My Birthday Got Better After Starting Great

Last September I took the Amtrak Cascades train north through the beautiful coastal Pacific Northwest. It was my birthday and I treated myself to an awesome outing.

But what happened gave me more than I bargained for. It also showed precisely why I practice creating my Charmed Life through a Positively Focused practice.

Curious about what a “Charmed Life” looks like? Read on…

I booked my trip a week in advance. So when the travel day came, my birthday, I packed my bike then rode to downtown Portland’s Union Station. There I checked in then found a nice spot in the lobby.

Portland’s Union Station in all its glory.

That’s when….

The Fun Began…

I rested my bike beside me at the end of a long passenger bench. Moments later, a lanky gentleman walked by pushing an older bike.

Me and my Surly.

“Nice bike,” he said, looking at my Surly Straggler.

“Thanks,” I replied before noticing his bike, a Surly Long Haul Trucker. The same brand as mine, only a different model. I knew then a gift just walked by. So I pursued him then introduced myself.

“I’m Optimistic Chris,” he said with a smile. Then he regaled me with his story.

No wonder my Broader Perspective wanted me to followup with him. This “chance” meeting wasn’t chance at all.

Optimistic Chris and his partner “Lovely Laura” are known on Facebook and Instagram as “Soulmate Cyclists“.

While he told me their story, he radiated positivity and also a sense of someone who achieved something great.

Which he had. He just finished a 4,000-mile, 93-day solo ride on his Surly from Portland, Maine to Portland, Oregon by way of all the wonderful attractions one would imagine.

How fun.

Optimistic Chris and his Surly.
Soulmate Cyclist calling card.

“Couple” turns “solo”

Chris told me Lovely Laura’s companionship was part of the plan. But he left her behind. That’s because three years ago, a deer tick gave her Lyme disease, making such a ride potentially very uncomfortable. She told Chris to go without her (she really is lovely). So here Chris was, at Portland’s Union Station sharing his accomplishment with me instead of Laura.

Lovely Laura, the other half of “Soulmates” (Photo courtesy their Instagram).

Chris explained that Laura was waiting for him back in Madison, Wisconsin where he lives. He obviously enjoyed his trip and looked enlivened by it even though his soulmate couldn’t be there.

It was special meeting Chris, and I know my trip, like his, would be special too. Here I was, not even on the train yet and it already was!

Onboard salty conversations

Once onboard though, delightful surprises continued. I sat in a comfy seat in the passenger car. Above me were my saddle bags in the overhead, packed with camera gear and other equipment, my computer and iPad.

Several hundred feet behind me, in a separate car, hung my bike. It swayed on its cargo hook, as the train curved along the tracks that passed over Portland’s Willamette River.

Once in Southern Washington, I treated myself to a hot chocolate, one of my favorite beverages. I make a delicious hot chocolate at home. Torani sugar free vanilla flavored syrup, Trader Joe’s chocolate powder, marshmallows, and my secret ingredient: salt, all go into my cocoa concoction.

The brew I enjoy most in fall and winter. Hot cocoa made my way.

Because of this, I tempered my expectations as I figured none of those would be available on the train.

They weren’t. But, just like meeting Optimistic Chris, what was available delighted me still.

At the snack car, a young woman greeted me with a smile so wide and bright, it shone from behind her face cover. Tara introduced herself and asked what I wanted. When I told her I wanted a hot cocoa, I asked what kind she had. She told me and we agreed, it likely wouldn’t be as good as my concoction. I told her what my secret ingredient was.

She said she hadn’t tried that, but thought it would make ordinary, watery cocoa better, so she showed me where the salt packets hung out.

Train wide recognition

While Tara prepared my cocoa (sans marshmallows) we chatted a bit. We talked about her namesake (she was named after her father) and how she likes her cocoa rich too, like me. So she adds two packs instead of one when she makes cocoa at home. I didn’t miss the two now-empty Swiss Miss packages on her stainless steel prep station beside my paper cup. 🙏🏾🥰

Minutes later, Tara handed me the hot cup. What happened next surprised me.

“You get my favorite customer award,” Tara said. “Your cocoa is on the house.”

“That’s crazy!” I exclaimed. “Today’s my birthday!”

“I must have sensed it!” she said, her smile beaming again through her mask.

Tara the day maker for whom I made the day!

Settling back into my seat with cocoa in hand, I didn’t realize Tara’s wasn’t through with me. Her voice came over the intercom.

“We have a special passenger on board today. Happy birthday Perry!” She said.

My ride really begins…

The train arrived in Seattle late, but in one piece. So did my bike and I. I retrieved my Surly from an admiring cargo car attendant, attached my panniers and slowly rode down the platform, through the station and out onto Seattle’s streets.

End of the line at Seattle King Station.

The rest of the morning and early afternoon were wonderful, filled with Seattle’s sights and sounds, including portions of the Puget Sound I spied from bikeways on my way through downtown.

Seattle has a surprisingly good bike trail system. The trail catching my interest on my birthday was the Burke-Gillman Trail, one of the city’s premier riding trails.

My adventure primarily focused on this 27-mile, multi-use recreational trail, running from Ballard to Bothell, Washington.

First I took a detour to a bagel shop my housemate recommended. Their Lox sandwich didn’t disappoint, which I ate at Gas Works Park. There, right on the water, I took in beautiful weather, and the oddest looking water vessel I had ever seen:

It’s a boat…made out of a hot tub!
The best bagel I’ve ever had.

