car — how nervous it would make me," a friend recently wrote to me in an email, just after my return to the city following a weekend in Baltimore for a wedding.

The trip was planned months in advance: I would take the bus from New York to White Marsh, from where my best friend would pick me up and drive me to her house for the night. Easy peasy lemon squeezy. Except not.

I've been riding the Megabus line since December 2008, on the recommendation of a trusted friend, with whom I was traveling to (surprise!) The Big Apple. The concept was brilliant — fares starting at $1 (depending heavily on time of day and how early you snag a ticket), free WiFi, and a reputed worry-free trip. So was the case for a while: Prices were reasonable (comparable, at least, to similar services like Bolt Bus), as was Internet access. Occasionally, I could even find two seats to myself — a makeshift bed for a couple of hours.

But somewhere between New York's Penn Station and Baltimore's Penn Station, Megabus lost its way, slinking down from mediocre means of travel to full-scale mayhem.

The last straw was my trip to Baltimore, which began with a 1.5-hour wait for a tardy bus on a Friday evening, under increasingly darkening skies, and continued with a 10-minute-cum-hour-long stop in Delaware while a relief driver ambled her way to our bus.

All child's play, really, compared to how my delayed evening ended: I fell apart in an empty White Marsh Park & Ride at midnight under the spritzing rain, frantically trying to contact my best friend, who I believed could only be taking her last breaths from under her overturned car in a ditch beside the highway.

It turns out she'd left her phone in the backseat, and showed up about 10 minutes later. But Megabus had already undone me. And I knew I could never let that happen again. It was in those moments — in the deserted Baltimore parking lot — when I settled on no other means of short-term treks than via rental car.

Travel continued its antics recently, on a return flight to LaGuardia from a visit to see family in West Palm Beach. In short, almost two hours stuck in a crowded plane on an airport runway is not how I envisioned my relaxing post-July 4 weekend.

My hopeful remedy is currently on its way to my apartment mailbox, in the form of a Zipcar membership card. Though I'm sure this, too, will find a way to sully my upcoming trip to Boston. As long as I've got Barry Manilow on the stereo, I've got a semblance of sanity.


Stephanie Mlot writes a regular column for

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