Staying Flexible at the Last-Minute.

PORTLAND–The last of my eight train rides–Seattle to Portland today–was to be the frosting on the cake: a relaxing five-hour ride in the Coast Starlight’s parlor car. Alas, it was not to be. In fact, it was a complete flop. Because of a bridge failure, the Coast Starlight with its Pacific Parlour Car is temporarily operating only as far north as Sacramento and train service south of Seattle has therefore been limited to the Cascade trains.
But in the wee hours of this morning, there was yet another mud slide, this one covering the tracks somewhere south of Seattle. I got the bad news about 6:45 when I arrived at King Street Station: all trains south of Seattle have been cancelled.
These damn mud slides both to the north and the south of Seattle have become a chronic problem and calling up buses on short notice to haul a couple of hundred passengers up to Vancouver or down to Portland must have cost Amtrak millions over the past several years. Not any more, it would seem. Today I was handed my money back and the agent hollered, “Next!” I truly don’t fault them; trying to accommodate a couple of hundred passengers on short notice to multiple destinations has to be a nightmare and a punishingly expensive one at that.
Meantime, I had to decide what to do about a hotel reservation in Portland for tonight and my Alaska Airlines flight back to Maui tomorrow from there. Canceling the flight and booking a new one out of Seattle was an obvious choice, but that would make me a no-show at the Portland hotel and the airline would sock me with a $150 cancellation fee. Worse yet, last-minute tickets on weekend flights to Hawaii are almost always several hundred dollars more than whatever passes for a normal fare these days.
After the various alternatives percolated for an hour, emerging logic seemed to dictate that I keep my Portland-Maui flight. I called the Bensen Hotel in downtown Portland and they graciously waved the cancellation fee. Then I rented an Avis car, drove 180 miles to the Portland airport, left the car at the Avis car return and caught a shuttle to an airport hotel.
At the moment, I’m enjoying a plate of ribs, some french fries and a cold beer while watching the Red Sox and the Minnesota Twins on my laptop. All things considered, not a bad way to end this trip.