I think it is fair to describe the journey on the Coast Starlight as a series of metaphorical ups and downs. The problem was that the further into the journey, or more precisely, the longer it lasted, there were many more downs than ups. Still, I won’t go on about it and if you’re interested in the gory details, I’ve pasted a copy of my complaint to Amtrak at the bottom of this post. I await their response. There are photos of the derailment which caused it all here and if you care to Google “Dunsmuir derailment” you’ll find a series of links including a local tv report.
Having promised not to go on about the bad parts, here are the good parts…
Arrival into Seattle was at Noon on Saturday. The good news is, having rung and told the hotel last night what was happening, they haven’t charged me for the night’s accommodation – which is a modest victory. Whilst my preference would always have been to arrive in Seattle by rail, I suppose it could be argued that the coach ride up Interstate 5 showed me a bit of southern Washington I wouldn’t otherwise have seen – though I was dozing off for the early part of the nearly four hour journey. A 15 minute comfort break at a rest area broke the journey up, which was needed as I had a rather loud lady behind me. She was the sort of character – and I’ve come across one or two of these in the US already – who feel the need to loudly vocalise their thoughts and observations to no-one in particular, in the hope that someone around them will pick up the conversation. When no-one does it becomes very irritating for all concerned when they simply don’t stop. She probably thought the bloke in front of her travelling on his own was really ignorant for not speaking to her, but believe me I was not in the mood, nor were any others on the bus it seems.
Once I’d reclaimed my bags from Amtrak’s custody – all in one piece still – I set off toward the hotel. Google Maps suggested it was 0.7 miles to walk it, which seemed reasonable. What I didn’t factor into that decision and had no concept of, was the steepness of the hills en route. When I checked them in at LA, my bags were 40lb and 24lb respectively, so I certainly knew I’d got them while trudging up the streets of comparable grade to Matlock Bank, for example. Combined with the fact that I hadn’t had shower, shaving or changing opportunities for three days, meant I must have presented a rare old sight to the receptionist at the Renaissance. She told me my room wasn’t ready yet, but took pity on me – seeing my state and hearing my story – and so swapped me to another room so I could go up and shower. Bliss.
Also good to have the first decent comms for a while (free internet again, pretty much why I chose the Renaissance. That and the points!) and had a good old FaceTime with Kay.
Duly freshened-up, I hit the Seattle streets. Inevitably I headed for Pike Place Market. As I was walking in that direction, courtesy of a free map the hotel gave me, supplementing my iPhone, I reflected on just how little I know about Seattle and its geography. This is particularly odd given it regularly crops up in film and television – Frasier and Grey’s Anatomy spring to mind.
Whilst the area around the hotel was fairly quiet, early on a Saturday afternoon and it being primarily a business district, the Market area was absolutely heaving with people. You know the thing about Starbucks in American cities, and here in its birthplace especially, that there’s one on every block (except that is when you’ve decided you actually want a coffee). Well, every single one I went past had a queue out of the door. It isn’t like there isn’t any competition here either. The famous “original” Starbucks was especially busy so I contented myself in the knowledge that there’s always Monday morning to visit it properly, and just took a few snaps.
A couple of things struck me about Seattle very quickly: First, the extremely high proportion of panhandlers and street people, with sleeping packs and shopping trolleys of belongings taking up many, if not most, of the tourist picnic tables in the high profile parks. The second thing was the apparent legalisation, or at least official tolerance of, pot smoking. Several people were openly smoking it on the street, and given the incredibly strong smell every time he opened his bag, the Seattle resident sitting opposite me on the train was bringing home a plentiful supply. Call me a fuddy-duddy…
Ever since the steak on Thursday night, my diet had taken a distinct turn for the junk. Today’s intake amounted to little more than a muffin on arrival at Portland, so I was ready for something substantive to eat. The ideal place presented itself on First Avenue – ideal in terms of type of food served rather than establishment name; Biscuit Bitch. I kid you not – look them up. The Cheesy Pork ‘n Bitch with extra sausage patty really did the trick. Lest anyone think I’ve taken leave of my sensibilities, I believe the choice of name and terminology is an overt reference to the owner’s sexuality and attitude thereto? I may be wrong?
