Getting Home From Aspen
It’s Friday night and I am sitting in a hotel room in Grand Junction, CO, wondering how the heck I got here. I didn’t want to come to Grand Junction. I didn’t plan to come to Grand Junction… ever. (I also didn’t plan NOT to come to Grand Junction – it just never occurred to me to come here.)
But here I sit in a hotel room in Grand Junction, CO, wishing I was in my living room in Coarsegold, CA, which is where I had planned to be yesterday….
So what happened?
Well, it all started about a month ago. But I’ll start at 3:15 – AM – last Tuesday morning. That’s when the alarm clock went off, and I bounded from the bed and skipped to the bathroom to take a shower. I had a 6:10 AM flight to Phoenix, where I had a 10:00 AM flight to Aspen, where I would rent a car from a girl named Alicia so that I could drive to Basalt for a visit with a client.
It started out well (if you could call an alarm clock going of at 3:15 AM “well”). It seemed to go downhill from there, though. My long suffering wife, Judy, Had been up ‘til about midnight doing some work, and she needed to take me to the airport.
(I should interject, here, that her car had been in the shop for about a week, having a minor transmission overhaul/ solenoid/ pump/ pump drive/ torque converter/ pump bearing/ TCC solenoid/ sleeve/ harness/ output sensor/ transmission additive/ transmission fluid/ valve body kit/ overhaul kit/ intake manifold gasket replacement/ thermostat replacement/ coolant sensor replacement/ new gasket set/ antifreeze/ oil filter and motor oil job. I just got off the phone with her and she picked up her car – leaving my car plus $3,134.16 as ransom – and drove it home. She got four miles when the “Service Engine Soon” light came on… I shall refer to moments like this one as “Aarrghhh” moments…)
We had hoped that her car would be fixed by Monday night so she could avoid chauffeuring me to the airport and arriving at her job at 5:00 in the morning. (Judy is a librarian and there aren’t a lot of libraries open at 5:00 AM, so she was about half a day early for work.)
At any rate, I was ready to go at about 4:05 and she was just about ready to get out of the shower. This was an “Aarrghhh” moment. I was tense. She was just wet….
Somehow, we managed to get to the airport by about 5:00 (it’s a forty-two mile drive) and I was happy enough.
Made my 6:10 AM flight with no issues to report.
Made the connection with no issues to report.
Got the car and made the drive with no issues to report.
Got to my hotel, checked in, fired up my laptop, got a wireless internet connection and worked for the rest of the day with no issues to report.
Went to bed about 8:00 PM and watched TV for awhile with no issues to report.
Opened up my current book and was reading. First issue to report:
- I felt a slight disturbance in The Force in the form of something walking across the hairs on my arm. (You know how if something touches your hair you can feel it? – Not much, but just enough to know that something is out of place…)
- I looked, and sure enough, there was some sort of insect traversing my arm on the hairs that live there. It looked kind of like a mosquito, but it was black (A Gnat, perhaps?).
- Naturally, I evicted the offending creature with a slight – though crushing – swipe from my opposite hand.
- Then I happened to spy the lamp table next to the bed… There was another. In fact, there were five others crawling around the table. I quickly dispatched them with one of the Wendy’s napkins I had secured from the “restaurant” where I bought “dinner”.
- Then I found more buzzing around the lamp shade and the wall next to the table.
- This was indeed a surprise, but it afforded me a rare opportunity to partake of the manly sport of “hunting”.
Once I had eliminated all of the bugs I could see, I started looking for all of the ones I knew had to be present that I could NOT see. There were none in the bed or the bedding, as far as I could tell, but I did find a few dead ones around the homestead. It was like they had just “dropped like flies” or something…
Once my hunting expedition was over, I went back to bed, though I must say that I didn’t sleep well (I never do the first night or two out on business trips) – but now I had extra incentive to practice the fine art of insomnia. I kept “feeling” things crawl on me, but every time I checked it out there was no trespass occurring. I’m STILL feeling things crawl on me…
This was an “Aarrghhh” moment.
The next morning I arose early with the intention of getting some work done and checking email. (It was 5:30 AM local time, and I thought that someone an hour ahead of me might have had something important to say.)
I hit the “Send/Receive” button in Outlook in an effort to hurry along any impending incoming emergency news flashes that might be waiting to be read and replied to.
