On Taking the Amtrak From Portland to Seattle for a Sandwich

It All Started With an Idea

For some reason or another I saw Amtrak had a blog filled with posts by regular travelers like me. I saw the blog and thought - I can do that!

So I did some research and found contact info for their PR person on the west coast and proposed I write a blog post for them. Of course it wasn't that simple. I was thinking that they would pay me to do this, or at least sponsor our journey. If you know me at all you'll know that I don't think small and always shoot for the moon, and this is no exception. In my pitch email to Amtrak, I actually asked them if they would send us on the Starlight Route, which starts in Seattle and ends in Los Angeles and looks absolutely stunning. 

Turns out Amtrak doesn't do sponsorships. But they were more than willing to post something if I wrote it.

I wrote it and they followed through. You can read the original "Portland To Seattle for Lunch" if you want. They didn't use my pictures, but I've included them on this post. I think my pictures were a little too obtuse and artsy. 

But this is the real accounting of what happened that day. But before I dive into that mess, let me tell you a little more about how and why I wound up taking the Amtrak from Portland to Seattle to eat a sandwich, but wound up taking a bus back after adding about 6 hours to my journey.

Why Take Amtrak From Portland to Seattle?

When Amtrak told me they would publish my blog post, I had some choices to make and some requirements to meet. I knew that I had to pay for this myself and that I had to go out and back in the same day. We were house sitting in Portland for two cats, one of which gets wet food at 5p every day.

I started to triangulate the departure times and return times and found that the best thing to do was to go to Seattle. Once I found that I had only about an hour in Seattle before coming back, and that hour happened to be right around lunch, I decided to meet a friend I've never met for lunch. 

We all have friends like this, right? It's the digital age after all, and this is pretty normal. You know the story. A friend of a friend connected us through Facebook when she learned that we were going to Croatia on the first leg of our round the world travels in 2015. We stayed friends and connected again and again as we travelled to Georgia and Armenia.

My friend works for a company that books high end travel to far away and rarely traveled places like Uzbekistan and Mongolia. Her office happens to be very near the Amtrak station, and even more fortuitous is that she was free for lunch that day!

Now you know everything. Well, almost everything.

Why Does a Blog Post on Amtrak Require ANOTHER Blog Post Here?

This rarely happens to us, but on occasion we are sponsored to write something in exchange for that something or in exchange for a small sum of money. How this happens is much like I described above. I get an idea and do some research and send some emails and get rejected a lot, but on occasion we get a sponsorship. And very very rarely (like only twice now) we have a bad experience. And then we have to write about it without being complete assholes, but while still being honest.

The first time this happened was in Morocco on a "Secrets of the Medina" tour in Marrakech. It just wasn't for us. That's the approach I took, anyway. Saying that shifts the blame a little bit and frames the object in question as an acquired taste. So what if some people love to be guided to random shops and dropped off to look at merchandise they have no intention of buying? Who am I to judge?

But with my trip to Seattle for a sandwich? Since it was being hosted on another site as a guest blog post, I had to work within some parameters if I wanted it to be published. Mainly I needed to not rant and rave about the engine failure that resulted in an additional 6 hours of travel.

So What Happened Already?!

The ride up to Seattle was smooth. My sandwich at Salumi was delicious. Meeting my friend for the first time was really rewarding. She even took me on a short tour of the neighborhood and we got coffee. It was a beautiful day. 

It was only 45 minutes south of Tacoma that the train stopped working. So we sat on the tracks. Once the announcement was made that we were stuck for an undetermined amount of time, the food car was rushed as if we were in the early hours of a zombie apocalypse.

Amtrak Vending Machine: Trains aren't the only thing not working!

Amtrak Vending Machine: Trains aren't the only thing not working!

Then the lights went out. It turns out the engine on the train had a part that died. Smart people that they are, they tried to use the same part from the engine at the back of the train, but to no avail. So that means the train can only go in one direction - back north to Tacoma. But this took a few hours to figure out. A few silent hours in the dark with a food car that closed because people ate everything.

After a long uncomfortable wait at the train station in Tacoma, we were told we had two options - wait for busses coming down from Seattle (which were stuck in traffic) OR wait for the next train scheduled. Both options had problems. The problem with the bus was that we had no idea when they would roll in and if we would also get stuck in traffic. The problem with the train was...well, it was a train. Amtrak hasn't had a great record in the last 6 months.

Ain't No Easy Way Out

I struck up a conversation with a man named John while standing in the Tacoma train station, waiting for any kind of update from the Amtrak staff.

We talked a bit about travel and why we were heading to Portland that evening. The vibe in the train depot was more like a cocktail party than the 12 Angry Men you would expect. There were no drinks, but people were genuinely just hanging out. Nobody seemed upset at all. I opened Uber and found that it would cost over $300 to get a ride back. I considered how many people we could fit in the car and did the math before abandoning the concept.

I remarked to John how mellow people were in the PNW. If this were the east coast, or even Chicago, people would be beside themselves. Fit to be tied. Demanding the head of the conductor, or at the very least a refund.

The bus rolled up about 45 minutes later and I got on and sat next to John. Our conversation was wide ranging - from work to travel and why a stunning percent of Americans don't have passports.

It was dark and we sat up front with great views of the open road stretching out ahead. An old lady across the aisle was diabetic and in need of her insulin, and in a moment of compassionate camaraderie everybody on the bus gave her whatever snacks they had - one woman gave an apple, and I provided some nut mix for protein. She was super pleased and we all felt that closeness you only feel when traveling under duress with strangers.

Pulling Into the Station

From the start none of this really went as planned - I started out looking for a sponsorship and didn't get it. I expected to return to Portland via train, and wound up on a bus instead. I expected to be back in time to feed the cat. I did get back to feed the cat. It just happened to be several hours later than I anticipated.

And the blog post I wrote for Amtrak was published. but it wasn't the whole story. This isn't even the whole story, really.

Our days are so full sometimes. At the end of the day when we pull into the station does it matter if everything went as planned? Can it be enough to say we met an old friend for the first time, made a new friend and helped out a stranger just because we could?