Editorial John Howell 8/1/2014

Published 12:00 am Friday, August 1, 2014

Waiting for the Megabus on Elysian Fields Avenue in New Orleans: Kay Gammon (from left) of Olive Branch, Charlotte White Bannon of Nesbit, Carol Martin, John Howell and Myra Simmons of Batesville, Brenda Holmes of Oxford and Shirley Miles Gregg of Pope.

Megabus low fare attractive, but no Amtrak ambiance

Learned more about the Megabus last weekend during a Friday trip to New Orleans and back Sunday night.

Megabus service began in these parts earlier this year with the announcement of Memphis to New Orleans trips with stops in Oxford and Jackson.

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Megabus creates buzz with its $1 trips and they are for real. The trick is to make reservations early. Perhaps the first five seats on a given route are sold for $1 and then the prices escalate accordingly as that particular bus fills and the day of departure nears.

(My round trip last weekend cost about $60. My reservations had been made Monday prior to the Friday of departure.)

Megabus has made its name marketing itself to young, budget conscious and techno-savvy. It is a bare bones operation, picking up passengers curbside at parking lots, selling tickets only online.

Apparently it’s working for them. When I boarded the bus in Oxford Friday, there were a good number of passengers but plenty of room, even after we added more passengers than we off-loaded in Jackson.

The trip back was crammed. I don’t think that there was a seat vacant when we pulled away from the curb at Elysian Fields, the third “temporary” New Orleans location Megabus has used for boarding and un-boarding since the service began there. 

Here’s the downside. Imagine sharing less leg space and arm room than an airline flight with another passenger when boafus spill over the edges of our seat? For hours?

There’s wi-fi available on the bus. That’s true, but with most of 70 or so folks trying to connect their laptops, smartphones and notebooks, the speed is diluted down to dial-up. 

There are also recharging outlets for those devices at every seat. Trouble is, they often aren’t working. Few of the outlets on the upper floor of the Megabus worked on my southbound trip, nor had they during an earlier northbound trip. This time on my northbound return I didn’t even try them.

Amtrak it ain’t, I thought as I recalled the big spacious seats on the City of New Orleans where passengers can walk through the passenger cars, visit the lounge car for looking, lounging and conversations and dine-in if they choose.

But the Amtrak had been sold out on Friday, bringing me to the Megabus trip.

And if I had not ridden the Megabus, I wouldn’t have been standing there in the heat and humidity of a July afternoon in New Orleans, waiting with all those folks for the Megabus, and I would have missed seeing a minivan cab come driving up with a familiar face in the front passenger seat, and more familiar faces inside. 

It was Carol Martin and Myra Simmons along with fellow former classmates who had been together from the first through the 11th grade until Crowder High School was closed in 1970, forcing them to finish their senior year elsewhere.

Their trip to New Orleans had been orchestrated by another class member, Donna Kay Dunn of Mobile, who had driven by car to meet them.

I went to a circus once and a tiny car came driving out into the middle ring. When it stopped a tall clown opened the door and stepped out, followed by another, and then another and then another — far more passengers than the small car appeared capable of carrying.

And as they started exiting that cab – Myra and Carol, pulling out colorful sacks and bags, followed by Shirley Miles Gregg of Pope and her daughter, Karen Gregg Gammon of Olive Branch, then Charlotte White Bannon of Nesbit (and more sacks and luggage) followed by Brenda Holmes of Oxford — I laughed to myself, thinking about that tiny car unloading all those clowns at the circus — with this very important caveat: Instead of clowns, that minivan cab was unloading lovely ladies all. Just wanted to be clear on that.