By Andrea Sachs
Washington Post Staff Writer
Sunday, June 6, 2010; F01
Flavio Amaya doesn't own a car, so the Washington resident must rely on the kindness of friends, or a rental, to get to Rehoboth Beach to soak up the rays.
Dior Toney does have wheels, but a few hours before he was supposed to drive out to Dewey for Memorial Day weekend, the hood flew straight up, sabotaging his holiday plans.
Now, Pat Avery possesses a car, and it works; however, she and her partner find that halfway through the return trip from Rehoboth, drowsiness sets in, forcing them to pull off the road for a catnap. The Fairfax couple would prefer to drive straight through, but their circadian rhythms say otherwise.
Yet none of these circumstances mattered on the Friday of Memorial Day weekend, when DC2NY, the low-cost bus line to Manhattan, started weekend service from Washington to the Delaware beaches of Rehoboth and Dewey. Prior to that night, you had few transportation options from Washington to those sun-drenched destinations -- no direct train, no major airport, no nearby Greyhound depot. But this summer, your ocean-bound chariot awaits.
When the bus pulled out for its inaugural run, I was among 40 others dressed sunnily in shorts and sandals, our canvas totes, backpacks and black rolling bags following close behind. To experience the bus in its finest and toughest moments (holiday rush hour, eastbound on an early weekend morning, Sunday evening beach crush, etc.), I boarded four times over three days, first for an overnight stay, then for a day trip. I bade my car a good weekend.
"This is so much better than stressing the ride down there," said a Delaware beach-house owner whose car was in the shop and whose wife was already shoreside. "This is a great way to go."
The nearly three-year-old company, whose signature perks include WiFi, free bottled water and democratically selected movies, is not the first big wheeler to minister this route. Those with deep memory banks might recall the Rehobus, which launched in 2007 but folded not long after. The bus was known as a party in fifth gear, partnering with restaurants for pre-ride happy hours and serving snacks and sodas that, with some easy mixing, transformed into cocktails. The owners also targeted a gay crowd rather than marketing to a wider population, one of the reasons, some say, that it failed. By comparison, DC2NY has notified its 300,000 customers, in addition to hanging window posters around the Delaware towns and spreading the news via social media outlets.
"I saw an ad for it online on Monday," said Niki Williams, a Saturday night passenger returning from a visit to her boyfriend's family's house in Lewes, Del. "We are already telling friends about it."
This season, the company plans to run the bus through Labor Day, with three pickups per weekend at Dupont Circle and Union Station, plus holidays. Passengers disembark behind the fire station off Rehoboth Avenue or at the Lighthouse entertainment complex in Dewey. Both locales are a hot-sand hop from the restaurants, shops and, most important, beaches. "In either of these towns, you can't move in a car," said DC2NY marketing director Walter Gill. "It will be a nicer experience riding the bus, reading the newspaper and drinking coffee. And from the stops, it's a five-minute walk to a beautiful beach. That's pretty amazing."
Sensitive to the public's time constraints and job demands, the company arranged a Friday departure that allows travelers to work a full day (boarding at 5:30 or 6 p.m., depending on the pickup) and a Sunday evening return that arrives in Washington before curfew (around 10:30 p.m.). The schedule also accommodates day-trippers, who can log about nine hours at the beach, thanks to an early morning departure. Cost is $39 one way and $70 round trip -- less than a rental car plus gas.
"I am legally blind, so I can't drive. This is the best option for me," said a Bethesda man who traveled round-trip to Rehoboth on Saturday. "I walk around, listen to my radio, have lunch and dinner. That's a good day."
Last weekend, the bus's drive time matched that of a car -- 2 1/2 to three hours. The drivers were wise to detours, and minus a few backups at red lights, we barely idled. And while we didn't look as smashing as that red Corvette convertible on our left, we did have reason to gloat: Along Route 1 as we approached Rehoboth, the 57-seater bypassed traffic by using a lane designated for buses, bikers and autos taking right turns. Eat our exhaust, Corvette.
If demand grows, president Asi Ohana said, the company may expand service, adding a Thursday evening departure and a later option to the current 7:30 a.m.. Slow risers like Tom Mann, who raced to catch the bus on Sunday, would eagerly embrace a mid-morning slot.
