For the last six years, I have willingly taken a busload of strangers to IKEA in Stoughton, Mass. for a day of retail debauchery. Whether you’ve ridden the fabled IKEA Bus before or not, here are five things about it that you probably still don’t know.
It was born from spite
I wish I could say that I woke up one morning, struck by divine inspiration to rent a bus and sell tickets to a magical, mobile, furniture party, but the genesis of the IKEA bus wasn’t quite that tidy. It actually started in 2010 with a blog post (once upon a time, when posting on my Broke207 blog was a regular occurrence) titled “An Open Letter to Concord Trailways,” where I very passively and very selfishly attempted to convince the bus station to start a monthly trip to IKEA so that I could go furniture shopping and load up on meatballs and lingonberry jam.
Shockingly, Concord Trailways did not subscribe to my blog. But, a bunch of people who did seconded my emotion and much chatter was had about how awesome it would be for the carless folks of Portland to be able to hitch a ride to particle board furniture heaven, and not have to worry about how to get everything back into town. I decided to write Concord a real letter ... which they immediately shot down.
But, it would take more than a dismissive letter from my favorite local bus company to put out the IKEA Bus fire in my belly. I would show them! I would show them by foolishly investing every penny I had in my savings account (my entire 2010 tax return) into renting a bus (VIP Charter Coach has been my bus of choice since that first year) and attempting to sell 50 people on my cuckoo bananas idea.
It is a money-losing venture
In 2011, it took an extraordinary effort of silly press releases, guilt-tripping friends, and Facebook spamming to get my first load of passengers. There were 39 total (plus me and a lovely assistant), which at the original $30 ticket price, barely covered the bus and the parking lot donuts and coffee for boarding time. I ended up completely eating the snacks (not in the good way) and the moving truck, but I didn’t care because — screw you, Concord Trailways, I successfully did the thing that you refused to do, and it was really, really fun.
Over the years, I’ve made some adjustments and improvements to the system (see “People yell at me a lot” below for a good picture of what happens when I raise ticket prices) and tightened up the amount of IKEA Bus debt that I take on. Doing this thing is just something I write into my yearly budget, like buying Christmas presents or doing six months worth of laundry on one day, and I’m really OK with it. I’ve always been more humanitarian than an entrepreneur, and I’d rather keep my crazy venture accessible to more people, even though it will never make me money.
People yell at me a lot
Perhaps this article will serve to clear my reputation as a money-grubbing scumbag, but probably not. Every year that someone doesn’t like the ticket price, doesn’t get a ticket, isn’t free on the day of the bus, or generally just thinks that IKEA is evil-foreign-box-store-child-labor-garbage, I get a handful of hate mail telling me what a jerk I am for being the cause of the distress. I’ve been getting at least one disgruntled email a year, every year, from the same person since the inception of IKEA Bus. She finally asked to be unsubscribed from the mailing list this year, and it kind of won’t be the same without her.
But, six years in, it pretty much all slides off. It was actually due to a particular group of mean blog comments, about the horrors of me taking people OUT OF STATE to spend money, that I instituted the “everything local” policy on my patented IKEA Bus snack boxes. I’ve been bringing old Maine standards like Fox Family Potato Chips and Wicked Whoopies, and emerging brands like Green Bee Soda and Gilded Nut Pistachios to a new captive audience every year. Eat it, trolls!
Sometimes bad things happen
That first year, I planned the bus for April, and it was pouring rain and freezing cold all day. Which probably would have been OK under my current logistics, where the Local Muscle Movers meet us at the store with a truck and help load all the big stuff, and then do local Portland deliveries. But that first year, I decided to rent a U-Haul and conned a friend with equally poor upper body strength into helping me do all the heavy lifting. Particle board is deceptively dense, and after a day of being on my feet and then marinating in the rain, I have never felt closer to death.
The fourth year, the bus ride was little bumpier than usual, and one of my passengers had a grand mal seizure in the IKEA lobby, and then had be taken to the hospital in an ambulance. I didn’t get a lot of shopping done that day, but I did call my mom and cry in the IKEA parking lot for a while. The funny thing is that she was back on the bus the following year (and this year, too!).
IKEA Bus riders are the best people you know
Not to get too mushy about it, but the best thing about the IKEA bus, and the reason I keep doing it, is the people. I’ve got loyal IKEA Bussers who have bought tickets every single year, and not a single bad egg. Everyone is just so goddamn patient and nice. Despite the long day and the occasional snafus (and the bus being BYOB), things have never gotten rowdy, or angry, or out of control. And, as far as I know, not one person has ever drunk barfed in the IKEA Bus bathroom That’s the kind of success that I owe it to myself to keep going.
The IKEA Bus may be already sold out this year (for the first time since its inception!), but think of me in spring 2017 when you need to fit 1,000 sq/ft worth of stuff into a 500 sq/ft apartment and IKEA Is the only thing that can save you. I’ll be there.