Buses, Booze, Tech Startups, And Monkeys (In That Order)

If you live in the Boston-to-DC Northeast corridor, as most of ratpag does, you’ll understand our love of non-Greyhound buses. You see, traveling by car from DC to Boston costs about $67 in tolls Northbound, and only slightly less Southbound. Gas is pushing $4 a gallon, and sometimes worse in New Jersey with their unions and whatnot that both prohibits Tesla from doing whatever it wants and you from pumping your own gas.

Also, it can get congested going through six or seven metropolitan areas.

dc-boston

Greyhound has always served these corridors, and they’ve done so with the most horrible, irregular, stop-in-every-podunk-town’s-worst-neighborhood routes and service. Have you ever taken Greyhound? ratpag has, and let us tell you, it’s the kind of experience that makes you want to buy a car for the sole purpose of skipping the bus. The stations are always in the epicenter of the crappiest part of town. Even towns that you were sure didn’t have a bad area, Greyhound will find it. You probably didn’t realize Celebration, Florida had a active heroin scene!

The rural ones are the saddest, because if you can’t afford a beater car in rural Kentucky, then you’ve really messed up somewhere. Or you have multiple DUIs, which is probably why, even though Greyhound drivers remind passengers of the no-alcohol policy at least twice an hour, people STILL drink on board. If you can’t be without booze that long, then take Amtrak where it’s BYOB-friendly and there’s a bar car. Well, for now at least. 

barcars

And if you think ratpag is judging alcoholics, then you clearly didn’t read our investigative series on the perils of car ownership. Half the posts were about drinking on trains, drinking in bars, beer ads, and drunkenly kissing tram tracks. Even the Utah segment, in a very dry state, was entirely about booze. So no, we’re not judging the alcohol—we’re judging Greyhound. Last time ratpag took America’s largest and worst bus carrier, we got stuck in a urine-smelling station for an hour, a bum tried to sell us bootleg porn (she was a woman, which did not make it any better), a guy got kicked off the bus for drinking after repeated warnings, and at the destination some guy passed out into us while standing in line, again very drunk. Never has ratpag wanted a beer so badly as after that trip.

Then came the China town buses. These starting appearing in the late 90s, early 2000s, mostly between New York and Boston. The rumor was that they were run by the Chinese mafia, which is cool. The other rumor was that they originally were use to ferry newly-arrive immigrants from New York to various Chinese restaurants on the East coast to begin paying off their debts in a form of indentured servitude, and that they started selling the extra seats because why not. Less cool.

Back then they were all curbside pick up and drop off, with rather confusing schedules. Pre-sale tickets were rare. If you wanted to ride, you showed up in Chinatown on a Friday afternoon, payed whoever was standing near a running bus, and hoped you ended up in the correct city. Bus bathrooms didn’t work, none of the employees spoke English, and the driver averaged about 80 miles per hour. Buses broke down on the freeway and they wouldn’t send a back up—people would just start hitching. I had a friend whose bus got pulled over, and the driver made a run for it. I forgot how that ended. Oh and the inevitable 10-minute stop at the rest station? They would regularly leave without people, stranding them somewhere in rural Maryland.

ratpag is not trying to tell war stories here, just trying to emphasize that even with all this, it was still better than Greyhound.

Around the mid-2000s the competitors jumped in. There was a bus service run by Brooklyn’s Hasidic community, which did not run on Saturdays. ratpag think’s MegaBus was next, then somewhere along the line Greyhound introduced their subsidiary BoltBus, which just shows you how poor Greyhound’s reputation is that they made up a whole new name for their intercity bus division. The new lines offered WiFi, advanced ticketing, and some semblance of organization and accountability. Sure there was the 15-fatality crashes spurring a NTSB investigaton that shut down several providers, but ratpag had graduated to Amtrak at that point.

We forgot to mention alternative providers: flying is to expensive and too slow downtown-to-downtown, and Amtrak is rather expensive in this corridor. It’s for special occasions.

Back to buses. There are more bus companies in this corridor than their are airlines in the United States. And although airlines have a standardized scheduling and ticketing system to allow travel agents to comparison shop, bus providers do not. In comes Wanderu.

Wanderu_logo

Wanderu is Travelocity for buses. This is impressive as many motor carriers have proprietary, self-built, or non-existent ticketing systems. Wanderu either works with whatever crappy website your 16-year-old nephew coded over Spring break, or they build a ticketing and scheduling system for you. Wanderu is web-only, although it’s supposedly mobile-friendly, and they are working on iPhone and Android apps. And before you start complaining, remember, it’s currently phone or guy-on-a-street, so pretty much anything is better.

So tell ratpag why can’t a tech company make a useful product without doing a bunch of stupid HBO’s Silicon Valley-worthy marketing shenanigans? From an interview with the founder:

Taub: For the past two years you have been doing some fun things at SXSW, bringing a monkey and taking photos in front of the convention center. Tell me more about how that came to be?

Raygorodskaya: Wanderu is actually a type of monkey native to Southern India. When we came up with the name we did a google search to see if anyone else had it and up came an adorable monkey that looked like a wise wizard.

They came up with their name by doing a Google search on the name itself? That’s ratpag’s creation story, too. All we got from Google was this:

ratpagscience

Raygorodskaya continues:

Our goal with the Wanderu search is to spread joy by taking the stress out of travel planning. For SXSW, we decided that instead of having a stuffed mascot we would make things more fun by bringing along a real monkey to brighten up people’s days. We did our research to find a handler who is a licensed professional and works with rescues. Pam, the handler, treats Miki like a part of her family.

Reactions included people telling us that this is the best thing they have ever experienced and the bulk of the people that met Miki said that it made their day. It has been such a success that this year actress Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones waited in line to get her own photo with Miki holding up a Wanderu sign.

maisie4

That’s a under-age minor star of an television show shilling for a tech startup with a oven-mitt wearing monkey on her head. This photo deserves its own essay.

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