Suitably sustained, I headed into the shopping district and ‘found’ the Seattle Monorail. Again, I had no idea this existed, yet it’s been here since 1962 and is evidently almost as iconic as the Space Needle it serves. Shame on me. I happily shelled-out $4.50 for a round-trip ticket and squeezed aboard. It is certainly popular on a Saturday afternoon in Spring (yes, the tv news this evening made the point that it isn’t officially summer here until tomorrow!). At the Space Needle there were inevitably long queues. I was just debating with myself (quietly!) whether to join the queue when the battery on my camera expired on taking the below shot of the monorail. That made my mind up. First job tomorrow, I think.
Also in this area is the Seattle Centre. (sorry, Center). This was hosting a well attended Black Arts Festival and a regge band was playing an open air concert in the grounds. Inside a female vocalist was performing, though sad to report she wasn’t drawing much of a crowd. I stood and listened to a couple of her numbers (as far as I could tell, original works, not covers), though have to admit it was partly a subterfuge while I used the Center’s free WiFi. I also declined the opportunity to buy her “new EP”.
There seemed to be quite a bit happening around here, but nothing much else ticked my boxes, so I jumped back on the monorail. I had a good wander round the city centre, including a compulsory browse of Barnes and Noble, before finding a Starbucks (it wasn’t hard) for coffee. The one I chose was at the corner of Union and 4th, and I briefly sat outside watching the world go by (another ‘does life get any better’ candidate moment). I was rudely interrupted, however, as the store closed at 18:00 and bringing in the outside furniture was the early part of that process. I finished off my coffee inside, noting the very ‘industrial’ feel of the decor (the furniture is generally metal) – a conscious decision, I’m sure, and I wonder if it will filter around the globe?
I juggled with the idea of going and finding somewhere for a beer. I wasn’t hungry, having had a late lunch, which would complicate logistics a bit. Plus a combination of hill-climbing-induced muscle fatigue and two crap nights’ sleep, I decided to cut my losses and head for the room. I went via a conveniently located ‘drug store’ for room supplies, which included a six pack of Red Hook (Woodinvale, WA) ESB.
One last Coast Starlight view, which I think sums up the trip quite well; hanging around in a beautiful place…
The missive to Amtrak, for your information….
Dear Amtrak, I travelled on the Coast Starlight, Train #14 on 13th June 2013 from Los Angeles, CA booked through to Seattle, WA. Reservation Number – [redacted], passenger name David HARRIS, Amtrak Rewards Number [redacted]. As you are undoubtedly aware, this train, which had a timetabled duration of 34hrs 27min was grossly disrupted and ultimately cancelled at Portland, OR. I understand this to have been the result of a Union Pacific train derailing at Dunsmuir, CA, blocking the line. The upshot of this was that my arrival into Seattle was at 12Noon on Saturday 14th June, 15hrs 20min late and a journey just shy of 50 hours. Given I am only in Seattle until Monday morning, it has seriously disrupted my plans and curtailed my opportunity to enjoy the city. However, the most grievous hurt of all was that it resulted in an additional and unplanned night on the train, with associated discomfort as I was travelling ‘Coach’. I fully understand that the event from which this all arose was entirely out of your control. I know there was consideration of the train being cancelled in Sacramento and passengers being bused to Seattle. At the time this course of action seemed highly undesirable, but that was without the benefit of hindsight or knowing how long the re-routed journey would ultimately take. I also acknowledge, and even praise the fact, that your on-train staff did all that they reasonably could in the circumstances. However, I still believe that the service provided by Amtrak in this case fell far below that which is reasonable and I would therefore like the cost of my ticket refunded, please.