Monday, July 14, 2008

The 24-Hour Travel Marathon (and More!)

I bet you are all wondering what in the world happened to me. Usually I post late in the week and over the weekend, but you haven't heard a peep out of me since last Sunday!

Well, this is because I have been traveling. This week I am in Seattle at a conference, culminating in a tutorial I am giving on Friday afternoon.* But before the conference, I decided that since Seattle is so close to Vancouver, British Columbia, I would visit my sister, brother-in-law, and nephew for a few days.

I left on Thursday morning, flying from my local airport to Denver and on to Seattle. The trip was uneventful and all my flights were on time. I then took a bus to the Tukwila train station near the airport, and waited for a train which would take me into Seattle, where I would transfer from the train to a bus that would take me to Vancouver, arriving at roughly ten o'clock pm.

As I have learned, every time I travel there must be some adventure. This bus ride ended up filling my "adventure quota" for this trip and several more to come.

We left about an hour late, which is typical but not bad for Amtrak. Then, about 45 minutes outside Seattle, the bus blew the left rear inner tire. We sat there for quite some time... well, read an excerpt from the email I sent the bus company:
[The driver] competently pulled the bus over to the side of the interstate. I was sitting towards the rear of the bus so I can't be certain exactly what transpired, but it appeared that after examining the bus, he called someone on his cellphone, perhaps his supervisor, I'm not sure. In any case, he remained on the phone on and off for most of the evening. At about midnight or so, another bus arrived and was able to take some, but not all, of our passengers. I remained with the original bus, which was having its tire changed by the tire mechanic. Because it was the innermost tire on the interstate side of the bus, it took quite some time to change. In the end, we got to Vancouver station at about 3:15 am, roughly 5 hours after the bus should have arrived.

I would like to comment about [Driver]. He seemed like a very conscientious person and dedicated driver, but he had a number of problems that evening. First, he did not seem to know what to do in a crisis event such as this. Do you provide your drivers with training on what to do in emergencies? If so, it did not seem to stick. He did not put out any flairs as far as I could tell, which made it more dangerous for us to sit in this bus on the side of the road while 70-mph traffic whizzed by. Are the buses equipped with flares? If not, they should be.

Second, [Driver] needs more training on how to handle angry customers. It was late at night and people were frazzled and at their wits' end, including him. His methods of handling angry complaints included making idle threats to call the police or not provide us with the latest information on the situation. These idle threats only served to make those who were angry even angrier. A better approach would have been to overlook the negative language and sympathize with the passengers' underlying frustrations. Instead he took their negative comments personally and escalated the situation instead of diffusing it.

But I do not think that [Driver] is a bad employee and I certainly do not advocate firing him or anything like that. He is a man of high moral character and commitment. I was traveling on the bus to visit my sister in Vancouver. I am from Tennessee and I have never been to her house before. [Driver] was committed to making sure that I arrived at my destination safely. I am firmly convinced that if my sister had not been there waiting for me, [Driver] would have stayed with me and done everything in his power to help me to find her, and not left my side until my sister showed up.

As for the bus situation, I am also unsure as to why it took so long to get the bus fixed. Assuming that [Driver] called the proper person, I don't know why it took such a long time to send someone out to fix the tire. Perhaps your company needs to reevaluate its logistics and emergency process. A faster response time would have helped things immensely.
Something I did not mention in my letter but that made the situation more interesting was that the woman in the seat in front of me was deaf and I wrote notes to her to keep her updated as to what was going on. It was kind of fun, but unfortunately my arm was already sore from lugging around my heavy bags and writing notes to her did not help matters. But I used my ergonomic pen and abbreviated as much as possible and was able to keep her updated.

Another fascinating addition to the communication situation was the woman in the seat in front of the deaf woman, who did not speak English. So she called a friend, perhaps the person who was going to pick her up at the Vancouver station, and then asked me to talk to her friend. I explained the situation to him, and he then explained it back to her in her native tongue, and all was well. Both this woman and the deaf woman took the other bus when it came.

By the time I got to Rachel's place, I had been awake for 24 hours. I've been in travel situations like that before, but it's more typical of traveling from Europe to North America, for example, rather than across the continent. And in the usual case, you go to bed early in the time zone in which you arrive. In this case, I got maybe 3 hours of sleep all together that night.

I'll leave the description of my time with Rachel, Scott, and Byron for another post. (Speaking of sleep, I should get to bed soon!)

*Any of my vast fan base attending this conference and/or based in this area? Leave me a comment -- maybe we could get together!


hypoglycemiagirl said...

Wow, that's quite an adventure. Funny how you under such circumstances get in touch with people you wouldn't have me otherwise.

Anonymous said...

Wow, what an adventure. My mother came to visit me by bus last fall. It was an adventure too. The closest stop was a gas station in E-town. Somehow, we missed the morning bus. We were there but sitting in the car to stay warm. We never saw the bus come and go. We made it to the next bus that night 9:30 and waited and waited, it was 2 hours late.

On a much happier note. I saw your adorable little boy the other night. He is so much fun!


Madeleine said...

That is a phenomenal story. Good for you, for making sure everyone around you had the information they needed.

I am appalled at the bus company's performance. You were only 45 min from Seattle, but it took them several hours to get a replacement bus to you, and even then it wasn't big enough for all the passengers? That is pretty horrifying. I'm glad you are OK, though.

Anonymous said...

Hi Rebecca,
I teach math in Seattle and I was on the same bus that you were on (sitting near the front). It is interesting to hear what was happening in the back of the bus.

Rebecca said...

Rick, what a coincidence that you were also on the bus! It was quite an interesting night, wasn't it?