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Christmas in New York is magical; draped in twinkling lights, decorated trees in almost every park and around every major attraction, the smell of cookies, mulled wine and Frasier Fir cascading down the street from various pop-up markets. The city known for its edge softens a bit and beckons tourists and locals to embrace their inner child and smile a bit more. It’s remained one of my favorite times of year to be here in the almost decade I’ve spent as a resident.
My first Christmas here was a bit different. It was a flurry of musical theater numbers, acting scenes, dance shoes and leotards as I prepared for my first finals of Musical Theater Conservatory. My semester didn’t end until five on Friday, December 21st, so despite our attempts to plan flights from NYC to Raleigh were simply too expensive to be reasonable. Trains we learned were essentially just as expensive as flights and required half a day of travel. Our final option was a bus. Ideal? Nope. Affordable? Very. Long? Ish. Comfortable? Ha! We weighed the pros and cons of all 3 options for the better part of two weeks. Ultimately, our decision was easy. All of that led to me, standing in Port Authority Bus Station’s Greyhound terminal at eight o’clock at night waiting to board my first of two buses home for Christmas.
Port Authority is known for many things; none of them are good. It’s an assault on your senses in every way—the smell of ethanol mixes with burnt rubber, urine, and last week’s shake shack to fill your nose while a cacophony of shouting, screeching tires, and music from crackled speakers that dry rotted in 1990 threaten to deafen you. It is arguably the worst that New York has to offer. Any of the softness that the city gains during the holiday season is lost at Port Authority. While Greyhound’s boarding system has been revamped a bit in the last few years, in 2012 it was convoluted and confusing during normal times and Christmas only exacerbated the issues.
This was my second time on a Greyhound bus. The first was just a few weeks prior for the Thanksgiving break, and so far, it seemed like Christmas would be a far easier trip. Travel by bus isn’t glamorous. You’re packed in like sardines (far worse than an airplane), and unless you’ve booked an express option there are a LOT of stops. The drive from New York to Richmond usually takes about six hours. By Greyhound, it takes closer to nine. The bus makes stops in Newark, Delaware, Baltimore, and Washington D.C. before finally arriving in Richmond. It’s a veritable revolving door of seatmates for 8 hours, to be unceremoniously dropped in a station in Richmond that seems to have been left in the 1980s. From there, I waited another hour in the middle of the night to catch my next and final bus from Richmond to Raleigh. The good thing about the Richmond to Raleigh bus? Fewer stops, and fewer people. I managed to snag a row to myself and finally after hours of no sleep get some shut eye. With twenty minutes left in the trip my phone alarm buzzed me awake and served as a reminder that I was almost home, and it was almost Christmas.
Bleary eyed and generally a bit worse for wear, I stepped off the bus, grabbed my suitcase and walked toward my beaming parents who enveloped me in one of the biggest, best hugs I’ve had to date. Still smiling, my Mom looked up at me and asked “Hungry? We’re going to go to Big Ed’s!”
Big Ed’s is a bit of a Raleigh institution. At the time, the only location was in downtown Raleigh in City Market. It opened at 6 am and offered the best southern breakfast options you can find in town. By the time lunch rolls around they’re closing shop for the day. They’ve since opened a second location and adjusted their hours, but the food and atmosphere remain the same. It was the perfect welcome home for the holidays my Mom could offer—a big smile, a warm hug, and a steaming bowl of grits.
As always, feel free to share your own holiday stories in the comments!
Thanks for being with us,
Kendall and all of us at Beth’s Christmas