Sunday 17th September 2017
About two or three weeks ago, after many much earlier experimental dry runs, I sat down and really scanned Eric's United website for suitable flights to Denver for our trip to Colorado Springs and Sarah's wedding. After discussing our various options with Elisabeth we settled on a mid-day flight from Tel-Aviv which should get us in to Colorado Springs around ten or eleven local time that same night.
About a week or so ago I asked Eric to have a professional glance at my bookings and give his opinion. He suggested waiting until 48 hours before the intended take-off when a much clearer evaluation of the loads would be possible. And, indeed, when he checked for us on Thursday 14th he expressed considerable doubts about flying via Newark which is a very busy entrance hub to the U.S., and the potential difficulty of getting out of there to Denver for the second leg. He suggested going via San Francisco. Further discussion and examination brought to light that loads were looking difficult for the whole of Sunday daylight hours and Eric suggested delaying until 12:55 Monday morning (i.e. Sunday night post-midnight). While bowing without hesitation to his wide experience and insider knowledge, I was a bit disappointed at missing a daylight flight but since there was little option we settled on that but held off finalizing until the last moment. I would also have had to phone both the hotel and Enterprise and cancel one day's rentals.
On Saturday afternoon at about 16:00 Eric updated us again: he had rechecked the loads and his strategy, and decided we had a fair chance of getting on the post-midnight flight for that same night rather than our original one 12 and/or 24 hours later! Neither Elisabeth nor I were fully prepared for that. Although my packing was 98% complete and Elisabeth was not far behind neither of us had showered and dressed, nor had I additionally, shaved. There was also the consideration of transportation: Shmuel, with his usual generosity was programmed to take us to the airport the following morning for our originally planned departure and we had done nothing to up-date him about the potential changes that had been taking place during the 36 preceding hours. When we called Diana she told us he was out on a journey and had not yet returned home and I immediately 'phoned Avi who instantly agreed to take us if it became necessary. However, Diana called back when I was still on the line with Avi and said that Shmuel would take us.
We began to finalize our own domestic arrangements - packing, showers, shave and dressing and by 20:00 we were ready to go with half-an-hour in hand before having to leave home for Ben-Gurion. Rather than just sit there we decided to go to Shmuel and Diana and wait together with them - which we did.
At 20:40 we started out and arrived at Ben-Gurion at 21:54 exactly to time.
We thanked Shmuel profusely for his constant willingness to help us out and he drove back to Bror Hayil. We were both somewhat tense; although this was not by any means my first "stand-by" experience this particular trip had a specific time-table and significant delays could have serious consequences. The nerves of both of us were put to the test even though Eric's evaluation was optimistic. In the event we were allocated seats and at the gate were allotted two seats together - seats D and E, Row 17, in the central array, quite comfortable with plenty of leg-room, immediately behind the business-class bulkhead. While waiting at the gate to get our actual boarding passes, I called Eric to let him know we were OK and on our flight and to thank him again. I had also sent text messages to Alex and Arieh both of whom were probably already in bed, and Shirley.
Able to relax from some of the tension, we got aboard and settled down for our flight.
