Finishing CA to an AGR Roomette

The Thruway Shuttle Van from the Phoenix Airport to Start My AGR Reward of 4 Nights to St. Paul


I originally booked my AGR award only from Flagstaff to Columbus, Wisconsin (with the idea that I would get off in MSP, and my friend would get on in L.A.) I told the agent this and her response was get off the train wherever you want. The plan was to go back to Greyhound again to go from Phoenix to Flagstaff. I called up AGR a few days later and asked if I could add the Arizona Shuttle Airport Shuttle Thruway Connection. Much to my surprise the answer was yes! It also required paper tickets for the itinerary. The agent over the phone said I could simply pick them up upon arrival in Flagstaff and that the shuttle company would collect my ID. I then called up the shuttle company (and found out the 4:00 Shuttle I was originally booked on was going to be canceled during the summer months) and was told if I didn’t have my Amtrak Voucher (yes they referred to Amtrak tickets as vouchers). I would need to pay the $42 cash and would then get paid back in Flagstaff. I called up AGR and told them what the shuttle company said. They let me have the 3:00pm Shuttle (A 5:00pm would have made the connection but I wanted time for dinner in Flagstaff). With my friend joining me in L.A. I also wanted each of us to have are own tickets. In Newark on one of my trips there I stopped at the Amtrak Ticket window to confirm things gave my reservation number (saw I was booked Pheonix Airport to Columbus and my friend only from LAX) and asked if they could be picked up separately. I was told “No its printing all the tickets or none.” A few days before I flew to San Francisco I met the friend joining me, Robert for Lunch. We visited Penn Station I first tried a QuikTrak machine, they didn’t print. We then went into the ClubAcela to have them printed. This though meant I did worry about losing my tickets!

The Day:

The day begins with me sleeping in a little bit at my friend’s house in Tempe who has to leave for work early in the morning. He works downtown (and has free parking) and takes my bag for me that I will retrieve when we meet for lunch. I leave around 8:30 and start walking north towards the light rail 1.7 miles away. There is a Valley Metro Bus but there is a strange fare phenomenon here that day passes are $6 when purchased on the bus but only $4 from Light Rail FVM (that let you buy them in advance and validate them later). I start waking north and a bus immediately passes me. I keep walking and more then halfway to the light rail station I find a stop for Tempe and ASU’s free Shuttle called Orbit and one of its minibuses is approaching.

I take MARS (yes the shuttle routes are named for planets) to the Valley Metro and buy my $4 day pass. I did all of Valley Metro on my last visit to Phoenix but lost all of the photos (after making the section except for two stops) after my computer died, and my backup hadn’t done Aperture fully enough. I head first to the two 12th street stops and double back to the 24th Street stops to make the section complete again. I then continue downtown and get some pictures of the rebuilt downtown transit center that has had the PCC that used to be on display there removed. I stop at the manned ticket sales and information booth and get a Valley Metro map for my collection.

Without anything to do and it being over 100, way too hot for a walk, I decide to go to the Arizona Science Center on my Transit Museum membership for free. They let me in (asking if I need parking validation) but I immediately realize the museum is for kids with no adult oriented displays.

I meet my friend for lunch and get my bag back from him. After lunch it’s 1:00pm and I decide to head out towards the airport for my 3:00 shuttle with the new PHX Skytrain to photograph. I get off the light rail and cross the street to the now abandoned bus loop for a few photos. I circle the station and eventually head back up across to the light rail platform to head to its other end and up the escalators (there also two elevators, the only two on the Valley Metro so far) to the long overpass bridge. This actually crosses a creek but luckily has moving walkways.

I get to the modern climate controlled SkyTrain station and get some photos outside of it (its home to the cell phone and employee parking lots). I also notice the Barnum Bailys (spelling) circus train on distant tracks and get some photos of that. There is even a podium for remote checking bags (their transferred in cages via trucks) at the SkyTrain Station. It is only open 4:30am to 1:30pm Monday-Saturday. Why can’t JFK AirTrain do this in Jamaica, well I think bags might miss flights stuck in traffic on the Van Wyck.

I eventually board SkyTrain that for now only goes to one terminal 4, with shuttle buses still providing the continuing connections to terminals 2 and 3. I start by riding to Terminal 4 and find the “America’s Friendliest Airport” slogan on signs and made by announcements pretentious. I double back to the one intermediate stop at West Parking that has platform screen doors at but not climate control to protect passengers from the Arizona Heat. AirTrain SFO that I started by flying into has the doors. I walk up to the third level of a parking garage for some better SkyTrain vehicle photos. I then realize its nearly 2:45 and time to find the desk for the Arizona Shuttle. I flash my Amtrak Ticket to an airport volunteer that directs me to the baggage claim. Another tells me the desk by door 8.

I check at the AZ City to City Shuttle Check-In Desk at 2:45 for my 3:00pm shuttle. There are two agents manning the desk, the first one is confused about some note on my reservation. I assume this pertains towards “payment” with my Amtrak ticket. They then lift my paper Amtrak ticket for Thruway #8558 and tell me to wait in the seating area where they will call us to go out to the bus. It feels very strange to start my long AGR crescent-shaped trip at an airport. Specially waiting in the baggage claim area.

3:00 comes and goes. At 3:10 the desk attendant calls us and leads us outside to an awaiting 15 passenger van pulling a luggage trailer. The driver asks what stop I’m going to in Flagstaff and I chuckle a bit saying I’m connecting to Amtrak. It’s a pretty full load with 12 passengers. I grab a seat in the very back with one other passenger. Three are NAU students, the rest older. The van I later learn has been converted to propane as an experiment. The shuttle is late because he’s already stopped at the two other terminals. Complimentary bottled water in half-pint bottles is handed out that has clearly been in a cooler on this 100 degree day, we leave at 3:15. Amtrak has another stop for the shuttle north of the city but no one has a reservation for it so we go right through on I-17 out of the Sun Valley and through the Cactus filled landscape.

4:47–Stop at Camp Verde at the trading post for a brief rest stop (no passengers here although it is on the Amtrak timetable as a stop on this shuttle). Soon we’re back on I-17. Getting two seats to myself on a bus would be more comfortable than the shuttle van but the van feels much less stressful. Greyhounds non-Express routes boarding process and the fact they canceled my bus yesterday with the possibility of buses being full I find quite stressful.

We make it up to 6,000 feet that should be the highest I get on this Amtrak ticket because of the low pass in the Rockies on the Empire Builder. Trees have replaced cactus. I keep listening to my iPod to avoid sitting in what I find awkward science in vans. I rode in plenty on College trips with the radio blaring and plenty of chatting.
5:46-Get to the First stop at NAU. All three of the girls near me reapply their makeup one even combing her hair. This is a pet peeve of mine in transit.
As we get towards the Amtrak Station, a man asks if anyone is actually riding Amtrak. I respond and say I’m going to Portland not feeling like explaining my ridiculous-ness. He mentions a trip he’s taken on the Pioneer. This long distance train I very much wish existed.
I arrive at 6:00 and head into the station. I hand my tickets over to a very friendly Amtrak agent who accepts them and staples the three into my ticket jacked. She opens the door into the ticket office so I can store my backpack. She doesn’t ask for the $4 payment, Flagstaff is a nice small town staffed depot and I’m all set to explore Flagstaff.

I have an excellent few hours wondering around Flagstaff, visiting a coffee shop to use the internet and finding a decent Thai Dinner.