Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Jack and Mrs Elliott take the Train to Seattle

Mrs Elliott had to visit a couple clients in the south Puget Sound area, so we decided to take the train to Tacoma, then rent a car, and putter about.

Amtrak's train #11, the Starlight Express, goes between Los Angeles and Seattle and is, along with their Southwest Chief, Empire Builder, California Zephyr, and other named routes, a full-service train, with sleeping compartments, dining, observation, and cafe cars.

There is no passenger train service in Bend, the nearest station this side of the Cascades is in Chemult, and Amtrak provides Amtrak "Thruway" bus service for Bend travelers. We bought a couple tickets and were told that the bus would be at the Hawthorn St. travel center in Bend at 7:35 am.

So we got up early on a below-freezing Wednesday morning, showered, final-packed, called a cab, and were at the station by 7:15. After Mrs Elliott and I were settled inside the center -- nice facility! -- I wandered around inside, looking for some information about the Amtrak bus. Like, where it parks, its schedule, anything. Nothing anywhere indicated that an Amtrak bus existed. The words "Amtrak" or "train" don't appear on any of the literature or signage.

The fellow that sold the snacks and coffee said the bus is usually late, but didn't know anything else about it.

So we sat and waited.

7:30, I looked outside. Plenty of Bend Transit buses out front. Off to the left, on 4th, a sign indicated that intercity buses, such as HighDesert Point, Eastern Point, and the Central Oregon Breeze, all park there. No mention of Amtrak on the sign, and there was only an Eastern Point bus idling at the curb, with no "Amtrak" markings on it.

At 7:45, Mrs Elliott asked if anyone in the lobby knew anything about the Amtrak bus. "That bus left a few minutes ago," a fellow said. "It was parked over there," pointing to where the Eastern Point bus has been idling.

Amtrak never said that Eastern Point was the carrier, the bus was unmarked, and no one popped their head in to announce boarding for Amtrak.

We missed the bus. Mrs Elliott was fuming.

We called back our taxi (he'd been waiting around the transit center for trade) to take us back home, Mrs Elliott called Amtrak to unload on them, tried to get them to contact the bus driver and have her wait, which they said they had no way of doing, and got the times and locations of the bus's route down the Chemult.

We loaded our baggage into Mrs Elliott's car, and while she started to chase down the bus, I called the Sunriver lodge, the bus's next stop, where a very helpful fellow at the front desk contacted the bell captain who said that the bus had already gone by: it hadn't come to the lodge that morning because there was no one scheduled to be picked up or dropped off. He gave me the phone number of the driver, a bit of information Amtrak didn't have.

I called the driver and told her that we had missed the connection in Bend, and were on our way to her next schedule stop in La Pine, and told her that according to our GPS we'd be there before she was scheduled to leave, and asked that she not leave early.

With minutes to spare, we met the bus in the McDonald's parking lot. While Mrs Elliott was making arrangements at a nearby motel for us to leave the car until our return, I started to complain to the driver.

She was having none of it. Bristled. Paid to drive from Point A to Point B. Nothing about going into terminals to call for customers. It was the only bus there aside from the BAT buses, how could I have missed it? If I got a problem, contact her boss.

It was obvious I was dealing with one tough old bird, standing there smoking her cigarette, one eye squinted at me, her expression saying that she'd raised and beaten into submission two or three generations of little bus drivers and no pissant twerp like me was going to spoil her morning without sustaining serious injuries.

Knowing a brier patch when I see one, I changed the tone of the conversation. Made a few knock-knock jokes, did a little soft-shoe routine, praised her for her intelligence and good looks. She stared at me suspiciously, uncertain how to react to my sucking up. But after a few minutes she softened and started to grunt responses to my expert observations about the bus, such as, "Say, I see this bus has six tires! I'll bet it takes some practice to drive something with six tires."

When Mrs Elliott returned from the motel, I drew her aside and warned her that the driver would brook no complaints about what happened.

So we made it to the Chemult Amtrak passenger platform before the train did. We made small-talk during the drive. Several points were agreed on: 1. The driver agreed that the bus should have something on it to indicate that it provided Amtrak Thruway service, and in fact, the bus that normally does that route has "Amtrak" printed on the sides, but it had been injured in a fender-bender so this bus, which has "Amtrak" on the rear only, was pressed into service; 2. It was agreed that it would be helpful if a sign were posted inside the travel center explaining where the bus parks and what it looks like; 3. This is something to bring up with the owner of Eastern Point; and finally, (4), That even tough old bus drivers have hearts: she didn't charge us for the ride.

1 comment:

  1. What a story! I'm riding Amtrak from DC to Atlanta at the end of October. At least boarding in DC will be simple! I hope.


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