[I spent a couple days in Tacoma last weekend as a judge at the Northwest Regional Barista championships. I’m still working on an article about that experience, but I wanted to first share my misadventures trying to get back to Portland.]
Under most circumstances, I’m a big fan of mass transit, mostly because it means I don’t have to drive and can focus on doing other things. However, when you rely on someone else to get you places, you are at the mercy of forces beyond your control. Most of the time you get where you want to go when you want to get there, but not always.
Riding up to Tacoma (I came with Brandon Arends), I figured I would be able to find someone who was headed back to Portland from the NWRBC on Friday afternoon. The barista competition runs Friday, Saturday and Sunday, but I needed to leave early to get back to Portland. If my efforts failed, I knew I had some friends leaving Tacoma for Portland on Saturday morning, so I had a backup plan.
Unfortunately, my original plan was faulty. It was a parade of bad luck and even worse timing. It seemed like the universe had conspired against me to slow my travel down.
Swing….and a miss!
When Friday’s competition ended, I asked around to see if anyone was headed back to Portland. I was told that ‘someone named Jeff’ was going back, but that he had already left. Rats. Another person suggested I take the train. That sounded like a good idea. Amtrak is a nice way to travel between Tacoma and Portland. I pulled out my laptop and checked the schedule. The next train to Portland was leaving about 3:10pm, which would put me in Portland by 5:30. Perfect—except that it was already 3:00 and there was no way to make it to the station, buy a ticket and get on the train in time for its departure. The 6pm train was sold out, so Amtrak wasn’t an option. Double rats.
That was two near misses, and I wasn’t even out of the convention center yet.
Brandon, who was staying until the next day, and I went back to the hotel about 3:20pm. The first thing I did was check the Greyhound bus schedule to see when the buses left. There was one leaving at 5:10pm that still had seats available. I almost bought a ticket, but then I remembered that sometimes you can find people on Craigslist (CL) looking to share rides. What the hell, I thought, I’m up for an adventure, so I went to CL to try to find a ride.
If you’ve never used CL to purchase or anything, the site is a free online classified ad site that has a very unique etiquette model. Whenever you try to sell or buy something, you have to accept that people won’t necessarily give you a response. If they don’t call you, you have your answer—no. Therefore, when you are trying to get something on CL, you have to send out multiple feelers. Some bite, most don’t. It’s not that people are being rude—rather, that’s just how the game is played. You just have to accept it.
On the Seattle rideshare section, I found a few different possibilities. One person named Josh was leaving Tacoma at 3:30pm with room for three people. He left a phone number to call. He didn’t answer, so I left a message and a contact number. Another ad said that two students planned to leave around 2pm. Two o’clock was already long past, but people’s intentions don’t always work out, so I sent them an email in case they were behind schedule.
A third ad said that she was leaving Seattle for Portland that evening (see picture).
I sent an email, trying my best to convince her I wasn’t dangerous, creepy or looking for more than conversation, but I must have failed, because I got no response.
Finally, I found an ad saying that someone was leaving Tacoma for PDX about 3:45pm, asking $20 for help with gas. That was better than the $35 that Greyhound wanted. I sent the person a text, saying that I was in Tacoma at the La Quinta hotel, right off the freeway. No response. About 10 minutes later, I wrote and was more direct: “I have $20 and I’m right by the freeway exit,” I clarified.
I waited another 20 minutes, figuring that if no one responded I still had time to buy the bus ticket. About 4:15, I decided to go ahead and buy the ticket. Reluctantly (should I wait?), I pressed the ‘Confirm Purchase’ button. I received a confirmation email that told me to be at the station an hour before departure to pick up the ticket, which made no sense because it was already less than an hour before departure. I love computers. They give such great customer service.
As I closed the screen of my laptop, I heard the familiar bzzz-bzzz of my phone, indicating an incoming text message. The person I had texted earlier said that he would be there in a few minutes and asked for the address of the hotel. Aaaggghhh! I knew I should have waited (I had bought the cheaper, nonrefundable ticket, of course). I texted back that I had just bought my bus ticket and that I didn’t need him to pick me up. Damn. That was about 4:20. Had I ridden with him, I would have gotten back to PDX about 6:45pm. As it was, my bus was scheduled to pull into Portland at 8pm.
