Introvert’s Travelogue, Part Two – The Middle and The End

I woke up Sunday morning in Waco a little later than planned. And I did too much lazing in bed watching TV before going down for the complimentary breakfast.

Tea is an important morning ritual for me, but I’ve learned to be flexible when on the road. I don’t bring my own tea unless my hotel room or suite has a kitchenette with stove. If you can’t control the water temperature, there’s no point in wasting your own tea.

Image of oatmeal and tea breakfast

So I grabbed a Bigelow English Teatime packet, plopped in into a paper cup and brewed with hot water from the beverage station dispenser. It served its caffeine delivery purpose well. For breakfast, I had oatmeal with almonds, cranberries and milk. Continue reading “Introvert’s Travelogue, Part Two – The Middle and The End”

Introvert’s Travelogue, Part One – The Journey Begins

For the first time since I began dating the great woman who would become my wife, I have ten days all to myself. It’s been over 12 or 13 years since I’ve experienced this much solitude. There is, of course, the time I have to devote to work, but the rest is all mine.

In addition to clearing my head and recharging my batteries at home, I decided to visit my former hometown of Austin. I probably make 2-3 trips to Austin per year, but those I make with my wife and 4-year-old son. Continue reading “Introvert’s Travelogue, Part One – The Journey Begins”

Full English Breakfast, Deep in my Heart … and Arteries

Should you ever find yourself in Austin, Texas with a particular craving for British bangers, back bacon, fried eggs, fried bread, roasted tomatoes, and mushrooms, you’re in luck. Yes, there’s a place that serves the aforementioned in addition to tea and other British foods, and it’s called Full English Cafe. Though difficult to spot, this tiny place just off Manchaca Rd. (on Southern Oaks Dr.) is worth the search.

High Tea

Besides upscale hotels and restaurants, there a few places to enjoy afternoon tea in the United States. Full English Cafe fills this void successfully, offering High Tea (really afternoon tea unless you’re stoned, of course) almost any time of day in a cozy, relaxed atmosphere. For a reasonable price, you get a tiered tray full of made-from-scratch sandwiches, scones, cakes, and biscuits (cookies) served with a pot of tea or coffee.

Full English Breakfast

Full English Cafe offers three versions of English breakfast, which vary in measure and quality (free-range vs non-free-range eggs and meats). Made in-house, the bangers contain locally sourced pork.

For those days when the Big British Breakfast isn’t big enough, you can add more bangers, bacon, eggs, cheese, salad, bread, tomatoes, mushrooms, and even Heinz beans — all available as side items.

Round out your English breakfast with an English-style pancake — thinner than its American counterpart, pan sized, and traditionally topped with lemon and sugar. If you need a more compact breakfast, try one of the Full English Cafe’s breakfast sandwiches, served on bread from Sweetish Hill bakery.

Order off the ‘On Toast’ portion of the menu for a lighter breakfast or snack. On toast options include two fried eggs, butter and marmalade, and of course Heinz beans, the perfect catalyst for extra wind at your back.

Tea

A great place to enjoy a proper cuppa with your friends or solo, Full English Cafe features some British household staples from across the pond as well as some local Austin blends from Zhi Tea. Order PG Tips, Tetley, or Twinings English Breakfast by the cup or pot.

Other brand-name teas available include Lipton Yellow Label and Brooke Bond Red Label. Chai latte (hot or cold) and Austin Breakfast, Dragonwell Green, and Ginger Peach Oolong from Zhi round out the tea menu.

Other British Foods

Full English Cafe serves supper on Friday and Saturday night. The supper menu is a surprise and may include shepherd’s/cottage pie, bangers and mash, various pasties, and sausage rolls.

It’s hard to do this place full justice in a blog post. Just visit and see for yourself. Cheers.

Riding the Greyhound Express: Dallas to Austin and Back

Greyhound Express

In late May 2012, a pubic relations agency representing Greyhound, the bus transportation company, asked me write about the new Greyhound Express service, which serves major Texas cities via direct, low-fare bus routes.

Redesigned buses with more leg room, complimentary Wi-Fi, and power outlets are used on the express routes, and if you book online in advance, you can get (for how long, I don’t know) a $1 one-way fare.

Although the PR agency offered to arrange an interview with Greyhound, I figured the best way to write about something like this was to experience it first-hand. A quick Dallas-Austin trip sounded like fun; however, with a wife, kid, and full-time job, this type of adventure didn’t seem likely.

