By Gary Lee
Washington Post Staff Writer
Wednesday, June 20, 2007
Even before the frills kicked in aboard Rehobus -- the raucous "Saturday Night Live" reruns, the juicy cheeseburgers, the ice-cold brews compliments of a fellow passenger -- I knew this would not be a standard just-get-me-there-in-one-piece sort of trip.
The concept had intrigued me. Geared toward the car-free and those tired of that lazy, hazy, mostly crazy drive to the coast, the new chartered bus service promised an easier commute between the District and Rehoboth Beach, Del.
But the first clue that this would be a different style of coach tour altogether came when I went to the Rehobus Web site to make a reservation. There, staring face on, was a swarthy hunk wearing a starched dress shirt unbuttoned to reveal his bare chest. Then on the morning of the trip came an e-mail reminder that included an invite for cocktails at 59 Lake, a popular Rehoboth restaurant and lounge. Finally, an hour before the Friday afternoon departure, passengers started gathering at Adams Morgan's 18th & U Duplex Diner, a watering hole that doubles as Rehobus's "departure lounge."
Rehobus aims to infuse the getting-to-the-beach experience with a dash of raciness, a dapple of camp and a splash of deluxe style. "This is not to be confused with the Chinatown bus," said Rehobus co-owner Mark Bromley, referring to the no-frills service between the District and Manhattan. "Why would we want to duplicate Hell?"
Bromley, his partner, David Salie, and another couple launched Rehobus on Memorial Day weekend; the service runs through Labor Day. For $78 round trip (or $45 one way), they pledge to have passengers on the beach in four hours or less on Friday evenings and back Sunday nights.
That's half the time it takes on Greyhound, the only other public transportation alternative to Rehoboth. In a special summer route designed to accommodate vacationers, Greyhound leaves the District at 5 a.m. and -- after stops in Baltimore and in Wilmington and Dover, Del. -- arrives 8 hours 10 minutes later. That's not a typo.
Enthused by Rehobus's promise of a more direct mode of travel, I checked it out a couple of weeks ago. The 50-seat coach, scheduled to depart Friday at 6:15 p.m. from Adams Morgan, was clean and equipped with cushy seats, flat-screen high-def video monitors and plug-ins for earphones.
The driver pulled out a few minutes late with only eight passengers and two of the owners, so there was lots of space to stretch out. After a brief stop at the New York Avenue Metro station, the other pickup spot, we were barreling beachward.
Bromley and Salie quickly set a good-humored tone with a couple of offbeat announcements. They handed out boxed dinners -- cheeseburgers or chicken sandwiches with fries -- that passengers had ordered from the Duplex. Soft drinks and mints on a tray would come later. Soon enough the video service kicked in; clips from CNN flashed on one screen, "SNL" on another. There was also a video about the bus, featuring campy jokes and eight buff male models.
Indeed, Rehobus was designed with a gay tone in mind, Salie said. "We figure a good part of our clientele will be gays and lesbians," he said. But all passengers are welcome, he added. "We hope everyone will be comfortable joining in the spirit."
Most of my fellow Rehobusians gladly did. Three guys in their 20s and 30s from suburban Maryland started their own mini-party near the back of the bus. They offered microbrews for all takers, followed by cabernet. The chatter -- drifting from the rating of models in the Rehobus video to tales of past escapades in Rehoboth -- was, well, chattery. A couple of other passengers passed on the revelry, preferring to read or tap on laptops.
After one ride, passenger Lane Hudson was smitten. The 30-year-old blogger and political writer from the District said the quality of the coach was higher than most other buses. Best of all, during the trip many of the passengers connected and were hanging together. "The social dynamic on the bus is the best part of it," Hudson said.
The ride, across the Chesapeake Bay Bridge, past stretches of flat, green Maryland countryside and into Delaware, went smoothly. The only glitch was the audio system: The earphone plug-ins didn't work. But with all the banter, it didn't seem to matter.
As the coach approached Rehoboth, the hosts shifted into full-service mode. Who needed a taxi at the drop-off point? Who wanted to borrow a cellphone to call friends to pick them up? Most important, who was headed over to 59 Lake to seal the Rehobus experience with a toast?
Just under three hours after departing the District, Rehobus pulled into the parking lot behind a firehouse on Rehoboth Avenue. The passengers, primed for a weekend of sun and frolic, climbed off the mobile party, grabbed their bags and fanned into the night.
· For details, visit http://www.rehobus.comor call 888-697-4287. Meals are $8 apiece; discounts for books of 10 bus tickets.