I didn’t remember if the “Send/Receive” button actually turned pink when I clicked on it (mine turns pink, though yours may turn a different hue), so I clicked it again just to make sure I had applied the exact amount of pressure required to suck in any waiting communications.
At this point it was time to perform the requisite early morning manly duties, but before heading off to the bathroom, I decided to click the “Send/Receive” button one more time – it had already been almost a minute since the last clicking – just to make sure I didn’t miss anything before I got distracted.
Something this time…
But NOT what I expected…
Down in the lower right hand corner there was a message that said “Disconnected”…
Well, I thought, I can fix that. And I could, too, if there had been a wireless network available with which to work, but there wasn’t (except for the infamous “Free Public WIFI” that is next to impossible to connect to. That’s probably why it’s free.) This made no sense to me – The “hotel network” was there yesterday and last night, so why isn’t it there now? I worked on it for two hours – all the way up to the time when I had to get ready for my first meeting with the client, and all I had to show for it were yellow eyes…
This was an “Aarrghhh” moment.
I figured the system must be temporarily down, got ready and left for the office expecting that the network would be up when I returned to my room.
When I arrived, I was greeted by my friend Jesse, and he led me to his office. We were talking in his office, and I noticed through the semi drawn blinds that it was snowing outside.
I exclaimed, “It’s snowing outside!”
“Yeah, we’re supposed to get about eight inches tonight,” he said.
“Do planes take off from Aspen if there’s that much snow?”
“Depends on what the conditions are like.”
I truly like, and enjoy being with, the people in this company, and this greatly mitigated what otherwise might have been an “Aarrghhh” moment.
Around 11:00, it was decided that lunch would be at 12:45 in a restaurant next door. Around 12: 05, I was talking with my friend of 20 years, Kate, and it was decided that I had overdressed for the occasion, and was sent back to my room to change to a pair of jeans (the hotel was just across the street). I went, and decided that I needed to check email. I figured that the system must be up by now, and was confident that I would be able to get some requests handled.
I fired up my computer and attempted to log into email.
I checked for the Hotel Network…
I decided to see if moving to another location would improve the situation…. I went to the side of the room closest to the hotel office, where I figured the router must be…
I finally decided that I would take my computer to the absolute “closest to the office” spot in the room…
The network appeared!!
There were only two things wrong with this:
- While the network appeared, there was no signal.
- Even if there was signal, I really didn’t want to be sitting on the toilet answering email.
I finally gave up and went to lunch, stopping on the way in the hotel office to report that the network was no longer available in my room.
“It’s not?” said the girl at the desk.
“No, mam, it’s not,” I responded.
“That’s strange,” she declared. “Well, it works here in the office, so you can come here to get email if you like.”
I was almost nearly late for lunch, so I simply thanked her and left.
This was an “Aarrghhh” moment.
For the next day, ‘til my flight was scheduled, I had no internet service in my room. When I wasn’t on site at the client location I spent lots of time in the office…
Thursday morning, the day that I was scheduled to get into the rental car, return it to Alicia in Aspen, get on a flight to Phoenix to catch a flight to Fresno, I was meeting with my friend Dustin (who had been out of the office the day before), and we were about to go grab a bite when my cell phone rang…
“Hypercom, this is Bill.”
“Hi Bill. This is Deborah in the travel department.”
Immediately, I felt an “Aarrghhh” moment coming on.
“I have some bad news,” she continued. ”Your flight out has been canceled.”
“Is there another flight available?”
“Not until tomorrow,” and she went on, “I even tried to get you on another airline. There’s just nothing available.”
“What time tomorrow,” I queried.
“The same time as the the one that was cancelled today,” she replied. “I took the liberty of getting you on that flight, if that’s OK.”
“Well, it sounds like there’s no choice. Thanks for booking it.”
This presented another problem. I had already checked out of my hotel, and they were booked.
“Deborah, I need a place to stay tonight.”
“Did you check out of your hotel?”
“Yes, and unfortunately they are booked tonight.”
“So you need a room for the night?”
“Uh… Yes, I do.”
She named some hotels and the prices and mentioned some of the extras that they offered. I mentioned that I would like to have one with reliable internet service so I could work in the morning. Other than that, I don’t need anything fancy. I picked the least expensive place that met my communications needs.
“I’ll see what I can do. Will you still be at this number for a few minutes?”
She had called my cell phone….
