“A man is a success if he gets up in the morning and gets to bed at night, and in between he does what he wants to do.” – Bob Dylan
Everything this trip had gone completely to plan; until today.
The alarms and the wake up call all rang true at 4am and I as my feet hit the ground, I discovered which body parts were not happy after the 26.2 miles of the Big Sur Marathon. I rang the front desk to ask them to call a cab to take me to Monterey airport for my 6am flight back to LAX. Clockwork.
The doors closed right on time and a Jenny McCarthy look-alike stewardess began her safety briefing. Then pilot came on to tell us to get off the plane. He reported that the copilots computers were having trouble and the whole plane needed to be powered off and restarted and if that didn’t work they would need several hours to repair the equipment. We all returned to the terminal and 20 minutes later, the flight was cancelled and all 118 of us were on our own.
From the size of the regional airport, the number of displaced passengers, as well as being marathon weekend, I guesed there were not going to be many open seats on any flight on any airline out of this place airport all day. United could put me on a 6am flight the next day for a $75 change fee. If I could get to San Francisco they could get me home tonight for an extra $200, or they could fly me from Monterey to LAX via Denver for $800. United’s systems didn’t show this flight as cancelled yet, so I knew with time they would wave the change fee if pushed, but I was in information gathering mode and since I just didn’t like any of the options. I thanked the courteous agent and set out to make my own little adventure.
When planning my trip to Monterey back in January, I considered driving and had also investigated options for Amtrak and Greyhound. From my prework, I knew that Greyhound wasn’t an option, but Amtrak was. I checked the timetables on my phone and found I had one hour to get to the train station in Salinas. The cab cost me $60 and the train to Orange County $75. I called Laura and asked to make the reservations for me during the cab ride and I was so very glad I did that.
I assumed I could buy a train ticket at the Salinas Amtrak Station but it didn’t open until an hour after my train was scheduled to depart. The electronic ticket arrived on my phone with instructions to print it out and show upon boarding. The PDF file on my phone was going to have to get me on what I thought was two trains.
At the point where the train was 15 minutes late, I started to worry that something was wrong. I tweeted that the train was late and Laura called a moment later to tell me I was supposed to be on a bus. Oh yeah! I forgot. This leg of service was via bus, not train, I knew that! I rushed around to the front of the train station and there was the bus that would take me to Santa Barbara to meet up with a 2pm train. I then remembered why I didn’t want to take train home, because sitting on a bus for 4 hours the day after a marathon would suck!
To their credit, the Amtrak bus was very clean and comfortable. The driver was kind and courteous, gentle yet firm. He reminded me of one of those men at church who are always there serving but could easily open a can of whoop-ass if necessary.
I was grateful this bus was running late, because without Laura’s call I would have missed it. This was a team effort. My marathon legs slowly and with some discomfort climbed aboard this bus. There were only a half-dozen people spread out as I looked around, mercifully, there was a very spacious unoccupied handicapped row that allowed me to stretch out my weary leg.
Before we left, the driver announced that our next stop would be in King City and we would have time for a 10 minutes meal break. The mention of food reminded me that I hadn’t eaten in about 16 hours. I Googled the distance to King City and found it to be a 40 minute drive. Thankfully, that time passed quickly.
This was my second trip down the Central Coast of California this month, this time in the passenger seat. I appreciated how much of this part of California is committed to agriculture. I saw migrant workers working the fields under the cover of their hats and gloves. I saw the “Happy California Cows” that the commercials would have us believe yield the best cheese anywhere. I remembered being seven year old and on buses from Toronto to Las Vegas as mom and I moved across this grand country.
I needed to save my phone battery to present my train ticket in Santa Barbara, so I avoided using my iPhone. I had a copy of Kerouac’s Big Sur with me, but I didn’t want to risk getting motion sick reading on the bus. I was motion sick recently on a 30 minute bus ride in Ireland and that was high misery. I did not want to feel that way for four hours. I spent a lot of time thinking and caught 10 minutes of deep sleep.
Every 30 to 40 minutes we would pull off the freeway and navigate through these small streets of towns where Amtrak had set up stations long ago. I had a conversation with a tax guy a few weeks ago who questioned why Amtrak needs government subsidies. The answer, I realized is because by the time we arrived in Santa Barbara, there were only 20 people on this bus. There wasn’t enough demand to regularly run a bus, let alone a train along this route and without the support of the government the service would presumably be shut down and these people on this bus with me would all be at the mercy of the airlines or the car rental companies. These subsidies probably ensured that services were available where the organic markets could not sustain the business. At least, that’s what I came up with, who knows for sure?
The Amtrak Surfliner pulled into and out of Santa Barbara right on time. She departed and kept the coast on her right. We passed by beach goers and people loving and working and being alive. We passed businesses both successful and failing. We passed people moving either into or out of storage. To me it was just a big reminder of life that is always going on and always going by.
The coastal views from the train were breathtaking, but eventually, the beach turned to farmland which turned to commercial land which turned into LA. At one point I wondered what LA would look like if it was all agriculture as well.
On problem that was nagging me during this alternate trip was how to retrieve my car from LAX. This nice train would have deposited me right in my own back yard in Orange County. On a good day, I could have walked home from the train station. Then I would have had to have someone drive me back to LAX. That would waste four person-hours and just be a waste of life. Once I was on the train I remembered that it stopped at Union Station in LA. I texted Laura and asked scope out ways to get from Union Station to LAX. Depending on traffic a cab would cost between $70 and $100, but she also found a bus service that would get me directly to the airport from Union Station for $7. Problem solved.
The shuttle bus to LAX was hot, crowded and cramped, but it was cheap. The 45 minute journey through packed rush hour freeways went quickly. I realized at one point that in this long day, I had crossed the site of three of my four marathons, in LA, Santa Barbara and Carmel. That brought a smile to my face.
I arrived at LAX to the minute 12 hours after my flight was scheduled to depart. I called for my car park shuttled and after an hour in LA traffic, I was home.
Could I have worked with United to fly me home from Monterey through Denver later on that day? Possibly, but there were 117 others who also needed to get home and they may not have had as many options as I did. Could I have gotten United too fly me from San Francisco back to LAX some time that day? Definitely. When one spends a lot of time on the road, as I sometimes do, one inevitably runs into these situations. It does no good to get upset, but it can be fun to get creative and figure novel and non-obvious ways home.
At the end of the evening I spoke with another very nice United representative about my situation. We politely and respectfully haggled and I am please to report that United presented a very reasonable and equitable reimbursement plan that should show up on my credit card in 7 to 10 business days. By the way, it never pays to be angry or emotional with the airline representatives.
For some, this would be a horrible experience and I was a victim of the airlines. If you know me, you know that I refuse to allow myself to be a victim of the airlines. I would say that the airline had an unexpected equipment failure and I chose another way to get home. It was an option of my choosing that allowed me rest after my race. I saw about 300 miles of America today from a comfortable passenger seat. All in all, it was a pretty good day.