[ED. NOTE: AS YOU MAY HAVE HEARD, THERE WAS A LITTLE SITUATION ON THE MASS PIKE YESTERDAY AFTERNOON INVOLVING A BOLT BUS CATCHING FIRE AND EXPLODING. TURNS OUT, OUR PAL AND LOCAL STAND-UP COMEDIAN JOSH ROSENBERG HAPPENED TO BE RIDING THAT VERY BUS. WHAT FOLLOWS IS HIS TAKE ON THE EXPERIENCE. – DM]
Since I gave up trying to have a car while living in Boston, I’ve taken BoltBus for 99-percent of the time when heading to New York to visit family. It’s always seemed like a reliable company; usually on time, very affordable, and for the most part, very comfortable. Until yesterday.
Walking from Penn Station to the Bolt pickup area on 33rd between Eleventh and Twelfth Avenues, at around 10:20am, I whipped out the cell phone, got on the Bolt site, and went to book a ticket for the upcoming 11:00am bus back to Boston. The site said “walk-up fares only,” meaning you give the driver $25 cash to get on if there are any seats available. I decided to buy a ticket online for the noon bus for $17 (plus I get my Bolt Rewards points!), and be on the same standby line as the schlubs shelling out $25.
Lo and behold, I was first in the standby line with my prepaid ticket, and boarded, finding that seating options were limited to the very first seat, and the very last. I’ve always liked sitting in the last seat. There’s a little ledge to put your carry-on baggage on rather than sitting with it under your feet with your knees tucked under your chin for four hours.
As I approached the back of the bus, I asked the girl sitting there if it was okay if I joined her, and she accepted. I even helped her put her bag on the aforementioned ledge so she’d be more comfortable. As I sat down, I said, “See? We got the best seats in the house!”
Me and my stupid fucking mouth.
The ride was going along smoothly until we pulled into a rest stop somewhere between New Haven and Hartford. The Rosie Perez circa-1988-sounding driver tried to tell everyone that an alarm was going off, and that a mechanic was going to have to check the bus out. We were told it could take anywhere from five minutes to a half hour. This was around 1:40 pm.
Just before 3pm, we boarded the bus again with no problem and continued on. I fell right asleep.
Around an hour later, I was awakened by this constant tone that sounded like an obnoxious kid blowing into a recorder, and a chemical smell that hadn’t been detectable for the first leg of our trip. I texted my lady friend, told her what was going on, and that I was sitting all the way in the back seat. She gave me some shit for it, asking why I wouldn’t rather have seated myself in the front so I could get off the bus first. I explained my ledge theory, and that there’d be no real reason to want to get off the bus first.
Again: me and my stupid fucking mouth.
At 4:45 pm, I could notice the other passengers leaning across the aisle to ask their neighbors if they could smell the smoke. We could hear the driver freaking out and yelling “Uh oh we no gonna make it.” The engine shut off and we coasted along the right lane of I-90 near Newton, all wondering just what the fuck was going on. The smell got stronger and stronger, and the driver instructed everyone to get off the bus.
Everyone stood up and frantically tried to make a mad dash for the door, and as I picked my bags up from the aforementioned ledge, an uncomfortably-colored dark yellow smoke suddenly poofed out from under it. I looked out the window and saw flames coming around the side of the bus, as thick gray smoke plumed inside the cabin, nobody could get their shit together quick enough to get off the bus. I screamed towards the front, “THE BUS IS ON FIRE! GET THE FUCK OFF!!”
Two minutes later, I was watching baggage being thrown from the storage area of the bus over the guardrail into the woods, and people running for their lives up to a clearing about 50 yards ahead. We waited and watched as the flames burned out of control for about 10 minutes chuckling nervously the whole time. Then, as the flames hit the diesel tank it turned the length of the bus into a cannon, firing a huge ball of flames 30 feet through the windshield and blasting the side windows all over the highway. I said to someone nearby, “OK, well, the worst part is over now.”
Me, and… well, you get it.
My fellow former passengers and I stood around under a huge tree, some smoking cigarettes, some taking deep breaths, while I asked an EMT on site for “a goddamn Xanax”. We were shaken but safe, yet my mouth and lungs were dry from taking a nap essentially inside a burning diesel fire, and then I realized and proclaimed to everyone, “Son of a bitch! I left my soda on there!” Scattered laughter. Much like my stand-up sets.
We watched as the Fire Department doused the charred bus carcass down, and as traffic began building up for miles behind us I said to the girl I had been sitting next to: “Brilliant. I’m going to be just another Jew blamed for bad traffic in Boston now … hey, remember when I sat down and told you we had the best seats in the house?” My cracks fell on deaf ears, and she lit another cigarette before the one she was smoking was even finished.
Another Bolt pulled up as traffic started coming through, with room for only 19 of our 47 passengers. Some people made their own arrangements, but I waited for the promised relief bus and let the news reporters get some B-roll of my stupid little face for the news that night. Unfortunately everything I was bringing back didn’t fit in my backpack, so I filled a white trash bag with the rest, including two Victoria’s Secret bags that could easily be seen through the white, making it look like I’d just shoplifted at a strip mall. Inside one was a bottle of rum I was bringing home, and I shared it with some grateful-to-be-alive passengers.
The relief bus never came. As luck would have it, a good (nay, incredible) samaritan offered some kid and I a ride to the nearby Riverside T station.
I finally arrived home just before 7:30pm, exhausted from both the rides, and scanning all the shitty puns on social media newsfeeds about “bolting from the BoltBus.” (Oh you clever, clever people.)
What I’ve taken away from this situation is the following:
- You will never see my ass on one of those fucking buses again.
- When traveling, if there’s a seat closest to the exit, sit there. If an elderly person asks you to move just remember the elderly move slower than shit, because every second of their lives matter at that point. If you’re trying to be nice to them now, remember that later on that afternoon when you’re placing your foot squarely on the back of their head while trying to rush them off a bus. Before it explodes.
- Don’t share with strangers. That bottle of rum was a gift to me, and in spite of sharing it with my fellow survivors, nobody even gave me a fucking ride home.
Dan is a freelance journalist and has written for publications including Vice, Esquire, the Daily Beast, Fast Company, Pacific Standard, MEL, Leafly, Thrillist, and DigBoston.