Clear skies and off-peak traffic meant smooth sailing for three reporters charged with either riding the bus, flying or driving in a race from Hartford to Boston Monday, the first day of Shuttle America's new flights from Bradley International Airport to Hanscom Field in Bedford, Mass., some 20 miles northwest of Boston.
This article appears here with the gracious consent of The Hartford Courant Company.
Boston Or Bust: A Race To The Ritz
By NAEDINE HAZELL (by air), JIM SHEA (by car)
and GREG MORAGO (by bus)
This story ran in the Courant on November 9, 1999
Their mission: to see who could reach the Ritz-Carlton in Boston first, spending the least money and energy. They gathered at the office before 10 a.m. Here's how they did, in diary form:
PLANE:Nothing curls a colleague's lip faster than a well-placed ``gotta plane to catch'' as you shrug into your trench coat and grab a laptop. No one needs to know that if you take Shuttle America's non-stop to Bedford, you'll actually spend twice as long getting to and from the airports (about an hour) than you will in the air. The point is you are flying to Boston, for $34.25 one-way, including tax. Flying is Bogart and Bergman. Driving is Fred and Ethel.
CAR: Look at Hazell; what a mess. You can see the tension, the pressure, the hassle on her face as she rushes out the door. Drive to Bradley, park, get to the terminal, board, land, get ground transportation to Boston. And she hasn't got a prayer of winning this thing. I almost feel sorry for her, almost.
BUS: Not even close to leaving the station at this point.
PLANE: Rush and wait. It's part and parcel of the whole flying gig. Rush to the airport, wait at the gate, sip yummy Dunkin' Donuts coffee. Read the paper. Very relaxing.
CAR: I suppose I should get going. Me winning this thing is the surest bet since Secretariat. Let's see, I have my notebook, coffee, some homemade muffins, seat's adjusted just right, heat just so, radio on, shoes off, Boston-bound and livin' large.
BUS: All is right with the world. I have my peanut-butter-and-jelly sandwich, an apple, bottled water, Altoids and gum. I am armed with three newspapers, four Christmas catalogs, earplugs and a well-worn copy of ``The Great Gatsby.'' I also possess something that makes my trip to Boston that much sweeter: smugness. To my thinking, my journey to Beantown is the most hassle-free: two hours of comfortable, painless, uninterrupted time to use as I wish. To sleep, to read, to be lost in contemplation about Microsoft, EgyptAir, Al Gore, Y2K and the ever-nagging question of just why people consider the loathesome Helen Hunt a good actress. I feel I have drawn the long straw in our competition. I couldn't begin to cope with the added transportation issues posed by plane travel. And the thought of driving to Boston the most boring stretch of highway imaginable, especially the interminable Mass Pike is always deeply troubling. No, give me the playful Peter Pan any day.
PLANE: ``Naedine, your plane is waiting.'' Pinky swear. I was the only person to walk across the tarmac to my own sporty 48-seat twin-prop. Probably because it was the first day Shuttle America was flying Hartford to Bedford. On board, I met my personable flight attendants Tammy Orme and Erica Hart and waved to my pilots.
CAR: I am at Exit 71 on Route 84, Ruby Road, which prompts me to hum a few bars of ``Ruby, Don't Take Your Love to Town.'' The speed limit is 65 mph, and I am going 70 mph in the slow lane. At 11:10 a.m., the exact time I cross the Massachusetts line, Hazell's dual-prop plane is scheduled to take off. She's probably trying to be nonchalant at this point while at the same time listening intently for the slightest nuance in engine noise. Aside from the large trucks passing me at 85 mph or so, I haven't a worry in the world.
BUS: My journey begins on a playful note. Arriving at Hartford's Union Station 15 minutes before my 11:15 a.m. departure time, I notice that my bus is called the ``Make Believe.'' Every Peter Pan coach carries a personal, fairytaleish name, and this one is sure to have me humming the tune from ``Show Boat'' all the way to Boston.
11:3 0 a.m.