At 12:56 we got our push-back and began to taxi and at 00:06 we were lifting off. The flight itself was uneventful with the Captain telling us that we would probably arrive an hour early because of favorable winds. I did a bit of translating on the way but the PC's battery began to get low and too late I discovered the whereabouts of the socket that I could have used to keep the lap-top on charge...I'll certainly know for next time! Not having a window-seat, I couldn't enjoy that aspect of the flight and in any case it was an over-night flight, so I had the aircraft's progress showing on the courtesy screen in front of me; it was on virtually the whole time. We were at a point between Aberdeen and Stavanger crossing the Prime Meridian at about 58°N at 05:50 Israel time. Our Great Circle track will take us along the northern shore of Iceland and across the southern third of Greenland, then across Canada north of Hudson Bay gradually turning south-west and on to San Francisco where we arrived nearly an hour earlier than the scheduled time at about 04:53. Since no customs services were available until 06:00 we were obliged, as we had been informed earlier by the Captain, to wait on our aircraft for about 50 minutes. From then on, in spite of our growing fatigue it was all rush and tension. Passport control was full of passengers and we began to sense that time was running out on us for our connection to Denver; then we had to collect our luggage and one of our suitcases was hiding from us but turned up after a second search. Finally a fairly short walk to baggage deposit and on to security where another queue awaited us. Our gate number was 67, predictably one of the most distant ones and I outpaced Elisabeth in the hope of getting a few minutes grace for her by asking the ground staff to wait; boarding was scheduled to end at 07:20 a.m. and I reached the counter literally a minute to a minute and a half late to find the desk and gate area abandoned. We discovered there was another flight at gate 64 where a most helpful check-in clerk rolled us forward to the next flight scheduled to go at 08:18. Minds numbed with fatigue and three watches reminding us only of Israeli time, both of us became slightly confused and thinking we still had a reasonable wait, Elisabeth stood in line for a coffee and we nearly missed that flight too. But all was well and we arrived at Denver at 11:52, took the shuttle to the Enterprise office and presented our documentation.
Emma, the clerk who dealt with us was most pleasant and after some discussion from both sides we decided to upgrade ourselves to a vehicle with a GPS - this, because I had expected to get our mobiles working locally and immediately use WAZE to get us to our hotel in Colorado Springs. We also gained a slight extension to our scheduled return time because the farewell Brunch party with Debbie and the other guests would make it impossible to get back to Denver to return the car at the specified time. It was a straight down run on the I-25 using the GPS although I didn't manage to find the volume control menu until later and had some difficulty hearing the announcer's instructions when to turn off the I-225 but once we got on the I-25 it was a lot easier until we got to Colorado Springs, experiencing a summer thunderstorm about 15 minutes away from "home". Then we had a bit of a run-around finding the hotel, driving round a small local area several times (discovering later just how close we actually were) and asking locals for help. Eventually, of course we found it but while searching, a wrong turn gave me the serendipitous result of finding the hotel where I will stay for Rosh Hashana and, by extension, also the shul where I am going on Wednesday, spotted by Elisabeth as we drove round the small shopping precinct where it was located.
Now it was time to get to our Motel, check in and get some sleep. First-off, though, was to get the lap-top charging and running on the wi-fi. Elisabeth managed instantly with her phone and tablet but try as I might the wi-fi refused to identify my Lenovo. It took an hour's patient work with the Hotel's ISP and a fortunately highly skilled desk-clerk - Kathy - to solve the problem on the phone and a short while later I was in bed.
Monday 18th September 2017
I was up early but felt quite definitely that I had not slept enough after such an arduous trip. Nevertheless, when Elisabeth awoke we got ourselves ready and went for breakfast. Leaving Elisabeth, I went out to check the car and found to my horror that, while correctly locked with the remote, I had unbelievably left the engine running all night because there was a push-button turn-off that I was not accustomed to! But I went for a run after studying the GPS system and menu a little bit more thoroughly including finding the volume control and took myself to the 3320 Mesa Road venue for the wedding and found these lovely views of the edges of the Rocky Mountains. I rushed back to drag Elisabeth to come and see and took some photos; (I had been hoping somehow to get up to Wyoming and see the magnificent Grand Tetons in the vicinity of Jackson's Hole ("Shane" country), but it didn't work out that way and I'm afraid that that - and the Little Big Horn will just have to be two of those dreams that didn't come true for me):
