Wednesday, December 23, 2015

Problems in Buffalo & Cleveland

Now the dark side of the trip: transit just sucks in these cities.  If you are intentionally trying to avoid renting a car because you are a) cheap, b) don't like driving, c) just generally keeping your carbon footprint down or d) some combination of the above, you probably ought to avoid these cities, or indeed the vast majority of the U.S. aside from New York, Chicago, D.C., San Francisco and arguably Philadelphia, Portland and Seattle.  It just isn't worth trying to figure out the bus systems and then potentially getting stranded.

I had planned the trip to have a 6 or so hour layover in Buffalo, to allow me to get to and from the Albright-Knox Museum.  I'd gone twice in the past on the bus.  I specifically looked up the bus route from the Buffalo Greyhound terminal to the museum, and it said to take the 25B Tonawanda route.  That name was definitely an eye-opener, and not something I would have come up with on my own.  The previous two times, I had asked the driver if the bus went by the museum, but I was almost an old hand at this point.  I kept my eyes open and things started to look not quite right.  The driver mumbled something about a reroute, but it was completely impossible to hear in the back.  I definitely should have gone and asked, but I thought I recognized one store, so I sat back and waited a bit longer.  Finally, I asked and it turned out that the buses had been completely rerouted and the 25 went up Delaware (though the sign on the bus still said Tonawanda, so they are updating this extremely slowly and inefficiently, since the bus is supposed to read Delaware).  Now it was the 20A Elmwood that I should have taken.  I was totally out of luck and to add insult to injury the bus driver wouldn't (or couldn't) give me a transfer!  I walked across several blocks to get to Elmwood and then walked south towards the museum.  I probably would have taken a bus back, but the service is not very good.  I must have walked a mile and didn't see any bus overtake me!  I only saw one cab in that whole time as well, but he wasn't taking any fares.  So I was pretty steamed by that time, since I was given such a bad steer by the transit agency's own website.  (I should have taken a screenshot but I didn't think about it at the time, since it didn't seem necessary.)

Then I enter the museum and find out that roughly half is given over to a small Monet exhibit -- and that they have suspended their reciprocal privileges with the AGO, so if I want to see these paintings I will have to pay the full exhibition price.  I thought that was pretty unmannerly.  There should at least be a discounted rate.  I went around and saw the paintings not in the exhibit, including a few I hadn't seen before, but it seemed like pretty slim pickings frankly.  So I paid to get into the Monet exhibit.  It was ok, though they only had 8 Monets on view and only two that I would consider masterworks (a water lily painting on loan from Dallas and a haystack from the Art Institute of Chicago).  Maybe 8 or so paintings were the Albright-Knox masterworks that I had seen last summer in Milwaukee (as discussed here).  So it was nice, but not really worth $15 in my view.

I was fairly upset that they had not put the Max Beckmann back up.  Seeing that again would have helped me feel that this was not a completely wasted side trip.  It's not like there wasn't space on the museum back wall.  And it is featured on one of their postcards.  Call me crazy, but when a museum advertises itself with a certain number of paintings (through the postcards that they sell), they ought to try a bit harder to actually have these paintings on view most of the time.  I would say that each time I am back visiting the Albright-Knox, I actually like it a bit less (being totally befuddled by their decisions of what to show and not show).  Given the general unpleasantness of this trip to Buffalo, I probably won't be going back unless there is an absolutely amazing special exhibit, and I call and confirm that they have put Beckmann's Hotel Lobby back on view.

Getting back to the downtown wasn't nearly as difficult, and I had a bit of time to wander around.  I bought some shoes at Payless and some snacks for the bus ride to Cleveland.  I was actually asked if I was going to pay for them with my WIC stamps!  And while I am sure it is temporary, at the Greyhound station, the regular restrooms were all shut down and people had to go outside to some trailers and Porto-potties.  Let's just say that downtown Buffalo is not really a thriving metropolis...

