On an overnight bus from San Francisco to Los Angeles, I asked a woman in a loose black tank top and pants for advice on surviving the night.
"Double up on sleeping pills," she suggested, before drawing the curtain to her bunk.
A man removing his shoes a la Mister Rogers seconded her suggestion. He then disappeared into his slot for the night.
I had brought only nonprescription aids, a meditation app and East Coast jet lag, but I've slept on buses upright, head swinging like a pendulum. A cabin with a mattress and bedding was an upgrade, and I'd settle for a deep doze.
Cabin, a start-up by two Stanford University alumni, began service in mid-July as a third way to bounce between the cities. The self-proclaimed "moving hotel" is an alternative to the 75-minute flight or 380-mile drive. (Amtrak does not depart directly from San Francisco.) A one-way ticket starts at $85, a budget option if you factor in lodging.
Boarding begins at 10:30 p.m., a half-hour before the doors close. The bus, painted gentleman's-club black with a crescent moon graphic, departs from a dimly lit parking lot near the Bay Bridge. Travelers dragging bags on wheels materialized from the darkness. A car pulled up, dropped off three people, and peeled away. Halfway down the coast, passengers in a parallel universe were stepping into an identical double-decker bus.
Accommodations are first-come, first-snooze. Guests can choose from 20one-person private bunks stacked like freight containers on the second floor. The ground level has two diner booths, an airline-size bathroom and two sleeping pods.
A chipper guy with a flashbulb smile checked off names on a clipboard. I asked our attendant how to choose a bed. He said the back of the bus is more stable but slightly louder, and the front is quieter but wiggles more. I took a top bunk in the middle: moderate noise and movement, better views, no feet near my face.
The chambers measure 75 to 77 inches long, 25 inches high and 26 to 31 inches wide. For context, the average casket is 84 by 23 by 28 inches. We stashed our carry-on bags in the pod without a mattress and in a seating area by the stairs.
The scene onboard was more lights-out on a school night than Saturday-evening slumber party. Passengers immediately cinched themselves inside their cubbies. I briefly chatted with two repeat Cabiners. One was a teacher who lives in San Francisco on weekends and works in L.A. during the week. On her last trip, she said, she slept soundly and the bus arrived early, so she didn't have to rush to make the 7:30 a.m. bell. The guy from L.A. had taken the bus the night before and spent 17 hours in San Francisco before reboarding. He didn't fare as well.
"I was sleepy," he said, "but I need a lot of sleep."
In a soothing nighty-night voice, attendant Michael told us to relax and breathe deeply. We would sit for 20 minutes to acclimate to the bus. He also wanted to give the melatonin-spiked Dream Water time to kick in. (Each bunk comes with a grab bag of amenities, including bottled water, earplugs and shoe covers.) He handed out tiny USB reading lights to the night owls.
Passengers in the lower bunks can slide into bed easily. To reach the top cabin, I felt like a letter trying to insert myself into a tall mailbox slot. The uppers don't come with ladders, so I had to stand on my toes, lift my body with my arms and slither on my belly until I was securely on the mattress. Then I had to swivel and kick my legs in one direction and my head in the other. Once I was comfortably supine, my feet hit a hard object: my book. Because of the low ceiling, I had to exit the pod to retrieve it, using the airspace over the aisle as a turning lane. On the return, I nearly toppled out.
I drifted off a few pages later but woke up at 2:22 a.m., when we stopped in Coalinga for a crew switch. I bolted awake twice more: from shivering (I closed the air-conditioning vent) and from a vivid dream. The next time I opened my eyes, I saw a pale blue sky and palm-tree trunks. We had arrived in Santa Monica nearly an hour early.
I wriggled out of bed and greeted the teacher, who was packed and heading to Starbucks to change into her work clothes. I found the Los Angeleno outside and asked how he 'dslept.
"Not so good. It was bumpy, and I have a stuffy nose," he said. "I am going to bed now, for real."
I got back on the bus for a hot drink, one of the perks. But the coffee maker was unplugged. Co-founder Tom Currier later explained: "One of our backup Los Angeles attendants was unable to meet the vehicle in Santa Monica for morning beverage service. This was the first and only time that occurred ..."
A passing jogger peered in and asked to use the toilet. Seconds later, he ran out, repelled by the messy bathroom.
Several people upstairs were still asleep, and the driver said he'd give them 30 more minutes of shut-eye before he roused them. I tidied my space and brought my bags down. Eventually, the lollygaggers bumbled down the stairs.
I said farewell to the driver and headed to the beach. I had planned to nap, but I wasn't tired.