Jim Garamone knew right away something was amiss Tuesday morning when he boarded a shuttle bus at Huntington that was supposed to be bound for Pentagon station.
It was the first workday morning of the summer-long shutdown of six Metro stations, including the one at Huntington. He figured there might be some kinks, as the Academy express bus chartered by Metro left the station at around 7:15 a.m. for what he thought was going to be a 40-minute ride. But he was imagining bad traffic, not ending up in the wrong state.
In the days leading up to the shutdown, Metro had warned there were bound to be problems at first. It delivered, as there were complaints about not enough shuttles and buses getting lost.
But of all this week’s “hiccups,” as Metro put it, the most bizarre was the Huntington shuttle to Pentagon that ended up in Anacostia.
The first sign it was going to be an unusual ride was when the bus quickly pulled over and stopped after leaving the station.
“[The driver] said she had to wait for the next bus because ‘I don’t have directions.’" said Garamone, 65, who writes articles for the the Department of Defense’s website, defense.gov.
As the driver waited for another bus to follow, Garamone thought, "OK, great.”
Pretty soon another bus did come by and Garamone’s bus followed. But he wondered why they were getting on the Beltway.
And then suddenly, one of the passengers yelled out, “Hey, that bus is going to New York!”
The bus crawled along in the morning rush-hour traffic, crossed the Potomac on the Woodrow Wilson Bridge and then headed north on I-295.
“I got a real nice tour of Congress Heights,” Garamone said. He was glad to see that the area seemed to be improving.
“But I didn’t need the tour when I’m supposed to be at work,” he said.
The other bus had disappeared. Garamone, who was sitting in the fifth row of cushioned seats, watched the people in front of him give directions to the now-frazzled driver, who was clearly from somewhere else and had no idea where she was.
“The poor woman. It’s not her fault they didn’t tell her how to go,” Garamone said afterward.
“Getting a tour of Anacostia on the 'express’ bus from Huntington to the Pentagon,” he tweeted showing a street corner in a different state from the Pentagon through rain-soaked windows.
Garamone wasn’t sure why the bus went to the Anacostia station. He figured that at some point the passengers giving directions decided it was hopeless to go to the Pentagon, so they steered her there so they could get on a train.
Around 8:30 a.m., more than an hour after the journey began, the bus pulled up at Anacostia station.
As the passengers got off, the driver had a look of “Oh my God,” Garamone said.
Some told her things like "Don’t worry about it. It’ll be better tomorrow.” Others walked away stone-faced, but nobody said anything mean.
Another half-hour later, after getting on the train at Anacostia, Garamone walked into work. “I think bemused is the right way to put it,” he said.
NBC Washington reported that many of Academy’s drivers had been brought in from Texas and other states.
Academy spokesman Ben Martin didn’t comment when asked where the driver of Garamone’s bus was from, or what exactly happened. “We are working with our drivers daily to ensure that these shuttle buses run as smoothly as possible,” he said.
By Wednesday, Metro said it was making some tweaks. Metro spokeswoman Sherri Ly said it had begun using more of its own buses as shuttles.
The union that represents Metrobus operators, however, criticized reassigning some drivers from their regular routes to shuttles without proper training, saying it compromises both passenger and driver safety.
There were still reports about shuttles going the wrong way or missing HOV lanes, but things got better for Garamone.
Back at Huntington the day after the ride to Anacostia, Garamone and other passengers joked about where they’d end up that day. They were relieved a regular bus with a Metro driver showed up. It got to the Pentagon in 35 minutes.
And this time, he said, “the bus stayed in Virginia.”