More fun and leisure

Other stops along my ride offered interesting scenery, views of things I hadn’t seen before, and parks along waterways at which I lounged during breaks.

Riding along a downtown waterside trail.
Parked beside a wonderful view.
The destination trail: Burke Gillman.
More Burke Gillman.
Gas Works Park
Seattle Skyline from Gas Works Park.
A submarine commemoration park along my ride.
Fins galore…I find out why…

The real adventure starts

While hanging out at that park where the fins were, I kept close eye on the clock. I wanted to catch my train and knew I needed about the same amount of time it took me to get to the park, to get back to the station.

About an hour later, it was near time to go back. I packed my things, then mounted my Surly. A third of the way towards the station, I received a text message from Amtrak:

My train was going to be an hour late departing. So instead of rushing back to the station I took my time.

When I arrived at 6:17pm, the security guard outside the station must have known what was up. He looked and me and shook his head then said “you’re here for the 507?”

“Yes,” I said.

“I’m sorry man,” he said. “It left already.”

I must have shown shock because before I could pull out my phone and show him the text, he said “I know. You’re not the only one. You get a text or an email?”

“Text” I said.

What happened?

He told me to go to the ticket counter. Five people ranging from frustrated to furious milled around. One irate woman shouted “Somebody better get fired for this!”

Meanwhile Brittany, the Amtrak agent, explained what happened. After that, her manager came out and apologized too.

“A miscommunication happened on our part,” He said. He offered refunds or reschedules for the next day. Everyone there lived in Seattle, so it was no big deal for them, most said.

But I had no change of clothes, no toothbrush, nothing. Rains were on the way and I didn’t want to sleep overnight in my 58 year old body on a Seattle King Station wooden bench.

That’s when Brittany caught my eye. When she pulled me aside, I explained my situation again. She apologized and took notes of my case.

The Lovely Brittany.

Brittany told me I should write to Amtrak customer relations. But she couldn’t guarantee anything would happen. Meanwhile I needed someplace to stay. I told Brittany, quite confidently, that Amtrak would reimburse me for a hotel and asked her to direct me to the nearest one.

She pointed to the Embassy Suites right next to the station. Then she offered storage space for my bike. I stored my bike then walked over to the hotel. Ben, the front desk attendant met me with a smile. I smiled back and happily told my story, then asked for the cheapest room in the place, adding that I was sure Amtrak would reimburse me.

Ben told me he’d hook me up for the night and not to worry. Handing me the key card and giving the overview spiel, he then said “let me know what you think about the room.”

Knocking my nickers off!

Ben had done a number on me. In a good way. He gave me a corner suite. It had a gargantuan bathroom, a kitchenette, living room and separate bedroom suite. A giant flat screen TV occupied the living room wall…and bedroom wall. Both sported a personalized greeting.

A quick tour of the room Ben gave me. It’s spacious.

Needless to say Ben earned my admiration. The entire staff, in fact, did. For the next morning, they treated me to the most scrumptious hotel breakfast I’ve ever had.

I enjoyed my evening. In fact, after touring the room and thanking Ben profusely for his generosity, I realized now I could go get that ice cream a friend recommended I experience. I figured hours ago I didn’t have time to visit, but not any more!

I only got the empty cup to show for it. Trust me, it was yummy!

Nom nom. Ae delicious treat I enjoyed to the last slurp.

Home, making my case

The next morning was uneventful, with the ride home a calm experience. From Seattle to Centralia I passed the time with a woman who, like me, had engaged in psychedelics. My preference: ayahuasca. Her’s: mushrooms, which she enjoyed the night before. We talked about our experiences, about art, mantras and perceiving life differently from most people.

When I got home I went into crafting my email to Amtrak. I called their Customer Relations department, got the correct email address and dashed off my perspective in a fun, positive story, just like what I’m sharing here. I included many of the same photos, including this one of me using a hair dryer to dry my only pair of underwear, which I washed in the bathroom sink.

My dirty drawers, now cleaned and drying under the hair dryer’s blast.

You can read my email here. It’s a pdf version saved to my cloud drive.

A month passed without hearing anything. So I called and spoke to a lovely Customer Relations person, who I told I was happy to meet her and that I was going to make her day by being her best telephone call. When she laughed I asked her name. Tonya, she said.

Meanwhile, I heard her fingers clicking across a keyboard. Moments later she said “Well, looks like someone reviewed your email [yesterday].”

“That’s great,” I said. “That means they haven’t rejected it.”

“You sure are positive,” she said.

“Yes, I am,” I said, smiling at her recognizing my super power.

A few minutes later, Tonya told me someone would get back to me in a few days. A few days later, someone did. Adam Bland from Amtrak Customer Relations wrote me a lovely email. Here’s what it said:

A happy ending

The Charmed Life looks like this trip. Where everything I do and everything I encounter fulfills me deeply. People I meet are friendly angels looking to amplify my already high-flying joy.

More of my life includes ongoing events just like what I experienced on this trip. That’s not surprising, for I now enjoy a Positively Focused momentum which perpetuates the Charmed Life I enjoy. I write about those experiences in this blog each week.

Experiences on this trip proved how being Positively Focused creates that life where everything works out for me. This hyper-condensed series of fantastic-seeming experiences can be anyone’s. I’m not special.

All that’s needed is desire then a commitment to seeing the best in everything and everyone. In other words finding the positive side of life.

My birthday started great, but it got far better because of my attitude. The rest of my life is shaping similarly. So can yours.

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