30 November 2013

Holiday Travel Memories

Many of us traveled somewhere to visit our families this week. The other day while I was volunteering, I was reminded that the building we were in was on the site of what used to be the old, decrepit bus station on St. James Avenue near Arlington Street and Park Square. It prompted me to reflect on more than three decades of going home for holidays.

For me, a big part of going to college was moving away from home. Like many young people I wanted to experience independence, but I didn't want to be prohibitively far away. Even as a freshman I met people who had to travel as far as California for the brief Thanksgiving break. But since I was from Rhode Island, home was just an hour's bus ride away. The station was primarily for Greyhound buses, but the Providence route was operated by a company called Bonanza.

That old bus station was grimy and run-down, and typically had an assortment of questionable people hanging around. But bus service to Providence ran pretty much hourly, so it was usually not necessary to spend any significant amount of time waiting in the station. The station in Providence was also not a place one would want to spend any time, but I knew that a ride would be waiting when I arrived, or I could walk a couple of blocks and catch a local bus the rest of the way.

A few years later, I discovered the pleasures of taking Amtrak from Boston to Providence. (This was still during the 1980s, prior to commuter rail service; later, after that service was established, it was initially not available on weekends.) Wider seats with more room to stretch out, freedom from traffic issues, the bar car—it was a much more hospitable ride.

But the train was more expensive than the bus, so I continued to use both. At some point (maybe the early '90s?) Providence got a new bus station, north of downtown and adjacent to route 95, so the bus drivers didn't have to navigate narrow streets. Originally the bus company operated a shuttle from the station to downtown for people who needed to make other transit connections, but I don't know if that is still in effect.

Boston's bus station moved also, to a spot adjacent to Dewey Square. I think it had something to do with the merger of two bus companies, because the terminal had been there for some time but I had never had occasion to use it. It was convenient to the subway at South Station, and to where I was working at the time, but it was just as dreary and forlorn as the one I had been using for years.

But time passes and things change. By the mid-1990s I was living with the Mrs. and we were driving to RI for holiday visits. Had it existed in the 1980s, commuter-rail service to Providence would have been very convenient; the recent extension to Green Airport would have been even more so, as my family's home is only about a mile from there. Today the bus terminal sits above the train tracks at South Station, with dedicated highway ramps for bus use. It's not fancy, but it's a far more pleasant place to wait for a bus than the ratty old Greyhound terminal.

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