....and two, as usual, poorly executed video clips:
Sometime during the morning we met Geoffrey, his wife Angela - (who is a walker and shortly went on a hike), Karen and Roger. Geoffrey and Karen being siblings of Debbie, Angela and Roger their respective spouses. We managed to get a photo of Elisabeth, Karen and Geoffrey in the breakfast-room:
Tuesday 19th September 2017
I woke up at 08:20 after apparently catching-up on all the lost sleep and we needed to rush a bit not to miss breakfast. Then we went out shopping again to try again for a shirt but no luck locally. In any case we are interested in visiting "down-town" and stopping the car in Tejon Street, where we had been directed by a helpful shop-assistant at Walmart, I asked a charming young woman who used her smart-phone to locate one or two nearby men's wear shops and in Rutledge - quite close-by - we found the very thing and very expensive it was, too - $189!! but I bought it! We went into a Pizza place, el Vigno, just along the street for lunch then on the way home went into the deserted, but open Chabad synagogue and took some photos:
Wednesday 20th September 2017
We went to Chapel Hill Mall again and I bought a dash-cam; it needs a Micro-SD card and I'm also a little concerned that the vehicle sockets in Israel cars for the charger are not identical with those here (I remember Randy's GPS that wouldn't plug in!). Anyway we'll see; we also went to Best Buy which we found hiding across the street behind Barnes and Noble, looking for "simple" adaptors for "Europe---->U.S."; they had a few but too expensive and unnecessarily "sophisticated". I asked for an address for Radio Shack and was given an address at 8 North Street on the edges of down-town. Found two good ones for me to take to Hyatt House for the phone and Lenovo. We went to the nearby Village Inn for a meal. Then back to finalize packing for myself, part temporarily from Elisabeth and took my blue jacket in to the dry-cleaners next door to the shul. I had already cleared with them that it would be ready Friday morning - and then drove to the Hyatt House and checked in to a lovely room that was more like a suite!
Thursday 21st September 2017
Back to the Shul this morning after an adequate breakfast, taking the car sadly but without hesitation. Toward the afternoon break I began to feel the need to have a rest and when the break came with another invitation to the Rabbi's home, I decided to go back to the hotel and perhaps not return for the evening prayers - in any case Randy was due in and I very much wanted to see him and spend time with him. I deliberately left my Tallis and Machzor on the table as an assurance that I was not actually "deserting" the congregation and went back to the hotel. I got in touch with Elisabeth supposing that she had been in touch with, and hopefully been in the company of Debbie but was a little put out to discover she had been on her own all day. I drove over of course and we went to the Village Inn for a snack - I just had a bowl of tomato soup, and then we sat around waiting for Randy to arrive. It was truly great to see him again. We went with him to the Village Inn where he had a meal (fish and chips!!), while we sat and chatted and after spending an hour or so, I left them and went back to my hotel and fiddled around with the computer, in between-times packing ready for my check-out in the morning before going to bed.
Friday 22nd September 2017
Up early, as usual and soon had a shower, changed shirt and suit and went for breakfast. At an appropriate time I checked out after scouring the room to make sure I had everything, went upstairs, checked out and put my suitcase in the car. While doing so, a couple from the hotel, whom I had casually noticed earlier in passing, came over to me and asked if I was from Israel and pleased, I answered that I was. We chatted for just a minute or two about their visit there and I left them my card. I began to drive out of the parking-lot and suddenly felt that I was missing an article - my camera! When looking back at myself walking to the check-out desk, to the car, lifting my suitcase into the trunk, I had no mental sense of handling my camera. I turned the car round, re-parked and went inside to recover it, surprised that such an obvious and significant article could so easily be forgotten.
I drove to the synagogue, parked the car and went into the dry-cleaners to pick up my jacket. The pleasant Oriental man behind the counter brought my jacket and asked me about the festival and its duration so I explained it briefly; apparently there are excellent relations between the business and the synagogue - probably they do laundering for them...