“I hope to be at this number for several years longer.”
We hung up. A few minutes later she called back. She had secured a room for me and gave me the name and address in Aspen.
This could have been an extreme “Aarrghhh” moment, but, again, these are great people to be with, so the “Aarrghhh-ness” was diminished.
When I was finished at the client location, I headed to Aspen (about an hour’s drive from Basalt in a snow storm). I checked into my hotel and immediately set up my computer. I selected the Hotel Network.
It disappeared before my very eyes. I was in the furthest room from the office…. I picked up my computer and started walking around the room, hoping to find the “sweet spot”.
Sadly, the network didn’t come back.
I walked outside into the weather with my computer, again, hoping to find the one place on Planet Earth where the hotel network would make itself available.
It didn’t come back.
This could have been a real bad “Aarrghhh” moment, but there were a bunch of other networks (including the ever present, but unattainable, “Free Public WIFI” network), and I thought I would give one of them a shot.
The “Gorman” network was a hit! I spent the rest of the day working while being connected with that network – Thank you Mr. or Ms. Gorman whoever you are….
I was happily bee-bopping along when, at about 4:30, it hit me…. I realized that the thing I fear most about travel had befallen me…
I had outstayed my supply of clean underwear….
I had enough socks, shirts, and everything else, but I was living in my last clean pair of skivvies.
This was truly an “Aarrghhh” moment of the second order (close in spelling to “odor” – a potentially bad one….)
I immediately got up, got on a jacket and started making my way through a veritable blizzard and out onto Main Street. I walked around the town of Aspen looking for a Wal-Mart or a Kmart or a Sears or some sort of department store. If there are any of those places in Aspen, I sure didn’t find them for six blocks on Main Street. And I didn’t find them on any of the streets three blocks either side of Main Street. I don’t believe they exist in Aspen.
There were lots of really expensive looking places, but I don’t wear anything that I saw in the windows. In fact, I don’t know any men who do. (There WAS a Vintage Guitar shop that caught my eye, and I made the detour and went in there, but didn’t see anything under $3100.00, so I didn’t stay long.) But there wasn’t anything else that looked like it might have what I was in the market for, so I avoided them all and headed back to my way back to my hotel, resigned to the idea that I was going to have to make some sort of unsavory decision regarding what to wear under my jeans the next day…
I had passed a pharmacy in my wanderings, a block from the hotel but decided that they wouldn’t be able to provide what I needed. But on my way back to the ranch, I decided to take a chance – after all, I didn’t have anything to loose and I might just luck out…
I walked in and was not immediately impressed. I DID find some tooth paste (on which I was running low) so I got that. I also found some drinks, so I picked up a bottle of water and some protein bars. I was getting discouraged when I happened upon a set of stairs and a sign that said “More Upstairs”. I went up and started looking all around. Up one isle and down the next until…
…I found socks…. And where there are socks, there are skivvies… And I found the make and model I prefer. The problem was that they were too small (because of my waist size).
The only ones in my size were of a style I have avoided my entire life. I looked further, and ended up doing something my wife does that I had promised myself I would never do – I pulled everything off the shelf looking for “my” style in my size.
It just wasn’t there. I had only three choices
- Buy them
- Wear dirty underwear
- You figure it out
I was desperate. They came in packages of three. I bought them.
This morning I donned one pair…. I have changed my mind… I will never go back.
I’m not telling.
I was up at 3:00 this morning because I just couldn’t sleep, so I decided to check my email for any important messages from other insomniacs.
No more Gorman. Only a couple of secure networks – neither of which was the hotel network – and an un-secure one called the “Sardy” network. No bars… Oh yeah, and the ubiquitous and useless “Free Public WIFI” – Man, I hate that thing….
I couldn’t go back to sleep so I tried counting guitars (really, I did – I freely admit I have an illness) and that didn’t help. In fact, in my case, that’s a little dangerous (refer to “My Accidental Guitar”)….
I was about done packing at about 8:00 when my personal cell phone rang (I carry two – one for work and one for personal use). It was Judy calling to say “Good Morning” and to confirm that my plane was going to land at 6:10. While we were talking, my work phone rang….
“Hi Bill, this is Deborah in the travel department…”
This was an “Aarrghhh” moment of the second stage, first order – there are not many worse than that…
Yes, my flight had been canceled again.
“When can I get out?”
