OK, so somehow I volunteered myself for a bus trip to Los Angeles. “Lux Bus,” I thought. “Beer on board! Party bus!”
I am so fucking naïve.
Anyway, I make my reservation for the $99 round trip to L.A. on the Lux Bus. Which actually ends in Anaheim near Disneyland, with shuttles to Hollywood and downtown L.A., so that gives you some idea of the target market. My Salvadoran political advisor drops me off at the California Hotel at 2:45 p.m. on Saturday.
I trade a small amount of my most potent potables for the ride — but he agrees to take me home at the conclusion of my journey, too, so cheaper than taking a taxi.
The bus is about half full. I’m sitting in the front row, back and to the right, behind the driver. Back, and to the right. Good view!
There are about 20 rows, 48 seats. Fun on the take off, as we swing out onto Main Street: I mention the Punk Rock Bowling festival and ask the attendent/ticket collector if there were many punk rockers on the ride out from L.A.
Nope, but she loves the punk rock! Citing Billy Idol as her, well, idol, she notes that she had a pierced navel. I say DEVO is playing tonight. She loves DEVO.
The drive through town is interesting. An idiot in a new micro-SUV darts in front of us on Main Street. It’s good to know that it’s not just my 2002 Nissan Sentra that’s invisible to other drivers.
We drive to Harrah’s, where we park, load a handful of extra passengers and wait. Someone is late.
Apparently the passenger is on the Strip in a taxi. “Saturday afternoon on Memorial Day — fortunately, probably not much traffic,” I sneer. Sarcastically.
And we wait.
Still no beer.
Airplanes don’t wait, so score one for the brutal pseudo-efficiency of the airline industry.
The Lux Bus hostess person tells the crowd of bored riders that we will leave Harrah’s, with our without our late passenger, at 3:30 — 15 minutes past our official Lux Bus departure time.
News! The passenger calls the Lux Bus peeps. She can see the Lux Bus! Liar.
We wait some more.
My keen journamalism instincts sense general discontent and murmured threats of violence coming from the back seats. Is there really a late passenger, or is this some kind of TSA-sponsored trick to make air travel more appealing? Grumblemumblegrumblemumble.
Ten minutes later the passenger arrives. It is, I kid you not, 3:29.
And we’re off!
We shoot across Las Vegas Boulevard and get on I-15. Heading south, I notice a gaggle of scooters on the interstate highway, also heading south to California. When did scooters get the OK to use interstate highways? The Lux Bus driver, whose name is Jose and who makes the trip out and back two or three times a week for Lux Bus, ignores my carefully considered opinion that it would be ethically and morally appropriate to sneak up behind the scooters and honk our air horn at them.
We’re introduced to our Lux Bus hostess, whose name is Marley. She describes herself, God help us all, as cheerful. Weird and quirky, too, but most of all, cheerful. This isn’t her full-time gig. I strongly suspect Marley sells time shares in Anaheim, but no, I don’t ask. If I have learned one thing in my life, it is not to ask a time-share salesperson any question that could involve referencing their product.
“Anybody going to Disney? Anybody?” she asks. No.
“Anybody going to Universal?” Apparently yes. Marley’s description of mummy rides and other Universal things follows. She’s friends, Marley claims, with the actors who portray the Transformers characters at the theme park.
There’s a brief but painless safety discussion. Marley suggests that the fire extinguishers on board the Lux Bus could be used to hit zombies on the head in the case of a zombie apocalypse. She’s a fan of The Walking Dead.
Her relatively polished patter gets a few chuckles, but I don’t think anyone’s really paying attention. Again, no Homeland Security/TSA/federal sky marshal is going to beat you up if you ignore Marley.
About one-third of the 48 seats are full. There seems to be an overrepresentation of Europeans and Aussies or Kiwis. Also a couple of people who might be too big to feel comfortable on board an airplane. No real castoffs. I did not see a single person with a “My name is John and I’m a patient at Rawson-Neal psychiatric hospital” tag safety-pinned to his shirt.
It will be 4.5 hours to Anaheim. The Lux Bus may not be “lux,” but it’s actually quite comfortable. I haven’t seen this kind of plush seat and leg room outside of first class on a plane in 30 years.
There’s wi-fi — though it’s a bit spotty in the big empty desert parts, and in the underground Harrah’s parking lot. Also, my “laptop” is actually the size of a VW Beetle, so it’s a bit tough to balance in the front seat. Since the bus is only about half full, I don’t have a front seat-mate, so I manage to set up my office on the empty seat.
What did travelers do before they had Facebook?