An opportunity of temporary bachelorhood presented itself when, after a week-long family vacation in Montreal, my wife and son would visit her family in Connecticut — not to return until Sunday — while I headed back to Dallas for work. Perfect timing for a 24-hour, Saturday-Sunday Austin jaunt.

Greyhound Express Bus - Dallas to Austin
Greyhound Express Bus Interior

Just why is Greyhound offering this express service anyway? “Indoor terminals to protect customers from weather, not just curbside service,” read one of the bullet points in a list of Greyhound Express advantages. Competition, eh?

Megabus, another intercity bus with service in other parts of the U.S. and Canada, was about to expand to Texas. For fares as low as $1, they transport passengers on state-of-the-art, double-decker buses from a parking lot in one city to a parking lot in another city. No costs for physical terminals translates to saving for the customer.

Unfortunately for the consumer (but lucky for Greyhound), the City of Dallas prevented Megabus from departing from a downtown Dallas parking lot, forcing them to change the departure location to Grand Prairie until a deal can be worked out. According to one source, the city wants Megabus to operate out of a terminal that provides passengers with covered shelter.

Purchasing Greyhound Express Tickets

When I booked my trip on the Greyhound Express website (https://www.greyhound.com/Express/Default.aspx) in July, I didn’t expect the $1 fares to be available anymore, but they were. To be able to get from Dallas to Austin and back for just $2 is nothing short of incredible to me — hard to pass up even if you drive a Prius.

It’s important to note that the $1 fares are not listed when booking through Greyhound’s regular reservation engine, even if you choose an express route. You must book via the Greyhound Express website.

After selecting my routes, I was given the option of paying the fare online and picking up the tickets at the Greyhound station or purchasing the tickets at my local 7-11 for cash only. To my disappointment, the option of printing tickets at home — a major selling point on the Greyhound Express site — was not available. To avoid having to arrive at the Greyhound terminal early on the day of my 7:46am departure, I opted for 7-11.

Evidently, the 7-11 clerk hadn’t performed one of these transactions before, but the print-out from the Greyhound website provided clear instructions and a phone number to call for support. The flimsy piece of receipt paper I was handed was my ticket to Austin and back.

Pre-Greyhound Jitters

The closer I was to my departure date, the more apprehensive I became. I had never been on a Greyhound bus before and began devoting way too much time reading about the bad experiences of others — late and crowded buses, farty smelling passengers, meth addicts, gross bathrooms, rude Greyhound employees, non-functioning air conditioning, etc. I read one story about a driver who abandoned her bus because she was fed up with poor passenger behavior.

And I hadn’t forgotten about a Greyhound incident that occurred in Canada during the summer of 2008. People throw the term “Greyhound nightmare” around loosely, but this one is truly horrific. On the evening of July 30, 2008, Vince Weiguang Li boarded a Greyhound bus in Erickson, Manitoba. After a bus stop, Li moved from the front of the bus to the back, where he sat next to Tim McClean, a carnival worker on his way home to Winnipeg.

McLean was sleeping with his headphones on when Li calmly pulled out a large knife and began stabbing him in the neck. When they realized what was going on, the passengers and bus driver got off the bus. Li continued to stab McLean, beheaded him, ate some flesh, and displayed the severed head through the front door window for the other passengers to see.

Li was diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and found not criminally responsible for McLean’s death. In a recent interview, Li expressed remorse and claimed that God instructed him to kill McLean, whom he believed at the time to be an alien.

As unlikely as it was that I would sit next to a paranoid schizophrenic who might mistake me for an alien, I was somewhat concerned for my safety. But many people ride the Greyhound every single day without incident, so maybe it was time to stop focusing on the unlikely.

Riding the Greyhound from Dallas to Austin on Saturday

I awoke at the crack of 5:00am, took a quick shower, ate some breakfast, and drove to the Parker Road DART (Dallas Area Rapid Transit System) station, where I paid for two days’ worth of parking for a total cost of $10 — five times the cost of my round-trip Greyhound ticket. I couldn’t find any volunteers to drive me to the Greyhound terminal so early on a Saturday morning, the buses weren’t running at this ungodly hour, and cab fares were ridiculous.

Dallas Greyhound Station
The Dallas Greyhound Bus Terminal

As I neared the Greyhound terminal, some guy asked me for my DART single-fare pass, which I gave him. Another person approached me and began making small talk; he was about to ask me for money when a woman distracted him.

The terminal itself seemed clean but overcrowded and chaotic. There is a ticketing counter, restaurant, arcade, departure gates, and a restroom.

I used the restroom, bought a bottle of water, and waited. A Greyhound employee instructed those on the 10:45am Greyhound to Austin to begin lining up.