The services were conducted as usual and I was honoured with an Aliyah, offering a "blessing" for the community and a "refua shleima" for Alex. Again at the afternoon break I made my apologies to Rabbi Liberow who clearly understood my position. I thanked him and those nearby for having allowed me to share Rosh Hashana with them and left them, returning to Hyatt Place to be with Elisabeth and Randy. Randy was determined to spend the evening doing "something" and after looking up various events and venues decided on a bar called "Trinity" just a mile up the road that offered a unique decor - it was a sort of "old barn" type of building and the connection between two large rooms encircling the bar was a large tall archway made out of hundreds of real books - quite effective! The snack consisted of an interesting platter of five cheeses with crackers and a few other additions. Randy also found an exhibition of sorts up in the hills that suggested a large number of floodlit "statues" on the hillside which sounded very attractive so after our snack we put the address in the GPS and got going. I could easily imagine that during daylight hours the scenery would have been out of this world but at night, on a twisting unknown mountain road I found it stressful but we managed it only to be disappointed at the display; it had been rather misleading with its "ad-type publicity" and "hype" and while somewhat "pretty" - hundreds of flower-like stakes with illuminated imitation "flower-heads" lined up in rows about a hundred yards wide and perhaps fifty deep, stretching up the foot of the hill with the illuminated flower heads gradually changing their colour. Pretty - yes! But hardly worth the special journey of half an hour there, in the dark, over a mountain road.
Saturday 23rd September 2017
This morning will be our last opportunity to finalize essential purchases and Randy has kindly agreed to come with me to help with the technicalities of the micro-SD card I need for the dash-cam. We made our way to Best-Buy and purchased a 64Gb SD including an adaptor SD to download. When we got to the check-out we discovered that the dash-cam I had bought at Walmart could only take 32 Gb so we had to change it. In doing so we further discovered that the 64 had been at a "special offer" sale price and I needed to pay a further 20 something dollars more for the half-capacity Micro-SD. Well -"In for a penny, in for a pound" as the old English saying goes! In the afternoon we started arranging our things for an unobstructed exit tomorrow morning to the Brunch event prior to going directly to Denver for our return flights. We also needed a light snack so Randy, again using his expertise as an American citizen searched the internet and found an interesting Italian restaurant at an address in North 8th Street - the Panino restaurant:
Then home again and readied ourselves for this evening's event. The weather was really uncooperative and had been very overcast, dull, cool and grey all day long and indeed there was even a very fine but persistent on-and-off drizzle on the drive up to the country-club venue when it really began to come down. However it is impossible to be downcast at a wedding because of the weather and the torrential rain that came belting down during and after the ceremony and the low cloud and mist that hung over the Rockies, added its own mystic grandeur to the scenery:
...and of course there were photographs of people:
We sat at a table with Geoff, Angela, Bruce and his wife - it was great - so open and friendly and I had a nice chat with both Geoffrey and then Bruce. Later on I stepped across to the next table and chatted a few minutes with Ben's parents who live in West Thurrock and told them I had visited there once with Shirley. I told them of my origins and my connections with Redbridge, Dagenham and Essex in general. They are very easy to talk to and (hopefully) found a "kindred spirit" to connect with - as did I! We saw the happy couple off and shortly after people slowly began to make their way home as the evening came to a close. But we had a truly wonderful evening in excellent company and went back to our hotel full of satisfaction with the good company we had enjoyed.
Strangely I had a not very good night's sleep for no apparent reason, waking up at 01:05 and not significantly sleeping again until well-after 04:00 and then only fitfully until at 05:45 I simply got up and sat at the computor.
Sunday 24th September 2017
And so we come to the last morning of this brief but very satisfying visit. By 08:45 we were virtually ready; some bags had already been stowed in the car, we had checked out and I had confirmed paying the bill on my card and thanked the reception staff for a pleasant stay and at 09:15 we were on our way, Randy driving his car and leading the way using a slightly different route to the one I had become accustomed to using. We arrived at the Country Club to find a number of guests already present and joined them after greeting Debbie, Thomas and a few other new-found friends and family, eventually sitting ourselves with Geoff and Angela. We all chatted for a while and I took a few photographs of the breakfast-room with its guests and had someone take a photograph of us:
Boarding went ahead and I could see that things were not looking good. But as the last stragglers went aboard and with no indication on the electronic listing screen of what was actually happening on the aircraft, the Captain re-appeared and had a brief conversation with a last-minute employee in one of the "off-duty" uniforms and as he walked past me on his return he acknowledged me and said - "No seat?" I answered with a helpless shrug but to my surprise he said, "Hang on a minute we are just checking something," and no more than a minute later, he, the clerk I had spoken to earlier and a woman-clerk I had spoken to when I first arrived at the gate an hour previously, invited me and two other gentleman to go down the corridor to the aircraft but to wait outside and not board until a final check was made and sure enough not another two minutes passed and we were all three invited on board. The relief was immense at having passed this particular crisis but I still had this sinking feeling about getting to San-Francisco in time to catch my flight to Tel-Aviv - a challenge which seemed to me to be virtually a "no-brainer" so far as success was concerned - it just wasn't going to happen...but at least I was on board to my - at present - vast relief.