“I have got you on a United flight at 12:24 this afternoon. Goes to Denver then LA then Fresno tonight at 9:10.” “But,” she went on, “I couldn’t get you a seat so you have to get there as quickly as possible to get a seat assignment. In fact, you should be there by 10:00.”
I said, “I’m already packed, I’ll go now.”
In the mean time, Judy’s call had dropped. I called her back and told her the change of plans. Then I ran out the door and dragged everything through the snow and went to the office. I checked out, got my receipt and headed to the car. I got everything loaded up and headed toward the airport.
There is a gas station just across the highway from the airport that charges about twice the national average price for gas, as far as I can tell. I needed to fill up the car (the needle still pointed above full – I didn’t drive it that much) so I pulled in. I got out and went to open the fuel door only to find that it needed to be released from inside the car.
I leaned in from the driver’s side and opened the glove compartment – no buttons…
I looked around the steering column and found it – cool….
I pressed it and heard the latch release, so I went to pull the thing open. It wasn’t released. I tried again. Made the same encouraging sound, but with the same discouraging result… I tried to stretch from the button to the door to see if I could push the button and pull the door at the same time – Muhammad Ali couldn’t reach that far….
This was an “Aarrghhh” moment.
I made a remark to myself that has the general meaning of “Never mind”, and got into the car and took off across the street to the airport, parked the car in space number five, went into the airport to the rental desk and waited a couple of minutes. There was a note on the phone that instructed customers to call this number during business hours, so I did. The guy on the other end was just on his way back and would be here in about five minutes.
That being the case, I went directly to the United counter and announced that I was ready to check in. They found my name, but not my ticket. The transfer had been started by US Air, but not completed. They dragged me down to the US Air counter and asked me to wait there while the Frontier employee went out back to see if the USA lady was hiding out there. They found her, and came back to let me know.
The USA lady came started typing on keys. She found me, but wasn’t really the ticket counter person, so she called their customer service desk for help
They told her that the reservation had already been pushed to United and that they had control. They also gave her the United customer service phone number to give the United personnel.
Then we both went to the United counter…
She explained to them that they had control and the ball was in their court. They got on the phone with the help desk and, after about another ten minutes, I had my boarding passes (three of them), my luggage checked and I was ready to go! Yeehawww!
At that point I went back to the car rental counter where I found the car rental man. I turned in my keys and I explained about the gas door not opening. He said he would go out and check it as he was leaving to go out and check it. Five minutes later he returned, and smilingly reported, “Seems to be working now.”
This was an ”Aarrghhh” moment.
However, he also reported that the needle was still above full and he wasn’t going to charge me for gas.
This was NOT an “Aarrghhh” moment.
It was a little before 10:00 by then, and the security check point was closed ‘til 11:30. I hadn’t eaten, so I got some breakfast. Once I had eaten, I found a comfortable spot, directly under a bronze sculpture of John Denver’s head and popped open my laptop.
Holy cow!!! I could do email – and it was free – and it worked!
This was NOT an “Aarrghhh” moment.
I feverishly did email, picked up calls from my office voice mail and made calls until the magic 11:30 hour came about…
I got in line to go through security…. I removed my shoes, all the metal on my person and threw all the usual things into the trays to be passed through the x-ray machine. I showed my ID and boarding pass…
“I need a male searcher,” came the scream from the girl who was checking me through. “Stop the conveyor belt and take all of this guy’s stuff off.”
I had to go through the “patting down” process – they didn’t “wand” me because I had not set off the alarm – and have all my stuff dusted and tested for explosives. Then they brought my clothes back to me (well, my coat and shoes) and let me have them back. I also got to watch as they scanned everything else, and then dump everything out of my backpack and inspect it. It was at that moment that I wished that I had stuck my dirty underwear in my back pack.
Well, I finally got everything put back together and started up my computer again.
It was a little after 12:00, when the announcement came:
“Attention all passengers on flight xxxx to Denver. This flight has been canceled. All passengers on this canceled flight will be placed on the stand-by list for the next flight. Unfortunately, all flights are completely booked ‘til Tuesday, and we recommend that you find other transportation to Denver. That is all.”
This was an “Aarrghhh” moment.
I packed up my computer and left the boarding area…
The line at the United Ticket Counter was fairly lengthy. It had people checking in for the next flight to Denver, and everybody from my own, canceled flight waiting for assistance.
