On a recent visit to friends in Fort Collins, Colo., my wife, Patsene, and I tried to make things simple by not parking at the airport, thereby incurring the wrath of a $17 dollars-per-day fee.
One of the perks was trying the newly christened Link light rail system in Seattle, one that takes riders as far north as Westlake Center and as far south as the Tukwila International Boulevard station, just a short bus ride from SeaTac airport.
Our task seemed simple enough, although neither of us had used any public transport in downtown Seattle save the monorail or an infrequent cab ride.
What ensued was a veritable hodgepodge of conveyances that made our heads spin a bit.
First was the 73-minute drive to Bainbridge Island, to a free parking spot at my father's house. Conveyance one: car.
Since Pops wasn't home and since we were running late, we called a cab for a quick ride to the ferry terminal. Conveyance two: van.
We missed the 8:20 a.m. ferry we were trying to catch but caught the next one and relaxed a little bit. We studied the map of the light rail system we saw in the Seattle Times a week before. It looked simple enough, although it didn't give exact addresses of the stations where you can pick up the line.
Conveyance three: ferry.
After this section, we were a little puzzled as where to go. The ferry landing didn't have any information on the new light rail system, which I found odd for something that debuted to such acclaim (not to mention $2.3 billion in taxpayer dollars).
We meandered toward Pioneer Square and found a couple of cops leaning against their car, yucking it up.
"Any idea where the light rail station is around here?" we asked.
"Sure," one of them said, then pointed. "Go up and around this block. Go straight past the drunks and the druggies. You'll see it."
Really? Uh, yeah. We walked through a mess of, shall we say, "pungent" folks loitering around one bus stop to find the entrance to the rail station, which is really at Third Avenue and Yessler, not Pioneer Square. Oh well.
Light on its rails
Seattle's light rail opened on July 18. Stretching 13.9 miles from its north station near Westlake Mall to the south, it's the city's long-awaited answer to a viable commuter train. By 2016, the system is scheduled to connect downtown riders to Capital Hill and Husky Stadium. Several lines into the suburbs are in the near future as well.
For this trip, we only were interested in the southern path that was to take us close to SeaTac; then we would make a quick bus transfer to the main terminal. It's another step light rail users won't be bothered with come December when the tracks finally stretch to the airport.
Other than a small problem getting the ticket machine to take a debit card (the diagram of how to insert the card was about as useful as a Sequim weather predictor), we had few problems.
The fare is decent - $2.50 for the full ride to Tukwila, the most expensive the light rail gets right now. (For some who travel to and around Seattle often, the ORCA card is the way to go. It's a prepaid pass for all regional buses and trains, including the light rail.
The light rail cars are clean and comfortable. If you hop on, however, be ready. Our doors stayed open about four seconds and we were off. No dallying here.
On this, a mid-morning Wednesday, there were perhaps a dozen riders in our double car, none of whom seemed interested in this new mode of transportation. Seems the newness has worn off a bit already.
Half of the 29-minute ride felt like a bus ride through some of the more industrial city zones (read: graffiti'ed concrete barriers, stacks of orange "work in progress" signs, unkempt dumpsters) while the other half felt a little like an amusement park ride for the unadventurous. South of SafeCo and the Rainier Beach area, the light rail track soars above Beacon Avenue, Interstate 5 and Tukwila, with an impressive view of big Mount Rainier and the always jam-packed Southcenter Mall.
Before we knew it, we were in Tukwila. Conveyance four: light rail.
A few more steps
To get to the metro, we went down a couple of flight of escalators (conveyance five!) and hopped onto a lumbering Seattle metro, the kind with the big bendy elbow in the middle. The ride was free, five minutes long and uneventful. Conveyance six: city bus.
Once at the airport, we had to backtrack toward Alaska Airlines' counters, since the bus drops folks off at the opposite end. Security remains slower than the "exit" lines at a lavender farm in July, but we persevered.
Of course, nothing is very close at the airport, so we had to use the old underground tram to get to the North concourse for our flight.
Conveyance seven: underground tram thingy.
We finally arrived at our gate, a good seven minutes before takeoff. The flight to Colorado? Beautiful. We could chalk up one more mode of transport.
All told, it was 41/2 hours from Sequim to SeaTac for about $18 - a cab and light rail fare - plus 56 miles worth of gas. And seven "vehicles" to get us there.
Next time, I'll try to work in a mule ride.
Reach Mike Dashiell at firstname.lastname@example.org
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