Epistemic Status: Concrete data on how something works with curiosity as to the gears behind the decisions, and a desire to record exactly what happened for posterity so we have detailed accurate records and perhaps an example of some things. But no reason to think any of it is important, or you should feel any great need to read it.
“You don’t know what you have until you go to New Jersey” – My wife Laura, when this was almost over.
This happened on Saturday night, as I attempted to transport myself, my wife and our two children home from their in-laws.
The one-year old is being held up by a strange contraption attached to my chest. After enduring a forty-five minute car ride, we make our way to Willowbrook Mall to catch the NJ Transit bus back into New York City’s Port Authority, after which we’ll need to get two trains or another taxi to return home.
When we get to the bus stop, it is 7:02, and we are just in time to see a bus that we presume is the 7:00 bus close its doors and begin to leave. Assuming we will now be forced to wait the actual maximum amount of time to get the next bus, we decide to order a taxi. Just as we’ve sorted out how to do that, another bus that says it is going to New York pulls into the station. Thanks to the orderly and well-kept bus schedule, it looks like we’ve caught a break and we’ll be at Port Authority around 7:35. We board and are on our way home.
Traffic is lousy, but nothing unusually bad. I’m mostly happily zoned out, thanks to a combination of continuously rebalancing my child as he falls asleep slooping over in various directions only to have the drop jolt him awake, and listening to a podcast. But I still keep an eye up ahead, because I’ve unfortunately been trained over the years that when traffic is lousy, one should be sure to know exactly how lousy it is, so one can properly complain and/or maintain and manage expectations.
I see a car cutting in front of us, and it’s instantly obvious this was not a wise decision. There isn’t enough room. I hear a noise and there’s a slight rattle. There’s been a minor accident. Shrug. It happens. The other car does not seem to care or even notice the havoc it has caused on the road this night, and continues onward as other cars allow.
The bus driver seems not to be overly concerned. With no room to move anyway, she takes a quick walk outside to look at the damage, but as soon as things start moving again, we’re moving on. After a few minutes, I mostly forget anything happened.
Traffic then starts getting rapidly worse. We come up against a police roadblock, entirely closing off two of the three lanes. When we get there, we are directed onto the left lane, where we sit for a few minutes in front of sideways highway patrol cars. A highway patrolman boards, then another one. They discuss things with the bus driver. The police roadblock expands to cover all three lanes, bringing traffic on the main road into the Lincoln Tunnel to a standstill.
They then slowly generate a corridor, and the bus proceeds to move to the right lane and off to the side. After that, the highway is allowed to reopen.
We sit there.
There is clearly an argument between the bus driver and the officers.
An officer comes back and starts talking to the passengers. He asks them for ID, saying “there was an accident so this is what I gotta do.” For our children he collects full names and dates of birth. Once finished collecting IDs, he leaves the bus with all of our IDs, with no word on when he’ll be back or what is going on.
We sit there.
A pair of passengers are asked whether they are going to a show, and when it starts. They are clearly frustrated, say yes that is where they were headed, but it started at 8:00, and it doesn’t matter now. No one else gets asked anything. We are not asked if anything is urgent.
After a while, the officer returns with our IDs and hands them out again.
He says that a police car will escort us off an exit to an Exxon station, where we will be transferred to a new bus in six minutes. After that, this bus will proceed to Port Authority.
Approximately two minutes after this, we’ve started moving slowly, behind a highway patrol car with its sirens flashing. I think to check my phone for the time. It says 8:23.
Several minutes later, we turn off of the highway and enter Secaucus, New Jersey.
Several minutes after that, we pass a bus going in the opposite direction. It says it is a New Jersey Transit Bus, headed to New York via Secaucus.
This does not seem like it bodes well.
At 8:35, we make it to the Exxon station. There is no second bus. We are given no new information on when to expect a second bus.
After several minutes of sitting there, the passengers who had missed their show, or at least the first half of it, ask to get out.
The bus driver refuses. She says she does not have the authority to open the bus door. We are not permitted to walk out into an Exxon gas station.
Another passenger says she has to go to the bathroom, which is not something the bus can accommodate.
The bus driver refuses in an angry tone.
The passenger reiterates that she has to go, clearly not knowing what to do about this, over the course of minutes, and makes a phone call.
My wife and I are fully ready to call a taxi and get us out of there, since we have no idea how long it will take to get a bus. This is one of those situations where waiting for longer makes the remaining expected wait longer rather than shorter. And I suspected that the bus we were supposed to get on was the bus we passed while heading to the gas station.
The problem is, we are being held prisoner on the bus.
I go up to talk to the driver, who again says she doesn’t have the authority to let us leave. That it’s up to the police. She says if it were up to her, she would have just driven to Port Authority, but the police won’t let her.
At other times, she’s been overheard saying the rightside mirror is busted and she can’t see anything there. I don’t know enough to judge whether this was true, or how much this impacts visibility or safety, or what was or wasn’t safe or wise in this situation – I can imagine it being mostly perfectly safe to proceed to Port Authority, or safe to do so with an escort ahead of us. I can also imagine it being unsafe, in which case a bus was unsafely driven to Port Authority, just without its passengers.
The driver says the new bus will be here in five minutes. This is the least credible five minutes. I check my phone for posterity, noting it is 8:41.
The good news is that between various passengers making more noise and moving around, time passing, and what I suspect was at least one call to 911, the door opens and we are permitted to walk out of the bus. Which we do as quickly as possible before minds are changed and the prison doors close again.
We then order a taxi to New York. We leave in that taxi at 8:53, as we also witness another bus pull up. I hope the other passengers got on their way within a few minutes of that. We weren’t about to stick around to find out. Around 9:10, we make it into the city, and get home around 9:35.
Nothing terrible happened to us. We lost about 90 minutes being forcibly detained, our kids got to bed super late, and we were out money for both the bus and the cab. Thanks to the street closing, I’m guessing a few thousand people experienced substantial delays, but it’s hard to get a good handle on how many people, or how big a delay.