"I don't need to get to the beach by 10:30," said Mann, who was carrying a coffee pot, his contribution to the beach house he rents with pals.
Nancy Arce was awake enough to remember her beach essentials, a white cooler and a stack of packaged cookies threatening to topple into the aisle. She and her friends, Erica Scott and Bianca Sanchez, commandeered the back row, using the extra room to fit their compact container, which was stuffed with soda, water, sandwiches and chips.
"I had to get a smaller cooler," Arce said, addressing the space issue onboard.
Scott teased back, "It's still huge."
When I asked the day-trippers whether they thought the hours on the ground warranted the hours in the bus, Scott said, "That's a really long day. That's probably more than you'd spend if you were on vacation staying in a hotel."
The girls, however, did not want for activities, filling their time with beach, a Thai lunch, more beach and a second ear-piercing. The cooler still contained a bit of nourishment for the ride home. (For more ideas, I shopped along Rehoboth Avenue, rented a bike for a 22-mile round-trip ride toward Bethany Beach and chugged a $2.50 happy hour beer at the Purple Parrot.)
To maximize a weekend beach trip, many of the Friday evening riders started the festivities as soon as the tires spun forward. To some, a bus is not just a bus, it's also a bar. "There is nothing enjoyable about driving to a party beach on your own," said a 25-year-old Washingtonian wearing a green visor. "This bus made my Friday even more Friday."
The lone traveler in the headgear joined forces, and supplies, with a pair of brothers, two women and their guy friend, and Toney, who played DJ on an Apple computer. (Sample mix: Lady Gaga's "Bad Romance," John Mellencamp's "Jack and Diane," the Police's "Roxanne.") The impromptu soiree, held within close proximity of the bathroom, was stocked with bottles of Smirnoff Ice, Captain Morgan spiced rum, Coke, sweet tea vodka (basically a spiked Arnold Palmer), ice sealed in a garbage bag, a mini-keg of Heineken, plastic Solo cups and dice, quarters, Trivial Pursuit and cards, which helped turn the simple act of drinking into a competitive sport.
"I could be in a bar or I could be on a bus," said Lexi Gray of Mount Vernon Square, who dreads the drive when she is behind the wheel. "It's the same thing."
By the time the vehicle pulled into the Dewey lot, the liquor well had run dry and lips had locked between two passengers. While most of the travelers scrambled out, the revelers hung back, exchanging phone numbers and gabbing like barflies oblivious to the cry of "closing time." Twice, the driver asked them to exit; only after he moved to shut the door did they take their leave. Had they stayed, they would've spent a nice evening in Manassas.
As I waited for a taxi to my hotel, I noticed a sad brown bag abandoned in the parking lot, an arm's toss from where the bus had stopped. After about 15 minutes, the guy in the now backward green visor appeared from the shadows and grabbed it. "I drank too much on the bus," he said, then wobbled down to the main drag to meet his friends.
Despite their lack of discretion, the group of imbibers could not be accused of flouting an alcohol policy. Though the company forbids open alcohol containers on the New York route, the rules to the Delaware shore were hazy. A few days before service kicked off, Gill told me that drinking was not allowed: "The minute you start partying, things get sloppy, things get spilled, things get loud. We won't have it." But on Friday night, the pre-departure announcement covered bathroom etiquette and the film selection: no mention of alcohol consumption whatsoever. On Tuesday, CEO Richard Green was more forthcoming, saying that though no ban had been in place, there was one now.
Lest you think that the bus is a living tableau of "Animal House," that's not the case. Of the four trips, I witnessed only one drinkathon, and, when seated in the front of the bus, I was hardly aware of its existence. On Saturday evening, with only four other passengers on board, the interior was so quiet I could hear my flip-flops scrape the sand against the floor.
Sunday morning's ride left too early for even bloody marys. Returning that evening, most eyes were fixed on the movie, books or the pastoral landscape darkening under the night sky. In fact, the drive was so peaceful, Avery and her travelmate fell into a restful sleep. They were able to make good time without having to wake up.