When you board a bus for a long trip, it's every man, woman, and screaming, kicking, crying child for themselves.
Taking a bus is rarely the most convenient way to get where you're going. And it is almost never the fastest. But it is usually the cheapest, making it the travel method of choice for college students, the unemployed, and burgeoning young columnists. And because bus companies understand that people who take their buses are doing so out of necessity, buses cut corners more often than they turn them. I recently sat on a bus for four hours, staring at a blank TV screen. How expensive could it have been to rent a copy of Die Hard? If I knew bus companies couldn't afford movies, I'd have brought one.
But before you get on the bus, you have to get to the bus, and that is never easy. Sometimes, even the bus drivers can't find the bus on time, which is why it always leaves late. Unless you are late then the bus leaves exactly on schedule.
Bus stations usually have buses with the same schedules leave out of the same gate. In other words, most Fridays, the 6:30 PM express bus to Boston will leave out of gate 84, making it much easier to find, and helping you avoid information desk-induced lateness. But the problem with "usually" and "most" is that you need to plan for "occassionally." See, something gets screwed up "occasionally" and all the buses are moved down a gate or two gates or four gates. So unless you check on your gate every single time, you will end up in Cleveland. Unless you were trying to go to Cleveland. Then you will have gotten on the 6:30 PM express bus to Boston.
People behind the information desk can be friendly, in the way that July can be cold. It has been known to happen, but don't plan your trip around it. Expect short, gruff answers, and never remind them that it is their job to give you information. They think it is their job to stand there and be short and gruff, and a sudden jolt of reality could alter the time and space continuum in ways you can not imagine. Like making all of the buses arrive on time. Scary, I know.
Once you find out what gate you're supposed to go to (and how to get there), one of two things will happen. Either you will be first in line and you will be annoyed that you must wait to board the bus until everyone else gets there, or you will be last in line and you will be annoyed that you weren't first. The problem with having to go to the information desk is that being annoyed is contagious, and you just caught a giant case of short and gruff.
After the driver tells you that the bus you just bought a ticket for has already been filled and you wait for a second bus, you are finally allowed to board. And then you must choose your fate.
First, you have the option to hold your luggage or stow it beneath the bus, crushed by everyone else's that is also somehow being crushed by yours. The process of bags simultaneously crushing each other is very complicated and scientific and involves spliced atoms, wind tunnels, and rhesus monkeys (but not Reeces Pieces, or they'd get crushed). If you don't stow your bag, you will never be able to find a place to put it in an overhead compartment that is too small to even fit your monkey. And if you do stow your bag, you will no longer have your magazine/CDs/Reeces Pieces to keep you company through your trip. One day, humans will grow smart enough to remember to remove their magazines from their bag before stowing it, but that day is too far into the future to discuss now.
Your next choice is where to sit. Since it took so long to stow your bag, Mr. and Mrs. Carryon have already boarded ahead of you, and now half the benches are empty and half already have one person sitting there. (Mr. and Mrs. Carryon are sitting separately, never traveling in the same set of seats. For their protection, of course). And you must decide how important getting a bench to yourself is. Is it worth risking letting someone else choose you? Wouldn't it be safer to just find the smallest, most polite person and take the seat next to them? Or is it worth risking having someone so large and obnoxious next to you that their elbow is jabbing your left side the whole trip, even though they're sitting to your right? Yes. So you put your jacket on the seat next to you in order to discourage the fat guy from sitting there. Really, you're just letting him sit on your jacket.
When the driver finally gets there (remember, you were early this time), the bus takes off towards your destination or Cleveland. And though you're finally on your way, the trip and the inanity isn't close to over. But this column is. Shhh" Die Hard is starting.