Thursday, April 7, 2011

That toddlin' town

"I adore Chicago. It is the pulse of America." — Sarah Bernhardt 

PAUL AND I have been wanting to give the MegaBus a try ever since it came to Des Moines. It runs from downtown DSM to Union Station in Chicago, stopping in Iowa City along the way, and back the other direction. The departure options are 8:00 AM or 5:00 PM from either Des Moines or Chicago.

We're also really big Wait, Wait, Don't Tell Me fans. If you aren't, give it a listen because it's just so darn funny. If memory serves, I think Wait Wait's tag line is "the surprisingly informative news quiz." It's sort of like Jon Stewart's Daily Show without the bad words.

The host is Peter Sagal who's blazingly quick-witted. Each week there's a panel of three other funny people. Paula Poundstone is often one of them, and you know how funny she is, and a famous guest — who might be anyone from New York mayor Michael Bloomberg, to Steve Wozniak, Judy Collins or Pee-wee Herman — is interviewed. Together, they poke fun at the news through little quizzes that either the panelists or callers into the show try to answer.

The show is on NPR and can be accessed on the web at http://www.npr.org/programs/wait-wait-dont-tell-me where you can download weekly podcasts. The show is broadcast most of the time from Chicago, but from time to time shows are broadcast from various halls across the country. One of our favorite things to do is to listen to WWDTM on Sunday while we have brunch at home. 

For several years we have been saying, "One of these days we we're getting tickets to Wait Wait." They're not expensive, but are hard to get because they can only be purchased from the NPR WWDTM online store, the website is less than explanatory, and there aren't that many tickets per show so they sell out quickly. Long story short, we finally succeeded in snagging a pair.

So far I'd give the MegaBus a B+. We lucked out and got the one row where there's extra leg room, but in all the other rows, seats are closer together than on a normal travel bus — more like the coach section on an airplane. It was really cold until Iowa City, when we asked the driver to turn down the air conditioning, and the WiFi didn't work, but that was more than offset by not having to drive.

On that basis alone, Paul gives it an A+++. He loved it! Although it takes about 45 minutes longer than if you drive, he said it was bliss for him to be able to relax, read a book or take a nap instead of having to push a gas pedal, navigate, pay attention to the road and all the other stressers entailed in driving. There are two breaks along the way — one in Iowa City and one at a travel plaza a couple of hours from Chicago.

Another huge plus is the extremely low cost. Tickets range from $6 to $40 per person one way depending on how early you book and what your travel days are. If I had booked them when I first looked, our roundtrip fare would have been $26 each, but life intervened, and we ended up paying $40 apiece. 

But compare that to how much the trip would have been had we driven. Paul says it would have been about $200 in gas, and then there's the cost of parking for around $30 a day. We booked our hotel stay at the Crown Plaza Metro for $110 a night on Priceline, making this the cheapest three days and nights we've ever spent in downtown Chicago.

Ketcha' on the flip flop.
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