I’ve already given up on Amtrak, but I still have one more important task. During my misadventure on Sunday, a couple readers asked me to review the bus service. They’ve read reviews of business class. They’ve read reviews of coach class. They’ve even read reviews of those who dare to book sleeper cars on long-distance journeys.
No one has ever dared to review Amtrak’s bus service, but here at Hack My Trip, I make it my mission to go where no man has gone before.
Boarding commenced as soon as our train from Portland, the one we were told would turn around and take us back, left the station without accepting new passengers. A harried station agent ran into the waiting area (a cold, drafty room blocked off from construction by a six-foot plywood barrier). “You’re all going on buses!” she yelled. “Right now. Portland, Tacoma, and Vancouver on the white bus.”
About 150 passengers got up at once and made a dash for the different buses, luggage in tow. Surprisingly, it was more organized than boarding a plane. This is what happens when you break people’s spirit. There is no train. Only the bus. Dampen their spirits enough, and no one could hope for anything except the hope that some day they might finally arrive at their destination. No one asked if business class passengers would get the adjacent seat blocked off — not even me.
I’m guessing sunken ships and engine fires might be part of a similar intentional strategy Carnival uses to keep its passengers coming back.
Luggage was stowed on the bus without tags, not even those little green ones you get from United. Only a cursory check was done to see if passengers had actual tickets. Soon we were onboard. I will give Amtrak credit: there was only one middle seat, in the back (but it was better than being the poor soul next to the lavatory).
My own seat was actually quite comfortable. There was no armrest to fight over, but I had the aisle, which gave me some freedom to stretch my legs. My seat mate was kind enough to bang his head against the window for much of the trip, keeping him over there rather than invading my personal space.
Then we waited. Two conductors were riding with us, one of whom said we were waiting for “snicky snacks” to tide us over on the long journey. After about 10 minutes, a big cardboard box appeared and was placed in the aisle, blocking our exit should there be an engine fire or some other catastrophe. Just three sesame seed crackers, a little container of spreadable cheese, and two cookies. Actually quite good.
“No water,” we were told, for the four hour drive to Portland, but thankfully my hotel provided several bottles of gin and tonic water just in case I should find myself in a similar situation on the return journey. Proper hydration is important even when you travel at sea level.
Oh, and there was a strange package of “snacks du jour.” They certainly weren’t packaged that day, but it looked like banana chips and dried pineapple, even though pineapple wasn’t listed on the ingredients. I remember when I did a summer internship working with apes, we would give them dried fruit as a reward for good behavior. They didn’t like banana chips, either.
I soon discovered there was no WiFi on this bus. My iPhone lasted just long enough to reach the hotel at the end of my journey, angrily flashing “low battery” warnings on the final leg. There were, however, overhead televisions, of the old CRT style and about the size of an economy class seat-back IFE. These were never turned on. Perhaps they were malfunctioning. Or maybe the only DVD available was Alex Cross, and they didn’t want to risk a diversion.
As we turned onto the freeway, I overheard the driver ask the second conductor where we were going. Oh, we were on an adventure! I remember these from growing up with my mother. I learned to read maps as a six-year-old in part because she would pick roads at random as we wandered through the Sierras. I was deathly afraid she would get us lost, and my trusty Thomas Guide would be our salvation.
Apparently no one on this bus had an iPhone, and I kept quiet just to see where this would lead us. The conductor replied he only knew how to reach the station by train.
So upon reaching Tacoma, we followed the freeway exit for “Amtrak,” made an illegal left turn, and then did a couple of U-turns as we followed the train tracks looking for the train station. Eventually, we arrived in one piece.
Anyone heading to Tacoma? No. Anyone who wanted to board going to Portland? Yes, several people huddled out in the rain, but the bus was already full. Well, maybe three seats were left, including that one by the lavatory, but I don’t see why we couldn’t fill the bus when we left Seattle and skip Tacoma altogether.
The next two-and-a-half hours passed uneventfully before arriving at Vancouver, WA. In this case, it wasn’t really the driver’s fault. That train station, cute though it is, happens to be hidden in the middle of a large industrial complex. I mean, I understand train stations are usually on the edge of town, but it really was the most bizzarre thing ever.
After nearly clipping a car (in the car’s defense, the parking lot didn’t appear to be marked), we pulled over, let off about a third of the passengers, and made our way on to Portland.
Adventure though it was, we still arrived, amazingly, exactly one hour late from the original scheduled arrival of the train that never was. This was the exact time I had been told by the station manager in Seattle. So their clocks do work. She also told me we would be traveling by train, not bus, but I guess 50% correct is good enough.
You, too, can ride for free with Amtrak! Get the Amtrak Guest Rewards MasterCard today, and you could earn 12,000 bonus points after spending $500 in the first three months. That’s enough for six one-way business class tickets on the Amtrak Cascades line!
In the interest of full disclosure, business class may or may not include a seat by the lavatory in the back of a bus. Complimentary cheese spread cannot be guaranteed on all itineraries and is not a defined cardholder benefit.