Then came another announcement:
“Attention passengers from the canceled United flight xxxx to Denver… If you would like to continue to wait in the boarding area on a standby basis, please come to the baggage claim area to claim your baggage from the canceled flight and re-check it at the ticket counter.”
It was beautiful… If you wanted to stay on the standby list, you had to leave the boarding area, pick up your luggage, get back in line at the ticket counter, check it again, and then go back through the security checkpoint. The flight was oversold, there were probably 50 or 60 people on the stand-by list for the next flight and your chances of getting a seat were about the same as my chances of ever (willingly) coming to Aspen (on business) in any month other than June, July, or August – maybe September – again.
I called the travel department. Deborah wasn’t there, but Rafael was. I explained my dilemma. We traded thoughts for several minutes. He looked up everything out of Aspen for the next several days. Nothing. Zero. Nada. Zippo.
He was going to do some further research and call me back. He also asked me if I wanted him to get me a hotel for the night. I said it looked like I would need one. We hung up.
I went to the car rental desk – Nobody was there, but they came back about 5 minutes later. I gave them some “what ifs” and we talked about various scenarios:
- How long a drive is it to Fresno from Aspen? – Probably a little over 20 hours. But Enterprise doesn’t rent cars to go one way out of state. We talked about Avis…
- How long is the drive to Denver? – In this weather, probably about 5 ½ hours. That wasn’t bad. How was the road? – Probably slow and crowded – Are there guard rails over the pass? – There are wide spots (In my mind, at that altitude, in those conditions, there is no such thing as a “wide enough” spot – I HATE high places)
I thanked them and returned to the ticket counter line, which was considerably shorter by then and got up to the counter fairly quickly.
I told the lady who had helped me earlier that I wanted to check my luggage again and go standby. Just then two things happened:
- The announcement came that the next flight had been fully checked, and that the entire stand-by list was being moved to the next flight.
- Rafael called me back.
He asked me where I was. I told him that I was attempting to re-check my bags with United, and he asked me if I could see the US Air counter from where I was.
“Yes,” I said.
“Can you get there easily?”
I had started walking when he first asked if I could see it – actually, you could lean a bit to the left you would be in front of it. I was already there…
There were three people manning the counter, and I was the only “passenger”. I made an announcement of my own:
“Which one of you ladies would like to talk with my travel department?”
Well, none of them wanted to, but I translated what needed to be said.
Somehow, they managed to get all of the arrangements that had been transferred to United transferred back to US Air. They had two seats left on a flight tomorrow (Saturday) to Phoenix, and from there they could get me to Fresno. But the flight was from Grand Junction, not Aspen.
Rafael told me that he had gotten me a room at the same hotel I was in last night – and for $40.00 less than the night before. I asked him if it was under the same 30 day cancellation policy and he said he didn’t know, but he would find out. I told him to cancel it if he could.
This could have been an “Aarrghhh” moment.
If he had gotten me a non-cancelable reservation, and I had a chance to get away before Tuesday if I didn’t have a non-cancelable reservation, it would have been yet another “Aarrghhh” moment.
As it was, he was able to cancel without penalty.
At 2:30, a van showed up and loaded about 8 of us and headed out to Grand Junction. The airline paid for it, the hotel and meals (which I missed because I’m writing this… But I can stand to miss a meal).
About an hour after we left Aspen, someone flagged the van driver and told him that the right front tire of the vehicle was very low. We stopped a few miles up the road and, sure enough, it was pretty low.
He was attempting to add air, but the van had the wrong hub cap on the tire, and the nozzle on the air hose wouldn’t quite fit the space. And he didn’t have a tire iron with which to remove the hub cap.
I was looking at it and decided to give it a shot. I thought I had the nozzle forced into position and squeezed the trigger. Sounded good. Unfortunately, the sound we all heard was not the sound of air going into the tire… It was the sound of air coming out of the tire….
This had the potential of being a fist stage; first order “Aarrghhh” moment. However, I left enough air in the tire to get us across the street to a Shell station with a mechanic on duty.
Tire fixed, we proceeded on to Grand Junction. We got to the hotel, I checked in. My flight leaves at about 12:00 tomorrow afternoon….
And that’s how the heck I came to be in a hotel room in Grand Junction, CO….
To Hear The Song Inspired By This Trip, Just Click On The Link Below – Comin Home To You…
Comin Home To You