PLANE: Cushy gray-leather seats, stunning views and just enough time to make a few lists (grocery, Christmas gifts and to-do). Way too noisy for a Walkman, but way better than dodging trucks on the Mass Pike. Getting a picture yet? Tarmac, twin-props, flight attendants vs. tires, truckstops and ``Do you want fries with that?'' Your choice.
CAR: I've just passed Exit 10 on the Mass Pike. The sign says it's 45 miles to Boston. I've been looking but haven't seen one plane. This is almost too easy. My biggest complaint so far? The coffee is getting a little tepid. Morago must be under way by now. I have this picture of him seated next to a large, overly perfumed woman whose non-stop chatter is interrupted only to eat moist dates from a plastic baggy. I must confess it is a most pleasing image.
BUS: We're on the highway. We left 6 minutes late after a greeting by the driver and a caution to bear in mind when using the bathrooms: ``The bus has the tendency to rock from side to side. We don't want anyone hurt.''
PLANE: After landing at 11:40 and being whisked into idling maroon U.S. Shuttle van (they greet each of the 10 Shuttle America flights at Hanscom Field), I am again the only passenger in a vehicle meant for a dozen people. For the 25-minute ride to Boston ($20, including tip), we chat sports and Big Dig before my driver hands me off to the liveried doorman at the Ritz-Carlton.
CAR: I pay the $2.15 toll and can see the top of the Prudential Center in the distance. Stick a fork in this race; it's done. I go down Storrow Drive next to the Charles River and get off at the Kenmore Square exit. There are probably faster ways to get to downtown Boston, but the only way this city makes any sense to my direction is from Fenway Park.
BUS: When I called about schedules, Peter Pan told me there would be a movie, but we're obviously flickless, and the driver makes no mention of it. None of the 12 passengers seems to mind. We approach the Mass Pike via the Fast Lane. Whizz through.
PLANE: I am welcomed into the warm bosom of the Ritz, ma'amed all around and escorted up to a two-room suite on the 16th floor overlooking the Common. I kick off my shoes and sigh heavily at the fabulous view. Did madam have a good trip? Oh, yes, I just flew in.
CAR: I pull up in front of the Ritz Carlton, across from the Boston Common, hand my car keys to the parking valet and saunter into the hotel, only to find Hazell already there.
BUS: Pass exit for the Cape. I think about North Truro beaches and P'town parties and wonder where the summer went. In a few minutes, we exit to Framingham. Just now notice that the coach smells like holiday potpourri - fir and cinnamon. Maybe someone's chewing Dentyne?
BUS: Arrive at Framingham bus station. We don't pick up any passengers. Back on the Pike, we pass Natick Plaza, which has a Burger King and Hot Dog City. I'm reminded of my sandwich, and I scarf it down.
BUS: Pass under that weird Sheraton built over highway and remember that I stayed there for a friend's wedding. Then I notice the Boston skyline, the gleaming John Hancock and Pru. We're making great time, and I'm actually starting to get excited about getting to the Ritz-Carlton, that oasis of civility. Pass Fenway. Thinking of hideous Red Sox fans. Enter a maze of tunnels. Pass Big Dig mess. Pull into South Station (1:07 p.m.) 18 minutes ahead of schedule. Grab a quick cigarette and look for taxi.
BUS: Five minutes after finding a taxi, arrive at Ritz.
PLANE: Air travel is romantic. Nothing that comes before or after it parking, rushing, squishing, bad coffee, dry skin can dull the quiet thrill. People who fly are doing something urgent, something important, something cooler than most of the population, who, even if they are in motion, are merely driving or being driven. So, you see, I won. Even if it took 15 minutes more to fly than to drive to Boston, I won, because I flew.
- DIFFICULTY: Moderate.
- COST: $69.25
CAR: I feel many emotions at this point. But mostly, I feel like the hare.
- DIFFICULTY: Low.
- COST: $29.40
BUS: My fellow travelers have beat me, but I don't care. I got here faster than expected. I was able to read, daydream, sing ``Make Believe'' in my head a dozen times. The suite at the hotel makes me feel a little more warm and cozy about Boston, never one of my favorite cities.
- DIFFICULTY: Low.
- COST: $36
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