When the Greyhound bus so grievously abandoned us some years ago we were left without any obvious public transportation out of Mendoland into the larger (real) world. But should this deter an experienced traveler like me? Not really!
My daring plan was to get from Mendocino to Sacramento without driving my car. To find a way to carry out this momentous undertaking equalled mappinga route from Outer Mongolia to, say Albania. But with a sufficient number of telephone calls, and the true traveller spirit (never give up!) plus time on my hands, it was accomplished.
I started my journey right from the downtown heart of Mendocino, the MTA stop in front of the Mendocino Savings Bank. After a 3/4 hour trip through scenic Fort Bragg, with frequent stops, we finally took off on Highway 20. (Meeting the bus at the Boat Yard Center might cut off at least l/2 hour from the trip.)
We arrived in Willits and as MTA had made arrangements for me, I was met at the MTA bus stop by a Willits Dial-a-Ride vehicle which took me to the AMTRAK Station. If you visualize the AMTRAK station as a pretty, Mission style building where, while waiting for the bus you might enjoy a cup of coffee, you'd better prepare for a less glowing reality. A lone telephone pole across from the Skunk Train depot at the edge of a huge parking lot represents the place where the AMTRAK bus will pick you up. It is clearly marked by a printed BUS SCHEDULE, DATED JULY l995 preserved in glassite and attached to said telephone pole; the best that can be said about this directive is that it inspires only moderate confidence, especially in apprehensive travellers.
I had set out on a wet and wintry morning and as the Dial-a-Ride driver let me out (dumped me) at the edge of the parking lot, he impressed on me that under no circumstances should I seek shelter in the Skunk Train station (which was closed anyway) because the AMTRAK bus would only stop if a traveller was in clear sight. But no sooner had I stationed myself near the telephone pole when the most ferocious downpour occurred. Should I seek shelter under the overhang of the depot, risking missing the bus -- which passes only once a day -- or get drenched through and through? I opted for the first, keeping an eye on the road, ready to dash across.
And to my great surprise, only a few minutes later than expected, an AMTRAK bus -- ALL ABOARD AMTRAK clearly identifying it -- arrived and made a sweeping turn-about in the parking lot, which I reached just in time to get well splashed as the bus came to a stop near a lake-like puddle. I had made it! What a comfortable bus it was, with a toilet on board as well as TV screens in the aisles (we saw "Sleepless in Seattle" between Willits and Martinez!) With stops in Healdsburg, Santa Rosa (Days Inn), et al, we meandered through a nice patch of Northern California to Martinez.
Getting off the bus to change to the real, absolutely genuine AMTRAK train, was easy; the tracks were clearly in sight and within 25 minutes -- just enough time for a cup of coffee -- the train pulled in. And off we went choo-chooing along. The joy of being on a train, with unobstructed views of a greening, spring-like California -- the fields of the river valley still partially flooded -- with coots, white cattle egrets, a few hawks and a rainbow enhancing the scenery! Still, the speed with which we passed made bird-watching a bit difficult. When we finally pulled into Sacramento no more than eight hours had elapsed since I had started out.
The return trip was a bit more quirky -- not really a mirror image of the initial one. The Martinez bus station was located behind the train depot and I was faced with a choice of about l0 buses -- all Solano County transit vehicles and nary an AMTRAK bus among them. I circled the herd of buses -- no luck. No one to whom I applied for help had ever heard of an AMTRAK bus. Ah, here was an Amtrak employee in uniform! Eager for information, I approached him. Well, he said, the bus should be right here. Should? But was it? He disappeared back into the station, leaving me in a state of waxing anxiety. And then I realized that, like a pod of whales surrounding their young to protect them, the Solano transit buses had formed a perfect circle around the (vulnerable??) AMTRAK buses, making them hard to spot.
One of the AMTRAK buses had an invitingly open door and a few travellers inside, none of whom would confirm that this was the WIllits bus. Finally, from the bowels of the bus a voice assured me that the bus was Arcata bound and therefore might stop in WIllits. I took a seat; the time for the bus to leave had already passed when a driver finally returned from what must have been his quick lunch. Only when he had assured me personally that he would stop in WIllits did I dare to relax. Off we went -- and arrived in WIllits at dusk.
However, the Dial-a-Ride which was to have met me was nowhere in sight. I knew that the MTA stopped a good eight blocks from the AMTRAK and that, burdened with luggage and an arthritic knee, it would be hard to cover that distance in the time span alloted me. In a convenience store across the street a very helpful employee told me that the DIal-a-Ride would only stop if he saw a customer in plain sight -- I've heard that song before -- but she offered to phone Dial-A Ride to find out whether he was on his way. Before she even had dialled she called to me: "He's here, he's turning around because he did not see you," and out we ran, she waving and yelling and me with my luggage.
Well, the driver turned back and picked me up, not without giving me a stern lecture about how I was supposed to stand at the exact pick-up point. In short, I was not to doubt that he on his way. He then dropped me off at Inez' Coffee Shop where the MTA was supposed to gather me up in about thirty minutes. It was a dark and wintry night, so against the warnings of the Dial-a-Ride driver (you must stay in plain sight of the MTA bus!) I went INSIDE the coffee shop -- certainly the absolute no-no of any transfer made on this trip (and there were quite a few). To arrive at a happy ending: I was back outside, in the dark, freezing, and full of doubts as to whether any bus, vehicle, or rescuer would come to my aid when the MTA rounded the corner. Back to Mendocino we went, where I landed in front of the Savings Bank as if I had never undertaken that hazardous journey. Well, it's easy to use public transportation in America!
All who have travelled widely in Europe or Asia without a car are familiar with a condition I call (for lack of a better description) Transfer Anxiety. Am I at the right place for the right bus? The right tracks for the right train? The right pier for the right ferry? This gut-wrenching anxiety changes to a feeling of absolute high (Transfer Euphoria) when the right train, bus, or ferry appears -- a high which certainly is one one of the joys of travelling. Now that I have found that I can reproduce both Transfer Anxiety and Transfer Euphoria right here, with less expense than a trip overseas, I am already planning my next outing!
copyright © 1997 Liselotte Erlanger Glozer. All rights reserved.
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