There was a moment there in the Santa Ana train station yesterday afternoon coming back along the return-half of my car-free roundtrip to/from Newport Beach when I thought I’d just committed an epic fail to rival the one Thursday, albeit this one aided by inattentive conductors.

The 23-mile bike ride up from Newport couldn’t have gone better. Me and my 20-pound backpack (nearly busting at the seams and zippers) exited the Hyatt on Jamboree shortly after 1 p.m.. Heading seaward, we crossed a bridge from the continent to Balboa Island (a place I’d not been since the mid-’80s with my friend Russell whose folks had a place down there) and followed the signs to the ferry that took us across the to the Balboa Penninsula. I then found the Balboa bikeway and rode that up until I transitioned to Balboa Boulevard to PCH and shortly thereafter I was pedaling inland on the reeeaaally nice Santa Ana River Bikeway, which I’d last traversed back in 2003.

About seven miles along: look ma, no hands!

From there it was upriver to 1st Street wherein I worked my way back to the Santa Ana station, arriving with about 40 minutes to spare before the 3:06 Metrolink to Los Angeles arrived.

I bought my ticket, double/triple/quadruple-checked that the Los Angeles-bound train would be arriving on Track No. 1 at 3:06 p.m. and made my way to that corresponding platform feeling pretty dang confident that nothing could go wrong.

Well, wouldn’t you know at 3:06 p.m. an Amtrak train arrives on Track No. 1 and pretty much all the other passengers waiting on the platform board. Now, I know what you’re thinking. That’s an Amtrak train, not a Metrolink. I was thinking the same thing. But it was Three Oh Six on the freakin’ dot and since there was NO DAMN ANNOUNCEMENT made over the PA system upon its arrival and I saw nothing on the schedule about a concurrently scheduled Amtrak I panicked thinking that maybe there was some sort of car-swapping agreement between the two entities and bolted toward the frontmost car toward a conductor who spotted me and my bike and motioned me to go to one of the rear cars.

“Is this going to Los Angeles?” I yelled from a car length back, but the conductor had already turned to help a passenger off the train and didn’t hear me.

Fuck.

So I reversed course and saw another conductor two cars down and started to make a beeline for him. But I hadn’t even so much as quartered the distance when he abruptly turned and climbed back in to his car, ignoring both me running toward him augmented by a loud “Hey!

Bastard.

By the time I got to the door he’d entered they were closed and he was out of sight and in another moment the train lurched and was rolling out of the station. Leaving me alone on the platform, still not sure if this was the train I should’ve gotten on or not.

If it was the former, the next — and last — Met’link was at 6:36 p.m.: 3.5 sonofabitching hours away. I stood there thinking of that interminable amount of time and if you thought I was inconfuckingsolable standing out there in Pomona Thursday afternoon contemplating my outbound train fail, then you’ll wanna go ahead and quantify that big time. For a movie reference, just recall the scene in Full Metal Jacket during bootcamp when the psycho marine recruit’s finally slipped comfortably into full-metal insanity and the camera’s all up in his smiling face with that horribly soulless evil-eyed glower filling the film’s frame, and yep: you’re about there.

I debate waiting it out or just setting out and riding in the general direction of the city of my birth and residence, then decide to lock the bike and go back into the station to kill berate somebody. As I do, I walk past a Metrolink Passenger Information phone, and I figure I’ll verbally lacerate a poor customer service rep to get warmed up before going inside to kill berate somebody.

This actually turns out to be a good choice.

At 3:12 p.m. the read-out on the phone tells me to “please wait to be connected with an operator,” and just after one picks up and I ask if I’ve motherfucking missed the motherfucking 3:06 to LA, I hear a train horn blowing and the familiar ding-ding-ding and I say nevermind and hang up and I almost cry as the six minutes-late Metrolink locomotive pulling a string of Metrolink cars pulls in.

Can you imagine had I opted to go into the station? It’s a pretty safe bet I would’ve been in there when she pulled in, so forgive another (somewhat obscure) movie reference, but I would’ve had to pull a booming Albert Finney in The Dresser: “STOOOOOOP! THAAAAAAAAAT!! TRAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAIN!!!”

So in this case there was no fail, just about 360 ticks of intense anxiety, culminating in some life-affirming relief — all of which, needless to say, could have been alleviated with slightly more attentive and helpful conductors, and even the most basic of public announcements.

Arriving about an hour later at Union Station, I found bittersweet redemption while walking through the tunnel. Whether or not the Metrolink rep I’d asked that afternoon had said “Track Eight” or “Track Right,” my outbound snafu had not originated with the wrong track. Track No. 8 was indeed the one on the right side of the platform as I entered it. But as the far-more-Union-station-aware Militant Angeleno pointed out in a comment to my last post: My fail was more likely generated by the busy station’s practice of stacking two trains on one track, with one designated on 8A and the other on 8B. I’m guessing my Santa Ana train was on A and I got on the wrong one behind it on B.

Small consolation that I’m slightly less an idiot than I’d figured, but I’ll take it.

Exiting the station, I opted away from Cesar Chavez Avene to the inclines up to Angelino Heights and instead set out homeward through downtown via 2nd Street up the far more gradual grade of Glendale Boulevard to Sunset. It was as great to be home as it was to get that anvil of a pack off my back.

So overall, if I had to rate my car-free experience, I’d give it an 7 out of 10 on the Glad I Did It scale. That score would have been higher, but a 7 out of 10 on the Noob Unfriendly scale and a 8 out of 10 on the Stress Yourself Out scale really weighed the positives down.