The Little Engine that Couldn’t: Thanksgiving Misadventures, Amtrak, and Me

Taking the train sounds so romantic and low stress. What could be better than rolling along toward my destination without the stress of having to drive? Three times in the past year I have succumbed to the lure of riding the rails, and three times I have had less than optimal experiences getting from Point A to Point B.

i think i can

As I write this, I’m sitting somewhere north of Everett, WA, in an Amtrak dining car that is decidedly not rolling along the tracks to anywhere. I fear that soon they will back us up to the Everett station and make us get on one of the dreaded Amtrak buses. I always laugh when I see these buses on the freeway, chuckling to myself about the suckers who thought they were going for a train ride and ended up going greyhound against their will. Yeah. Who’s the sucker now? Why have I not learned my lesson?

Evidently someone raised a drawbridge that won’t go back down. We are waiting for an engineer to be pulled away from his leftover turkey dinner into the cold and frosty night, and, do what? Hand crank the bridge back into place? I can only imagine. Frankly, I have little faith that I will get home before midnight. Just like last Thanksgiving.

Last year, I made my train reservations for the Thanksgiving weekend a month in advance, but when it came time to board the train bound for Portland, I found myself instead getting on the dreaded bus because a landslide had covered the tracks. We were able to board the actual train in Everett and resumed making our way south without incident. When it came time to make the return trip, all seemed solid. We (and by we I mean myself, my mother, my then wife) got on the train at Portland’s Union Station and chugged our way successfully to King Street Station in Seattle. The wife disembarked to go to her apartment (she lives in Seattle during the week for work) and Mother and I remained on the train. And remained. And remained.

An hour passed and still we sat, unmoving. Evidently while we had been waiting for passengers to board in Seattle, another mudslide had covered the tracks. Mom needed to get only to Edmonds where she could catch a ferry back to her home in the rainforest. So, Amtrak put her in a taxi and sent her on her way. I continued to wait. Before Mother had left, she made friends with the drunk couple in the seat in front of us and they continued to slur their words in my direction. I left them for the dining car where I could stew about the delay in some peace and with a beer to call my own.

Eventually, Amtrak put all of the Vancouver BC passengers on a bus and sent them on their way, but still those of us destined for Skagit and Whatcom County languished while the powers that be tried to decide our fate. The buses finally arrived, four hours later, but because their drivers had reached their maximum hours on the road for the day, we could only get as far north as Everett, a good hour from home. We had to change buses again before we could finally head north again. When I got home around 1 a.m., my pre-arranged ride home had long abandoned me (I totally understood, btw). I pondered walking home bumping my suitcase behind me, but another friend took pity on me and came to my rescue.

So why, why, why did I book tickets on Amtrak again this year? The only explanation I have is that I can think of few things I hate more than the drive to Portland on Thanksgiving weekend, even though I love my brother and his family dearly. That, and I’ve had some seriously bad luck with traffic cops lately. Plus I have homework to do and what better way to get it done than by being trapped in a train car for seven hours? Driving anywhere on I-5 between Bellingham and Portland becomes more untenable each year. I’ve watched my hair turn gray and my arteries harden while sitting in traffic south of Tacoma.

So, here I sit. I have only myself to blame. But, I do have friends who travel by train regularly and they NEVER have these issues. Why am I three for three? Some lady is in need of medicine and another dude cannot believe that his debit card won’t work in the dining car. He really wants beer, and, evidently, his debit card worked fine on the morning’s southbound train. He’s been telling us all about it for a good 45 minutes now. I’m this close to taking up a collection to buy him a damn beer if it’ll shut him up already. I’d buy it myself if it wasn’t $7.25. I mean, really? Is this anywhere nearly as fun as a baseball game? If the beer is that expensive, there should at least be garlic fries. Where are the garlic fries?

At least I left my car in the long-term parking lot so I don’t have to get any friends out of bed in the middle of the night. And, even though the conductor announced that the wifi router is broken, my computer is still connected to the Internets. So that’s something, right?

Oh, look! We’re moving! I sure hope that bridge inspector knows his stuff.happy train

Go! Just Go!

I’ll admit it Dear Reader—I am a notoriously impatient driver. Anyone who has ridden with me knows this and has listened to me carry on about slow drivers, Subarus, and left lane campers. They have also most likely pumped the imaginary brakes there on the passenger’s side for all they are worth.
That said—you know, my culpability adequately addressed— I must complain vociferously about three drivers I encountered in my recent mile and a half drive from my home to my favorite writing spot (no snarky comments about driving a mile and a half—I’m not in the mood). 
Three drivers in less than two miles managed to piss me off. All three drivers parked themselves, unmoving, in their cars, in the middle of the road.  And not only were they stationary where they should have been moving, they didn’t even bother to get out of the way when I approached.  I sat patiently behind the first car and eventually it saw me there, in my large well-lighted black Jeep and moved, albeit slowly, to the curb.
The second car was parked at a four way stop pretty near my final destination, which was fine, for a minute, but then even when no more cars were at the other corners, it still sat there.  I could see the driver and the passenger discussing something, discussing, discussing.  I calculated my chances of a successful pass on their right but dismissed this option, not because it was illegal, but because with my luck they’d turn right and smash into me (even though their left blinker flashed incessantly as they just freaking sat there).
I muttered profanities about their mental capacities to myself when they finally made a decision and got their ass out of the intersection, but I kept my hands off the horn, firmly gripping 10 and 2 so as not to make any rude gestures that might result in them shooting me.  I drove on slowly as my hopes for an empty parking space dimmed. When I came to the next four way stop, a car just sat there, in my lane while its driver conversed with a pedestrian who stood beside her car, laughing at something that passed between them. 
Dear Reader, I did not snap quickly.  I waited while they wrapped up their little chat, as the pedestrian made moves to get off the road; I waited for the driver to proceed since no other cars waited at any of the other stop signs.  But she continued to talk, and the man came back into the street. She even made eye contact with me via her rear view mirror.  Still, she did not move.  Still, I did not gesture.  Still I did not honk. 
My patience seemed to be rewarded as the man finally moved away and driver’s window went up.  Again she locked eyes with me in her rear view mirror (I may have been tilting my head at a severe angle in quiet desperation, but I was not honking, gesturing, or yelling).  She just sat there, unmoving, waiting for nothing, as her window went down again and she said something to the aforementioned pedestrian.  That’s when I snapped.
I honked, long and hard.  I threw my hands in the air, and hoped she didn’t have a gun. She threw her hands in the air. Looked at me again in her mirror and rolled slowly across the intersection and up the hill.  
I dunno, Dear Reader.I think I am losing my moral compass, not to mention my marbles  Was my frustration uncalled for? Are common courtesy and common sense on the decline? What would you have done in my place? And don’t say you would have walked the mile and a half. I’m not in the mood.