The bus was booked (or overbooked) just like any other Greyhound bus; however, those who purchased Greyhound Express tickets received a discount (if they bought in advance) and priority boarding. Unfortunately, the reserved seating I read about on the website didn’t apply here.

I got on the bus early to claim a window seat and watched the rest of the passengers as they boarded. A nice lady sat next to me, and her mother sat across the aisle. They were headed to Laredo, which was the bus’ final destination after stops in Austin and San Antonio.

Leaving Downtown Dallas on the Greyhound Bus
A view from the Greyhound bus as we left Dallas

Many ethnicities were represented, but most of the passengers were Mexican nationals or descendants thereof, making the long, seven-plus-hour journey to Laredo and points beyond. Except for a few people who seemed to talk continuously on their cell phones (I think overheard a woman trying to ditch a collector), my fellow passengers were quiet and kept to themselves.

Just like the website said, the seats offered plenty of legroom, supposedly 14 inches — a vast improvement over coach air travel. For a short person, that’s pretty comfy. I don’t know how tall people do it.

Placed behind each seat (and intended for the passenger in the next row) was a cupholder and a place to store books and magazines. Beneath each seat was one of those pull-down foot rests that nobody ever uses. Below the windows on each row are power outlets. The temperature throughout the trip to Austin was comfortable.

Too tired to break out my laptop and work, I tried to sleep … but couldn’t. I was comfortable enough but probably too excited about the trip.

The window did little to block the sun’s hot rays; a little tint would be nice. On the other hand, I should have been smart enough to sit on the other side of the bus.

Although I tried my best to avoid it, I had to tinkle about two hours into the ride. I wobbled to the back of the bus, trying not to bump into peoples’ elbows and feet as the bus shook. Even more difficult was peeing straight into the toilet.

The bathroom looked like a porta potty — a metal hole with chemical stuff at the bottom and a plastic toilet seat. This is not the place you want to be when you have the runs. On the wall was a hand sanitizer dispenser which happened to be empty. Luckily I brought my own, and I suggest you do too.

The Dallas-to-Austin leg was complete in just over three hours and according to schedule — a hard time to beat when driving oneself. Now for some Austin fun!

Austin

Barton Springs Pool
A crowded Barton Springs Pool on a hot August afternoon

Across the stree from the Austin Greyhound terminal is a city bus stop. I purchased a Cap Metro (Capital Metropolitan Transportation Authority) day pass for $2 — good for 24 of the 25 hours I was in town. The number 10 bus took me downtown where I met a friend for lunch.

Good company, great accommodations, a cool dip in Barton Springs Pool, yummy Mexican food, and delicious BBQ all in a day’s time. Further detail of my Austin trip will be left for another post on a different blog.

Riding the Greyhound from Austin to Dallas on Sunday

I hopped on the number 10 from downtown Austin to the Greyhound Station. Unfortunately, this particular route did not pass the terminal, so I got off as close as possible and walked the rest of the way. In less than one hour I went from eating breakfast on the 18th floor of the downtown Hilton Garden Inn to slogging my way through Highland Mall parking lot in 90-plus-degree weather — quite a disparity.

Seating Area of Austin Greyhound Station
Austin Greyhound Bus Station

I arrived at the terminal early and sweaty. This Greyhound station has received many negative Yelp reviews over the years. One Yelp reviewer suggested the terminal is what you’d get “if you crossed the airport with the city jail.” I don’t agree with that assessment; however, I do recognize the socioeconomic contrast betwen those who typically travel by plane and those who travel by bus.

Other Yelp complaints were directed at Greyhound employees. I saw nothing but professionalism from the woman (Denisa, I think) who helped us board the bus.

The bus ride home was much more pleasant than the bus ride down. For one, fewer passengers meant I could have two seats to myself. Additionally, the bus had screens covering the windows, which effectively prevented the hot sun from becoming an annoyance. A decal for the new Batman movie covered the entire bus — window screens and all.

Greyhound Express Free WiFi - Austin to Dallas
WiFi on the Greyhound Express — that annoying Greyhound frame

I broke out my laptop and connected to the WiFi. The connection wasn’t fast enough for streaming, so I didn’t get to watch the Breaking Bad episodes I had hoped to. The WiFi speed was adequate for browsing the Internet and checking email. An annoying Greyhound frame appeared on almost every website I visited.

I wrote a little, put away the laptop, and successfully dozed off for a while. Before I knew it, I was safely back in the Big D. Two dollars doesn’t get you much these days, but it can get you to Austin and back on the Greyhound Express … and that’s something.