A review: the Megabus from Chicago to Des Moines


I planned to blog from the road yesterday – specifically while cruising along Interstate 80 from Chicago to Des Moines in the Megabus but alas, the bus’s much-ballyhooed free WiFi was on the blink.  The driver didn’t know why but said this happens occasionally. Otherwise,  the bus ride was just fine – and for the $10 fare, better than fine. (Some people paid as little as $1 for the ride, a few others got two tix for $8 total. Fare comparisons dominated the chitchat amongst passengers. )

The bus departed on time (5 p.m.) from Chicago at the crowded Megabus stop just south of Union Station and Jackson Street, on Canal Street – and it arrived in Des Moines about 35 minutes late, which was no big deal. The bus was clean, the seats comfortable, the air not too cold or  too hot. The driver was courteous and informative, taking the time to fill us in on bits and bobs, like the one scheduled pit-stop at a small gas station on I-80 near Davenport.

A few minor quibbles, some beyond Megabus’s control, that  have more to do with the nature of cheap bus transportation in general.  The bus stop in Chicago was somewhat chaotic, with a large crowd fanning out across half a block as a succession of buses pulled up – one bus going to St. Louis, another to somewhere-ville Ohio, another to Ann Arbor/Detroit and my bus to Iowa City/Des Moines.  As one of the older passengers correctly noted, this open air bazaar – with no visible crowd control and no benches to sit on or lines to stand in – is relatively OK in pleasant weather, which we had yesterday early evening.  But it might not be so OK when it’s raining or snowing or bitter cold.

Many passengers, as expected, were young people in their late teens and 20s  some tattooed and pierced, some black-clad Goths with dusty white faces, two chic geeks, some inner city kids wearing droopy pants.  Great people watching and reminded me of my lost-youth, riding the Magic Bus in Europe.

But on my bus there was also  a large multi-generation Asian family with a pushy patriarch, a Mennonite woman, some middle-aged couples, a few moms with kids.  I worried at first when the watery-eyed man in front of me took a sip from a liquor bottle inside a brown paper bag but he was well-behaved throughout. So was the little girl who sat on the lap of the teen-ager  beside me. The rowdiest passengers were some  women in their mid-30s who laughed and talked loudly, as if they riding their very own party bus after hitting the bars on Division Street (which come to think of it was probably where they had been.)

There were other annoying sounds and smells but that’s to be expected: a rattle-and-squeak  from  somewhere in the back of the bus near the bathroom, pulsating iPod musak from somewhere in the bus’ mid-section (the Ipod must have been  cranked up to blow-your-eardrums-out volume), smells of fried chicken, McDonalds (from the pitstop in Davenport), a fully-loaded brat, and corned beef (my bad. I  brought the sandwich with me from a Chicago deli.)

Next time, I’ll remember to fire up my Kindle – or at least bring the cord so I can plug it in. (There was an outlet below my window but my cord was in my suitcase in the bowels of the bus.) And I’ll remember to leave my novel out of my suitcase. I’ll also remember to fire up my phone (which was also losing juice.) Thank God my iPod was still working.

All told, it’s great to have a viable and inexpensive new option for getting to Iowa City and Chicago from here.

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Filed under adventure travel, bus service, chicago, cost-saving travel, Des Moines

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