Since I was supposed to be at the station an hour before departure, I left the hotel at 4:30 and walked toward the station with my bag. It was a beautiful day in Tacoma, the sky was blue and the crisp air was invigorating as I walked briskly toward the bus stop. It felt good to be traveling on my own again, even if it was only from Tacoma to Portland. There was an extra bounce in my step as I made may way down the hill to the Greyhound station.
When I got to the station, it was dark, and locked. A man waiting outside told me that the station doesn’t open until 5:00. But doesn’t the bus leave at 5:10? Didn’t Greyhound’s email tell me to be at the station an hour early? Who’s in charge of the computer system?
It wasn’t much fun standing there on the street, waiting with nowhere to go. In the back of my mind, I was marginally worried that the station might open late and there not be enough time to get the tickets printed out before the bus left. I was prepared to try to talk my way onto the bus using nothing more than the confirmation email on my phone. The message clearly stated that a paper ticket was needed for boarding, but if you couldn’t get the company to print it out on time, that wasn’t my fault, was it?
It turns out my worries were unfounded. The customer service rep was on time, and he printed out my ticket by 5:05pm, though it would not have mattered if I had shown up late. The attendant soon informed us that the bus was running “20 minutes late.” Of course it was.
At fifteen minutes to six (35 minutes late), the bus pulled in. We boarded the bus and were on the road ten minutes later, 45 minutes after the bus was scheduled to leave. At that time of day, the traffic is pretty bad in the region and the driver had to fight stop and go traffic until almost Olympia, where the bus stopped to drop a couple people off. Our expected PDX arrival kept getting later and later. I spent time writing about the NWRBC experience until my laptop battery quit, then I shut off the light and sat in my seat staring into the dark night.
In all the excitement, I had forgotten to eat, so I sat there staring out the window trying to ignore my growling stomach. One of the rules of the road is that you should always have some backup eats for situations like this. I had violated the rule. One more thing.
We finally pulled into Portland at 9:00pm. I checked the Tri-met bus arrivals at the nearest station for my route home. The next #19 bus was coming in three minutes, which meant that by the time the bus finally parked, the opportunity was gone. Yep, that’s just how the whole trip was – one more missed connection. The next #19 was not coming for another half hour. I could do nothing but throw my hands up and laugh (and swear, if I’m being honest). To kill time, I decided to walk from the Greyhound station up to PSU. The exercise felt good after sitting around for so long.
As I was waiting at the PSU stop, my phone buzzed as it received another text from the mystery driver who nearly gave me the ride. He offered to take me back to Tacoma on Sunday. In my reply, I thanked him for the offer and said I lived in Portland, taking the time to lament that I still wasn’t home. I could picture him laughing as he responded with the news that he was headed out to a bar. That was the end of an anonymous conversation with an unknown fellow traveler. Craigslist has a funny way of bringing people together.
Thankfully, the #19 arrived on time – ahhh, the last leg of the trip. At 10pm, I finally walked in my front door, tired and hungry. Instead of taking two and a half hours, the trip took just over five and a half hours from door to door.
An iffy day
The day could have been much better, if only:
If I had found “Jeff” before he left, I would have probably made it back to Portland by 5:15pm. No dice.
If I had checked the Amtrak schedule 15 minutes earlier, I would gotten on the train and made it back by 5:30. Nope.
If I had waited one more minute to buy the bus ticket, I would have ridden back with the mystery texter and made it back to Portland by 6:45. Negative.
If the bus had arrived at the Tacoma station on time, we would have made it back to Portland at 8pm, and someone would have been available to pick me up at the Portland station when I got back. Afraid not.
If the traffic between Tacoma and Olympia had been lighter and we arrived a few minutes earlier, I would have caught an earlier Tri-met bus home. Instead, I missed the bus, which cost me an extra half hour. Go figure.
Like I said before, I like mass transit. I enjoy seeing and meeting new people, I like the fact that people share resources and I really like letting someone else do the driving. But after a day like Friday, I remember why people drive. Mass transit can be a real pain in the ass. But it does make for some interesting stories....