The bus ride to Cleveland was fairly uneventful, and I was able to have a seat to myself.  (I did read a fair bit on the trip, but half of what I had expected to get through.)  I took a cab from the Greyhound station to the Glidden House, which is a pleasant hotel out by the Cleveland Museum of Art.  I would certainly stay there again if I go to Cleveland again, which is no sure thing.

I got up fairly early, though I had some work to take care of.  I didn't get to the museum until 10 sharp.  If I had known everything, I would have tried to get there 10 minutes sooner, as it would have made a big difference, since the will call line was fairly long.  I enjoyed the Impressionists in the Garden show quite a bit and stayed slightly over an hour.  That only gave me about an hour and a half to see the rest of the museum.  I went through the lower level quite quickly (maybe 15 minutes) and reserved most of the remaining time for the upper level, which is also where they expanded the museum the most.  I'll write about what I saw there in the next post.

The bottom line is that by the time I finished up with a visit to the bookstore and getting my bag back from bag check, it was exactly 1 pm.  This was extremely tight timing, since the Greyhound bus left at 2 pm!  So not very good planning on my part, and I kept doubling down on bad mistakes.  First, I didn't see any information desk in the museum where they could help me order a cab.  I should have just insisted, even if that meant interrupting the people at the ticketing desk.  Second, I had hoped that there would be a cab dropping someone off outside the museum, but that was a complete misreading of the situation.  So I decided to walk over to Euclid to catch the main bus back to downtown (the Health Line).  And I saw it drive by, and the information screen hinted that the next one would be 30 minutes later!  Seriously, what terrible service for such a major transit corridor.

At this point, I was wondering if I could hail a cab and started walking towards the medical center.  After a bit of time, I realized that this was not going to happen, but I didn't have any phone number to call a cab.  This was more bad planning on my part, since most times I write down a few cab companies when I am in a strange city.  I guess it was a bit of brain freeze, as well as just assuming I would take local transit back from the museum.  (It was certainly unfortunate that the Greyhound bus wasn't leaving at 2:30 or so, since then my panic levels would have been kept in check.)

I finally tried to turn on my internet service on the phone, and it simply wouldn't work, even after I turned data roaming back on!  So there I was completely stuck with no cab numbers and the clock ticking!  I finally called my wife and had her text me back some numbers.  I reached a cab company and he said that it would be 20-30 minutes to send a cab over!  Are you kidding me?  And then I remembered that Cleveland is a lot like the south side of Chicago, though seemingly worse in terms of transit service, and you just can't expect to get around without a car.  To make things worse, I saw another one of the Health Line buses go by.  (Most likely it wouldn't have gotten to the downtown in time anyway, but I was going out of my mind with anxiety at this point, and this just seemed to be taunting me.)  So I just stayed put and stewed.  The cab driver showed up in about 15 minutes, and he was a bit of a speed demon anyway, so he was more than happy to try to get to the Greyhound in less than 15 minutes.  I think he managed it in 10 minutes, and I was incredibly grateful that I had been saved from my own bad decisions.  Of course, I didn't have much time to do more than hit the restroom and get a few things out of the vending machine.  (I ate incredibly poorly on this trip.)  Then the bus driver took his time, and we loaded and left 10 minutes late.  But Murphy's Law suggests that had I gotten on that second Health Line I missed, I would have turned up at 2:03, and the Greyhound would have left on the dot...

The bus back to Buffalo was a bit more crowded, and I had to share my seat.  I also had to do a fair bit of work, which I hadn't been expecting.  When I was finished with that, it turned out that none of the reading lights worked!  The layover in Buffalo was shorter than it should have been but I didn't really care at that point, so long as I made it back to Toronto.  The main issue on this leg was that we were held up 30 minutes by one passenger who was finally cleared at Customs, and we also picked up a Canadian who had been refused entry to the U.S. and had to take the bus back home!  So there are a lot of lessons learned, but the main one is just not to go to Buffalo and Cleveland without having access to a car.

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