I HAVE A thing for travel horror stories - particularly those of others. This one comes from Sarah Gott, a Harford County woman I see on a regular basis at ice rinks. The other day she told the story of a bus trip from hell - actually, it was a bus trip to New York - with the kind of serenity and laughter one associates with centered and mature adults who are emotionally armored to handle all kinds of adversity with grace. You know the type.
So, one Saturday morning last month, Sarah meets her father in Lancaster, Pa., for a bus trip to New York City. Her 12-year-old daughter, Ashley, goes along. Here's the deal: Depart Queen City of Amish Country at 8 a.m., arrive Manhattan about 11 a.m. for a ferry tour of the Statue of Liberty, some shopping, a little lunch, then the Radio City Christmas Spectacular featuring the world-famous Rockettes, followed by return trip to Pennsylvania. All for $70 per person. Nice.
So the bus leaves a church parking lot at 8 a.m.
But it stops just a few minutes later on some other parking lot. "Hazard light and directional signal aren't working," the bus driver says. "We need to wait for another bus."
Fifteen minutes later, the relief bus arrives and all passengers, most of them elderly, climb aboard. This takes a little while. Sarah figures the bus hits the Pennsylvania Turnpike at close to 9 a.m.
After passing through the entrance plaza, the bus immediately comes to a stop on the shoulder. "Water hose broke," the bus driver announces, apparently in reference to the vehicle's cooling system. "There's greenish-yellowish stuff coming out."
But, no worry, the driver says. Another bus is on the way.
Just one problem - it will be the same bus the passengers had just left.
"Apparently this company only had one spare," Sarah says with a laugh. "We had to wait for the [original] bus to be fixed. It took two hours, and we weren't allowed to get off, and we were sitting back by the bathroom and everyone used it." Nice.
By the time the passengers transfer back to the first bus, it's pushing noon. No time for lunch in Manhattan. The driver takes his passengers to a turnpike rest stop, asks them to purchase some fast food and eat on the bus.
Now several passengers express concern about getting to Radio City in time for the late-afternoon show. The concern becomes acute when, in approaching a toll plaza in New York, the driver fails to maneuver the bus to the EZ-Pass lane, becomes trapped in traffic and spends 30 minutes waiting to pay a toll.
The driver scraps the ferry trip around the Statue of Liberty. "We had to settle for seeing this one-inch-high Statue of Liberty from a distance," Sarah says, still laughing. "And the driver spent a lot of time telling us about sites we would have seen had we had more time." Nice.
They get to Radio City just in time for the show. "The driver leaves us a half-block away from Radio City Music Hall, and he tells us to meet him on this corner when the show's over," Sarah says.
But about two hours later, when everyone emerges from the theater and gathers as directed on the corner to board their bus, the bus isn't there.
"We waited for him an hour," Sarah says. "The driver had been waiting for us on the wrong corner."
At last, everyone is on board and the bus is headed home.
But about 8:30, the driver makes an unscheduled stop at a diner somewhere in Pennsylvania so people can have dinner. Just as they finish eating, the driver makes the following announcement: "Don't bother to get back on the bus, folks. We've blown the radiator."
About this time, of course, most people would be imagining ways (words? knives? rope?) to express their frustration, and several passengers engage in angry, even ugly, dialogue with the driver as he tries to defend himself and his bus line.
But not Sarah- not even when the driver refuses to let her fetch her daughter's coat from the bus. She remains serene, listening to a passenger, a minister from Lancaster, try to make the time pass by entertaining his fellow travelers with stories and jokes.
And the folks who run the diner are being very accommodating - they let all passengers wait for the relief bus in a wing of their restaurant. Nice.
Only they apparently turn the heat off in that wing. And it gets cold.
And it's not until 1:05 a.m. that the relief bus arrives.
And 3:30 a.m. before the bus gets back to Lancaster.
All that aside, Mrs. Gott, how was the show?
"Oh, the show was spectacular," she says. "The Rockettes were awesome."