Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Michigan...the Bargain Route

    The teaching gigs are finished for the year. Not that life has quieted down...I took a week to spend with the Mama on the family farm in Sparta, Michigan, where I grew up. There was a screaming deal on Spirit Airlines for a flight to Chicago from Denver--
    $79. Roundtrip.

Yep, you read that right. Combine it with an $8.50 roundtrip ticket on Megabus (Chicago to Grand Rapids), and I couldn't go wrong.

There's a catch, you say. Something's too cheap here.

Well, you're right -- sort of. Spirit Airlines only flies from DIA to O'Hare once a day. It gets into town about 5 p.m. -- not bad, except the only Amtrak commuter train that heads to Grand Rapids leaves about that same time from Union Station, miles away.
    The other issue is luggage. If you want to check a suitcase or take a carryon, Spirit socks you for it -- big-time. (It's cheaper if you pay more than 24 hours ahead. Don't even think about just showing up with it at the airport -- last I looked, checked luggage was $100 apiece that way.)
    So, if you're willing to just board with a backpack or large tote bag, or pay more ($25-35) to check luggage, you can fly a lot of places very cheaply. Good air conditioning and lights, seats comparable with United, staff kind, if not exactly gushy. If you want a soda or snack, it will cost extra...but the flight was just fine.

I hopped off the plane at O'Hare, took a $2-and-change light rail ride to downtown Chicago, trudged over some blocks to Union Station (I could have easily taken a bus, actually). Brrr. Temps were in the thirties, and I'd worn a light jacket with a sweater and shirt underneath. But the Christmas lights sparkled in the cold, and Union Station was nice and warm. I made it there about 7:00 p.m.
  
Now to wait. The Megabus wasn't leaving until midnight.

Bear in mind -- this was a cold night. Which meant that after the commuters and hipsters went home for the night, about 10 p.m., then the bums came out. "Miss, would you?" "Excuse me, I was wondering..." I finally gave up, and trudged out of the warmth down to the Megabus stop, about a block down. A big batch of people were out shivering on the sidewalk, and the bums were working the crowd, asking for a few bucks or a bus 'CTA' card. Double-decker Megabusses pulled up every 30 min. or so; I noticed bus signs for Cincinnati, Kansas City (the furthest west they go at present), Columbia, MO....then, once I was thoroughly chilled through, blessedly Grand Rapids/Detroit.

I climbed on, fell asleep...then got off at Grand Rapids in a snowstorm about 4 a.m. GR is a new stop, I'm guessing, because we pulled up by a parking lot not far from the Amtrak station, with no signage in sight. Hooray for the Mama -- she was right there, waiting for me.

Conclusions? Megabus has comfortable seats, free WiFi (if you can type during the bumps), a bathroom onboard and a minimum of interruptions -- the Grand Rapids leg was nonstop, and the bus was headed on to Lansing and Detroit. It's clean, though not fancy -- about the same, or a bit better than Greyhound, and not quite Amtrak. Not many signs (if any), but their directions are reasonably clear on the printout on where to be. Oh, and be at least 15-25 min. early to pick up or drop off; my bus was supposed to come in at 4:20 a.m., and left soon after 4 a.m. for the next leg.
     The passengers ranged all over, as far as dress, income and fancy accessories. I saw everyone from teenagers to hipsters to everyday people saving a buck, with a fair sprinkling of oddballs in-between. Your usual, if you've ever ridden on Amtrak...and not as wacky as the individuals generally found on
Greyhound. A bit more upscale.

Would I ride it again? In a heartbeat. The weirdo comments kept us entertained and coping with the cold...and the Megabus employees were careful to keep order at the bus stop. The long wait was no fun -- but like Spirit, Megabus only made that run once a day. You miss it, you wait until the next day.

And it gets you where you need to go -- incredibly cheap.

1 comment:

Unknown said...

Love it! Miss seeing you... coffee soon? Laura

Zzzzzzzz...

After four hours at Tuesday Morning's checkout line today, I can honestly relate. Okay, maybe a nap AND a cookie.