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The Best Lesson I’ve Learned Traveling

18 September 2012 6 Comments

The view from our rooftop meetup – thanks Hunter!

I’m getting really irritated with the amount of crying I do on various transportation vehicles.

After a fun night out with a bunch of the guys from Dynamite Circle in New York City, I managed to drag myself to catch the 12:10 PM bus out of NYC bound for Boston. And by drag I mean I wore my sunglasses on the subway to keep the fluorescent lights dim.

Standing in line in the beating city sun at noon, I chatted with a couple behind me from Austria who was backpacking in the Northeast for the fall. We waited. And waited. I contemplated sitting on the sidewalk to wait, but though tired I was not quite ready to sit on a New York City sidewalk without a vat of sanitizer to curl up in afterwards.

Finally our bus arrived, 45 minutes late. Which was fine, cause I had built in a 2 hour buffer to connect to my next bus, and 45 minutes would just mean less time to work email in South Station.

Then it took us another 45 minutes to get out of the city. Then we sat in traffic on I84 for about 15 minutes. Then our bus driver stopped to stretch his legs and grab something to eat for the last hour and a half of the drive (I’m guessing he was having a long painful day as well!)

I kept glancing at my computer screen, watching the minutes click closer and closer to my 6:10 PM departure time. Not even curling up with my Kindle could keep the sinking feeling that was developing in my stomach.

There was no way I was gonna make this connection.

Sure enough, I arrived at South Station and ran across the concourse to the gate my bus was gonna leave from at 6:24 PM. Maybe, by the magic of the travel gods, my bus would be delayed from Boston to Maine.

No such luck. Bastards were right on time.

Sighing I hefted my daypack up on my shoulder and trudged to the ticket counter, to find out what the policy was on standby. After a 20 minute wait in line I got to the ticket counter and explained my already too long travel day. “How do I get on the 7:10 PM to Portland? Just wait in standby?”

“No, there’s no standby for your ticket.”

I blinked twice, as if I could somehow go back in time to replay the conversation. “No standby for a 2 hour delay that was caused by YOUR bus company?”

“There’s standby, but you booked through us and we chartered your ticket to a different carrier. We don’t pay for standby with their service, so you are going to have to pay for a new ticket with them. Sorry. Next please.”

Like that, I was dismissed. I looked at the next ticket counter I was going to have to visit, and the line snaked out of the terminal and into the walkway. Shaking with frustration at once again having to hurry up and wait, I took my place dutifully in line and waiting another 10 minutes. At 6:55 PM I made it to the ticket window.

Again, I explained my situation, and asked if there was any way for them to honor the ticket I had bought as I was unaware that my ticket granted me no rights under the new bus service. Alas, no such luck. “Is there room on the 7:10 PM then? I just want to get home.” With that I slapped down my handy dandy credit card and proceeded to the pay phones (yes, they do still exist in some places!!) as my cell phone had died texting with someone all morning. I attempted to collect call every member of my immediate family as I had .37 in change in my wallet.

No one answered. Which meant that they would be waiting at the station for an hour before I got there.

I got on the new bus with about 3 minutes to spare. Of course, there were no seats available as I made my way to the back. About 5 rows from the end was a woman sitting in the aisle seat eating a salad. “Is someone sitting there?”

“No, not at all. Here, let me slide over.” She moved all her stuff to the window seat and let me in to our little shared travel space for the next two hours. “Everything ok? You look like you’ve had a long day.”

“I’m sorry. I’m just on my 7th hour of travel out of New York City and 3rd delay with a bus after I had to buy a new ticket to replace the one the bus company made me late for. And my cell phone is dead so I can’t even let anyone know I’m arriving late.”

The woman took a bite of salad.”That sounds terrible. I hope the worst is behind you now. Do you live in Portland?”

Over the next two hours I talked non-stop with this woman. We laughed, we shared stories of travel and ambitions, we bonded over careers in writing and English (she is a professor of English Literature at one of the universities in Maine) – she even let me use her “for emergencies only” cell phone to call my parents and sister and leave them both voicemails that I was on the 7:10 PM bus and to meet me at the station an hour later than originally planned.

When we pulled into the Portland Transportation Teminal, she smiled and said “Now you’re home. Congratulations!”

I grinned at her and suppressed my overwhelming urge to hug her. (What can I say? I’m a hugger)

“Thank you SO much. You managed to turn around this very long and frustrating day and make it end on the perfect note. Really. Thank you.”

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again.

As much badness as there is in the world…as much hatred and riots and violence and crime and pain and suffering…there is this more important universal fact.

The majority of people are good.

I love that I am reminded of that in the most random of ways every time I encounter new people in the world.

Photo Credit: Dan Andrews

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  • Tom Mullaly

    We tempt fate throwing ourselves to the four winds, then people step in to restore us and our faith in the world. Such a well-told tale Elisa. Keep hugging!

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      People do have an insane ability to restore our faith in the world. I had that when I was laying broken in a bed in Bali and two amazing people took me into my home and made me laugh again. ;)

  • http://www.coolpeoplecare.org Sam Davidson

    This is a great story and a good reminder of why I travel. It’s also a reminder of why I don’t travel by bus.

    • http://www.opheliaswebb.com/ Elisa Doucette

      Haha, I’ve never had a problem like this traveling by bus before. Will definitely be looking into the train for the future now. :)

  • http://twitter.com/elisestephens Elise Stephens

    I was reading this and thinking “When is she going to talk about a great lesson? This sounds awful!” I love how that woman’s kindness made all the difference. I’ve found it’s easier to make friends with people while traveling because I’m more open and seeing things differently and feeling more vulnerable due to temporary “homelessness.” This is a beautiful story.

  • http://www.smallhandsbigideas.com Grace Boyle

    I love this story. And when I’m reminded of this, I feel so good. You’re right, people are good and it’s so wonderful to experience and see that in a number of capacities.