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I mentally shook myself and wondered if the clerk had just done what I thought she did.

For years I had wanted to visit the Kripalu Center for Yoga and Health in Lenox, MA, having heard raves about the food, the programs and the scenery. A stay is steep, but since I saved, oh, $2,500 by not jetting to New Zealand, I figured $155 a night was a steal.

I definitely felt lighter when I left – $155 lighter, and enlightened by the knowledge that I had finally done something I had always wanted to do, even if I never, ever wanted to to do it again.

My $155 bought a bottom bunk in a glorified hostel, three meals of various pilafs, yogurts and tahini dressings and rather uninspiring yoga on sweaty carpet desperately in need of a good shampoo.

Part of it’s my fault. Seeking relief for repetitive stress injuries when I first moved to Albany, I tried Kripalu. The slow pace, easy stretches and simple breathing weren’t for me. Vinyasa yoga – a more athletic style – hooked me, and I never returned.

The Kripalu Center offers Vinyasa classes, but intimidated by the toned yoga bodies, I stuck with the easy class since I haven’t practiced regularly in about a year. I shouldn’t have been so shy. I remembered quickly why I didn’t like the Kripalu style.

The center offers biking and kayaking, but only in small guided groups. Guests can’t just sign out a boat or bike on their time. The center owns land down to a lake, where I sat and watched the rosy reflection of sunset clouds play across the water – after wandering around the property for an extra 20 minutes because the trails aren’t marked.

But the kicker was the room. When I entered, I found the previous occupants’ underwear, magazines, paperbacks, peach pits and Kleenex. I’m all for glasses half full, but that doesn’t mean I liked having mugs still sporting someone else’s coffee dregs on the dresser. After dinner I asked a woman at the reception desk if the trash could be cleared off. She questioned me: was I absolutely sure the girl had left? Then she told me to check back after my wander down to the lake.

Ninety minutes later I returned. She needed a moment to remember that she had spoken to me earlier. She asked if I had gone to the room. No, I said, she told me to check back. I said this in an even tone – I was patient, I wasn’t upset, though really I had every right to be. The woman looked at me and then – I swear to God – stretched her arms to the side, pinched her fingers, closed her eyes, and breathed deeply, holding the breath for a moment before exhaling slowly.

Now, she may have had a rough day. I don’t know what problems came before me, and she may have just been stressed by the situation. But whatever the reason, she felt it so necessary to de-stress herself that she had to interrupt a conversation with a guest to take a yogic breath and center herself before continuing.

Really? I mean, is life so tough?

I was too shocked to say a word. I went upstairs. The peach pits were gone but the dirty underwear lingered. I just went to sleep.

The next day I before I left I bought a cookbook in the gift store. Standing in line to pay, a woman approached me, asking where I found the book. I pointed. I knew the clerk heard me, so I turned to him and joked, with my most personable smile, the one that’s won over scores of journalistic sources: Glad I could be of service.

He looked at me confused for a minute.

I was joking, I told him, because I told the customers where the book was?

Ah, he said very seriously, thank you.

And with that, I left, never to return.

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Slightly embarrassed (and still completely nonfunctionally out of it, thanks in small part to a show at the Roseland ballroom last night and in vast quantities to the insanity that was the diverted Q train to Brooklyn last night, I’m barely sitting upright and I think Michael and I yelled at each other this morning but I honestly don’t even remember, I was so out of it) to learn that Bolt is actually a subsidiary of Greyhound, founded this spring to compete directly with the Chinatown buses. Early reports list the service as NY-DC only, although now the company has a Boston run too.

The question is – isn’t Bolt now competing with itself, ie Greyhound? Why couldn’t they just cut costs on the regular Greyhound line? Will this force the Chinese buses to get more organized and clean?

This also begs my two personal bus pet peeves – why can’t American buses install those amazing double-wide faux-leather Lazy-Boy-recliner seats with the radios in the arm rest like the awesome Spanish buses? And why can’t there be an attendant who brings around tea or coffee, hot towels and blankets to tuck you in at night, like the South American buses? (They do this in Turkey too, but the gentleman on that bus took a creepy interest in a friend of mine and she woke up with him beside her staring and I think almost touching, if not outright, so I’ll leave that off the list).

The list of East Coast bus services is getting long, so I’ll leave with one last question – what’s the best?

I ask not just for me, but for also for Mom, who has been pondering ways to take a weekend trip or two solo once we have our new place in Park Slope, and I think there’s some buses that will pick her up in Salisbury on the Norfolk-NY run, but I’m not sure nor do I know how nice they are.

Blogging from the bus isn’t just for political wonkheads anymore. Not if I’m doing it too – as we speak! (Or as I write, and you read, but you get the point).

Chinatown buses have plied the NY-DC corridor for years now, but a couple of non-Chinatown companies have started cashing in too – and for the same price, about $20 one way. That’s compared to $72-$170+ for Amtrak, $45 for Greyhound, and who knows how much for driving. I checked out megabus.com (see: previous post) and saw they picked up right outside of Metro Center at the corner of G and 11th streets, NW. I wanted to use cash, so I figured I’d take my chances and try to pay on the bus instead of getting my ticket in advance.

