Two weekends ago I was in Austin, Texas for the wedding of a cousin on my mother's side of the family. On the last day of the Memorial Day weekend I was in New York for a funeral on my father's side. All I need is 3 more weddings to feel like I'm in a Hugh Grant movie. However, my purpose today is not to tell about the funeral (except to note with love and respect that it was for my very kind and talented Aunt Shirley, my father's sister, who was a professor of English at John Jay College, as well as an occasional concert performer in the piano duo of Meister & Schnitzer; she was 85). The purpose today is to run through the pluses and minuses of a DC-to-NYC overnight planned at the last minute.
On Friday the 28th I learned that the funeral would be held on Tuesday, June 1st. Since the service would start at 11:30 a.m., my first thought was to take a same-day flight into LaGuardia and fly home sometime in the late afternoon, but the moment I saw the cost of the air shuttle back and forth (about $600 round trip!) I started looking at train fares. That was better, but still not great: $106 for the regional (the slow train, not the $180 Acela) there and $74 for the even slower train back (leaving Penn Station at 8 p.m. and arriving at Union Station at 11:25 p.m. That had some appeal, but in order to make it to the service on time, after figuring in the ever-present risk of delays, I'd need to take the 7:25 a.m. train, arriving at 10:44 a.m., or maybe, to be really on the safe side, the 6:35 a.m. arriving at 10. Either way, it was going to be a very long day.
Bill, my husband, was the one to suggest the solution that worked best: Stay overnight. (Neither he nor my children could change their schedules to attend, so I was going solo.) That way I could take one of the super-cheap bus lines that take you to New York in comfort, with wifi and electric outlets at every seat, in 4 to 5 hours, depending on time of departure. The maximum bus charge is $25 each way. If I spent just $50 on transportation, I could still beat or equal the Amtrak price by finding a hotel for $130 or less. But was that possible?
Hotels.com to the rescue. Bill's search turned up the Park Central at West 57th Street near Columbus Circle, just 3 subway stops from Riverside Memorial Chapel where the funeral would be held. It got three-and-a-half stars on Trip Advisor along with generally good reviews. And a room on the night of the 31st could be had for an even hundred bucks. That seemed the way to go, so I grabbed it.
Next task, booking the buses. According to busjunction.com, the Bolt Bus (which I'd used in the past and had liked) was completely booked up on the way there, but I reserved a seat for $23 on the way back. To get there I tried a new bus -- well, relatively new, in service just for the past 8 months -- called the Tripper Bus, which departs from the Bethesda Metro station, ending at 34th & 7th Avenue near Broadway, just 3 subway stops south of the Columbus Circle stop near the hotel. The price was $25, or two bucks more than the Bolt Bus...but they give you a free bottle of water.
Now that I'm back, here's the report:
Tripper Bus Grade: A-. The bus was clean, on time, and had a good wifi signal the whole way. My only complaint is that the seats are upholstered in a scratchy, fuzzy fabric, and I was in shorts. The main annoyance of that trip, though, was not the fault of the Tripper bus but was due to a problem with the iTunes movie that I had planned to watch on my netbook to pass two hours of the time. Something went wrong with the download, and the movie kept freeze-framing on me. The dialog continued normally, so it wasn't entirely unwatchable, but it was still not what it should have been. (Upon my return I asked for and received a credit from iTunes.) I would certainly take this bus again, but would wear long pants the next time. After 4 rides, your 5th one is free.
Park Central Hotel Grade: B+. If I had been paying anything more than $100 for the room, I'd have had a lot of complaints (long check-in line; the shower water never got hotter than lukewarm; I was charged $3.75 to store my luggage for a few hours; the elevator system was confusing and slow), but hey, when you can get a safe, clean, quiet, centrally located hotel in walking distance of the theater district for that price, you really shouldn't grouse too much.
Bolt Bus Grade: B. I would have given the Bolt Bus an A but something went wrong with the wifi connection and the driver couldn't get it working at all during the trip. Fortunately, this time the movie that I had downloaded played perfectly, and I also had a good book with me. The bus was comfortable and on time.
All in all, taking into account the somber purpose of the trip, an efficient and hassle-free there-and-back. Plus one bright note: My aunt's only child, a never-married man in his mid-50s, introduced his fiance and let everyone know that wedding invitations would be forthcoming. I hope to be returning to New York in the not too distant future for that happy event. I will keep you posted.
Published on the Cleveland Park Listserv on June 4, 2010.