I had not for a moment forgotten about Elisabeth and that she too was finding difficulty with her flights but at the same time as my own situation was coming to its crisis it seems that Elisabeth, too, was at last about to get on one of her last chances of the day and our last exchange of texts seemed to indicate that she was going to get on a flight - and indeed she did.
Still wondering what I was going to do in San-Francisco I began to think of my long desired visit to Alcatraz but knew that bookings were required and from previous attempts I knew that they were usually booked up months ahead. During the flight, I asked one of the flight-attendants what he thought about my chances of catching my flight - it was, to my mind a forlorn enquiry made purely out of desperation and the need to share my concern but he, to my surprise, after checking with his hand-held device, was quite optimistic.
When we off-loaded I made my way as quickly as possible up to the concourse and found a customer-service desk right close by. I walked up to the clerk and asked the gate number for the Tel-Aviv flight and she replied 91 telling me it was right back at the top end of the concourse behind me. I looked round and sure enough I could see the gate numbers receding into the distance climbing through the eighties and at the far end I could see 90, 92 and 93. She told me, however, that I would have to continue all the way to the foot of the concourse, make a "u-turn" and come up the other side. Mis-understanding the full implications of the directions, I thought that this was because there was no way to cross the moving walk-ways, so half in panic at losing my flight I began to walk as quickly as I could all the way down and then all the way back up the other side. When I got to the first of the "nineties" I couldn't see ninety-one anywhere so asking at one of the desks I was told it was "over the other side" and I would have to walk yet again all the way back make a right-hand turn round a cafe and another shopping area and then take the next concourse all the way to the top. In near panic I recommenced walking as hurriedly as I could, drenched in perspiration and scarcely able to breathe. Confirming with an airport employee on the way I hurried on and when I got to the top the employee was still with me and he directed me onwards. In the event I found I still had a hundred yards or so to go, up another level where at last I found myself facing a security inspection. But it was brief and immediately prior to boarding. I was directed onwards past a check-in desk where I received my boarding pass beginning very slowly to realize that I was actually going home on the very self-same flight that I had programmed. It was then that I began to process the information that I had in the back of my mind all the time: I was in another time zone and the hour's difference had worked to my advantage. I was exhausted, totally out of breath and soaking wet with perspiration dripping off me but I was on my flight and I was going home on "my" flight!
The aircraft was - without exaggeration - at least half empty with so many vacant places. I had my entire row to myself - as did many other passengers.
But it was not quite the end of my story! Five minutes after I sat down exhausted the Captain came on with an announcement that a minor fault had been discovered but the aircraft could not take-off until it had been attended to and the mechanics were working on it. It was estimated that the work would take approximately 40-50 minutes. In the end we took off at about 22:30 and we arrived at Ben Gurion at about 23:40 local time 25th September. During the flight I spent much of the flight working of my translation, having found the socket. Diana and Shmuel were on the way to pick me up with my car and I got home 01:10 26th September. What a wondeful time we had and what a suspenseful journey home but I wouldn't have missed it for anything: I wouldn't have missed that wedding and the visit to Colorado Springs for "all the tea in China" - or - as the Americans say - "all the gold in Fort Knox" - travel-stress and all.....!