Marley passes out drinks and snacks — potato chips or granola bars, Coke, Diet Coke, Sprite or Bud Light.
She turns on the in-drive movie. It’s Lincoln! My lame joke about it being a sequel to Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Killer gets a laugh.
Ninety minutes later, we take a stop in a Barstow Station. In Barstow Station, they have lots of food and tourist gimcracks from both Las Vegas and Disneyland.
One piece of advice: Finding healthy food at Barstow Station is a little tough. Go with the McDonald’s side salad.
Five-thirty, back to the bus, on to Anaheim. We go from I-15 to 1-5 and to Orange County — to be honest, despite Marley’s best efforts to keep us apprised of the scenery sliding by outside the windows, I’m sleeping on a big part of this trip. It’s a long, dry, dusty drive even when I’m sober and driving.
For the uninitiated, it’s desert, desert, desert until you cross the El Cajon pass near San Bernardino, at which point everything turns green. And then you suddenly enter the megalopolis and there’s nothing but schlock to see for miles and miles.
Finally we pull into Anaheim and a hotel near Universal Studios theme park. From here, I get into a Lux Bus shuttle that takes us north to Los Angeles, through downtown — where it disgorges fellow passengers at several stops. On to Hollywood, a place I once called my home!
A very pretty young video editor named Ella, who was born in Poland, and I get off the shuttle at the venerable Hollywood Roosevelt Hotel, right on Hollywood Boulevard and across from Grauman’s Chinese theater. (Fleetwood Mac just finished playing at the Hollywood Bowl so traffic was a nightmare, but we don’t have much to suffer through.)
Ella likes the Lux Bus but does not like the new company policy of assigned seats. You don’t know who you will be sitting next to, and it would be best to be able to move around if you want to, she says.
I get picked up by my two good friends in L.A., performer Crimbo the Clown and his wife, DeeDee. Crimbo’s alternate personality is Michael Perrick, who is slightly less demented and wears slightly less makeup. (He appeared as Satan in a skit involving the IRS scandal on Leno’s Tonight Show last week.) Michael, DeeDee and I spend an exciting Hollywood evening comparing blood sugar levels and diabetes horror stories. From their Silverlake apartment, they have a really pretty view of the full moon rising over downtown.
Now comes the really, really horrible part of this round trip: Getting up at 6 a.m. to make the 7 a.m. shuttle back. DeeDee gives me a ride back to the Hollywood Roosevelt. There are still a few drunken youngsters staggering around, a few apparent hookers looking for a last trick, but mostly the streets are as empty as they ever are in Hollywood.
Again, we spend precious minutes waiting for late passengers. So that sucks.
But finally we get back to the Lux Bus in Anaheim. Our hostess for the return trip is a very hard-working Russian woman named Natasha. I’m not sure if she’s playing it up, but her accent is as thick as cold borscht.
Every seat in the Lux Bus is full for the return trip. Onboard we have a few locals, but mostly people and families from all over the world. Many of my fellow passengers appear to be fairly well-heeled. They could afford planes or car rentals.
But they like the convenience of someone else driving, and, according to them, the rest of the world is OK with buses. A train would be even better, a Australian woman tells me. I hear French, Hebrew, Arabic, Korean and, again, Australians on the return trip.
The movie is Guilt Trip, the Barbra Streisand comedy.
Again, Barstow Station. Sooo conveniently located halfway from anything! I say hello to my seatmate on the return leg, a very nice young woman named Susan, visiting her mother in North Las Vegas.
Natasha gives me a couple of Bud Lights, so woo-hoo!
We drive past Jean and the prison there, which Natasha jokingly suggests must be a plastic surgery center since it is called a “correctional facility” for women. It’s actually called a conservation camp, but I give her points for trying.
Around Sloan, Natasha begins a mostly nonstop patter describing the resorts, the buffets, etc. Most of my fellow passengers depart at Harrah’s, our first stop in Vegas. Susan and I travel onto the California Hotel, where we say goodbye.
All in all? It is easy and cheap and above everything else comfortable, much more comfortable than a coach seat on a plane. The Lux Bus is big and modern and the staff is very pleasant. One point to consider is that there is a $4 cash “fuel surcharge” both going and coming, plus the staff takes tips at the conclusion of the trip.
With the time spent getting to McCarran, going through security, waiting to take off, landing and if necessary, grabbing luggage and ground transportation, the six-hour total driving time isn’t that much worse than flying into LAX. By far the worst part of the trip is getting back on the Lux Bus at the ungodly hour of 7 a.m. But if you can tolerate a bit of sleep deprivation, it’s a workable transportation option.