Outside the Metro stop, I asked one of the nice gentlemen the city pays to answer all a tourist’s questions (and others, since I don’t consider myself a tourist in DC). There’s no office but the buses come right here, he said, pointing at the curb two feet away.

Turns out at least two bus services stop there – Megabus.com, and Boltbus.com, with almost identical pricing. The latter came first, at 11:30am about 45 minutes before the former, so I decided to give it a go.

The flaming orange Bolt bus is a relatively new luxury coach, with a bathroom but without that Greyhound smell (you know what I mean). The bus driver efficiently directed everyone on board with a smile (a smile! From an inter-state bus driver!), answered questions, and had us all ready to go within 10 minutes. I paid $25 as a walk-up.

Once aboard she introduced herself as Carolyn and reminded everyone not to smoke, to turn their cell phones down and to otherwise be polite to the neighbors.

The bus stops at 33rd and 7th in Manhattan, apparently by S’barros, which is close enough to Penn Station for me.

So I lied.

Tales of me vs. the yogis will have to wait.

Today Howard – aka Twerp, aka little bro’ – and I declared a beach day, and off we fled to Ocean City. After three hours in this heatwave, we were seriously baked crabs. We hit the boardwalk for soda and ice cream, and there we discovered perhaps OC’s most unsung entertainment: the memorial plaques on boardwalk benches.

The benches themselves are totally unremarkable – park benches that trade green iron for white. But it’s quite fascinating to see what some people decide they want to etch in cheap metal for the world to see.

Among the gems, forever immortalized (or at least until the next hurricane):

“Bob Smith – Fisherman and Cowboy Attorney” (Bob Smith wasn’t the name, but the rest of it was there – so was he a fisherman? A cowboy? A lawyer for fishermen and cowboys? Are there any cowboys in Maryland? The mind reels.)

“The Moeller Family People Watching Bench” (Very practical, because this is what one does on said benches, but H wanted to know if the Moellers ever let other crowd scanners sit there.)

“…from sweet dumplin’ to her loving husband”

“… from your 9 children, and their spouses”

Since I nixed New Zealand – collapsing into a ball of stress the night before, bemoaning the weightiness of life and everything in it – I decided that I still needed a vacation. And so I vowed to do a bunch of things I’d always wanted to do but never took the time to near Albany.

You know how it is: these things are always there, and so close, and you know you’ll get to them one day… and then never do.

I vowed to do them all.

Or at least a couple.

I have never been berry picking. Apples yes (and pears, and some nasty end-of-season peaches, which devolved into a game of peach pitching, which in turn ended with a mighty Sploosh of rotten peaches all over my jeans and much general hilarity – but I digress). Berries no. All summer I kept meaning to take Sirus out to Thacher Park, about a half hour drive from our house, and there was a berry patch on the way.

So that’s what we did one lovely Tuesday afternoon. It was actually quite overcast and threatening to rain, but that didn’t matter. I was on a mission. We fled Albany into the far flung suburbs where the water lines don’t even run, to a patch of strawberries hugging the easements around electric towers (minor pause to wonder what happens if a thunderstorm strikes, but I just refused to go there). Sirus burst from the hatch like a steam engine, flying three times around the wooden shack where the local teenager collects the cash. Said teenager was clearly worried about this craziness on four legs and instructed that I keep Pups well away from the berries. We picked our way carefully through the vines. I tied her to an apple tree and she happily sniffed the crazy country smells as I bent over and plucked juicy red berries from their nest.

It’s an undeniable rush to pick your own food, a connection directly from the ground to the bowl and eventually to the car, table and mouth. And then I realized what a luxury it truly was to pick berries, that I could dash in, play around and leave, without any of the hard labor of sowing and fertilizing and rising before dawn of actual farming – I got all the easy parts and none of the really hard work, and I felt absolutely decadent and a bit guilty all at once.

And let me also add that $12 worth of grocery store strawberries is enough for smoothies for, say, a week. While $12 worth of hand-picked berries was good for smoothies for two – and strawberry-lemon-ginger muffins (which didn’t rise, I think I need new baking powder) and strawberry oatmeal bars (the best of which I can say is that I know how I’m tweaking the recipe in the future) and strawberries for salads and enough strawberries in general that, by the end of the week, I craved blueberries.

Next Post: Intrepid Traveler vs. Zen Yogis, and the yogis send me packing

Most of my faithful readers (all 3 or so these days) already know, but for the record – I decided at the very last minute to postpone my trip.

I have to finish my master’s thesis, which is proving a logistical nightmare, to say the least.

I need a job.

I got engaged.

I needed to find an apartment in Brooklyn. Thankfully I can check this one off the list, but we don’t move until mid-August, a challenge in and of itself. We didn’t think about the security deposits and broker’s fee – there went the New Zealand fund, and we really would have had problems if that money wasn’t readily available.

Plus I had booked my trip with frequent flier miles, so I can reschedule the trip for free or reclaim all the miles for somewhere around $80, so nothing lost, really.

This was a very, very last minute decision – but the right one, clearly. I might have a lead on university-related tech journalism assignments, and I interviewed for an IT-related content contract, so fingers crossed.