Sunday, November 15, 2009

Washington DC - Ithaca, NY. Return.

I just got back from the Net Impact conference in Ithaca, NY, at 8am today instead of 1am. So why is that?

The Georgetown Net Impact chapter chartered a bus from Ithaca to come pick us up at Georgetown and bring us there. A fairly smart idea, because it avoided the cost of having the driver sleep over.

But the problems started about 1 mile away from the school, when the driver, following his GPS, started taking really small roads, to end in a dead end. I felt really bad that the Swiss guy had to guide an American driver in his country, his GPS and his bus, but it seemed like the better solution at the time. We didn't experience any other mishap, except of course for the fact that we stopped at a McDonald's and not an Outback, but it could have been worse.

The way back was more adventurous; we left Ithaca around 7pm to drive back. After around 3 hours of optimist hope we would end the night in our own beds, a really strong plastic-like smell invaded the bus. We notified the driver, who didn't seem to annoyed and kept driving. Not for long, as the engine started heating up, since this smell was the cooling fluid, who emptied through a defect hose onto the engine and the other belts. The engine was not cooled anymore... We waited (alongside a highway) for half an hour in a foggy drizzle, while the engine was cooling down. We boarded the bus again and tried to get out of the highway, but the whole bus, including all lights, shut down after 500m. We started waiting in the dark, figuring out what to do, while the amazingly efficient police had secured the area with flares. We waited for about an hour for a mechanics to come and confirm that a repair was not possible. In the meantime, another bus had left Ithaca to rescue us.

We chartered some taxis to come pick us up and bring us to the closest hotel, which was kind enough to let us colonize their lobby. A strange sight: 40 business students in a hotel lobby, between 1 and 3am... Some sleeping, some working on assignments, but most not really knowing what they were doing...

The other bus arrived and we left, full of hope, for Washington DC, and the real "adventure" started. First, with a glacial wind coming from the ventilation system. I thought for a while that the driver wanted to freeze us to death so that we don't tell our story. After some "iterations" (=trial and mostly errors), he decided that the best was to completely shut down ventilation. This left some free space for the odors of the toilet to spread into the bus, which was a whole new experience in itself. But I only understood the full dimension of the horror we were living when I went into it (no other choice, believe me) and saw the "stuff" (I'll leave up to your imagination what "stuff" you can find at the bottom of a no-flush toilet) was actually being sprinkled up because of some draft.

I've traveled on hundreds of buses, for more than 25,000 km in the developing world and have never seen such disasters. As I have been saying, the US is a country of extremes.

If you want a memorable bus ride, go to Ithaca, New York... ;)

P.S: It is worth noting here the calm and positive attitude of all MSB and GW MBA students, but especially the dedication, professionalism and efficiency that Katrina and Leslie, who were in charge of the bus, as well as Neel and Robin showed in handling this delicate situation.

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