Dana and I left our house just after five on Saturday morning, and drove along the empty roads to the airport, where we parked the car, and made our way into the terminal. It was very busy. We were both 'Pre'd', so the queue was slightly shorter. However, it was Dana, this time, that was chosen for a 'random pat down'. It did not take long for the security agent to run a wand 'up and over' my husband's extended frame.
We were going to Denver, Colorado, to see the Rockies. I was quite excited on several levels, not least that Denver International Airport has become my third home, almost catching up with Houston/Bush International for the airport in which I have spent the most time. I have run through, been delayed at, deplaned and boarded at Denver more times than I care to count! It was going to be an experience to actually walk out of the airport! The interesting thing was that I have always 'connected' at Denver, flying direct from Austin, but as I was actually going to Denver, we had a connection through Houston!
The plane out of Austin was late arriving into our Capital city, coming from Los Angeles. When it did eventually land, the usual inspections and cleaning had to take place before we could board. Our layover in Houston was nearly four hours, so we had decided to have breakfast once we arrived. The delay, therefore, did not affect us.
After breakfast, we found our gate, and waited while the gate crew attempted to get some travelers to 'stay behind' as they were in an 'oversold' situation. I am unsure as to how they manage this, but the offer of a later flight, with compensation, was not unappealing, as it would only be an hour later. It appeared that we were not first on the list, and although I gave my name, the man at the station was not particularly interested in me. We boarded when called, and did not offer to deplane when asked, "Is there anyone who would like to take a later flight, with compensation". We sat in our bulkhead seats, quite content. I crocheted, and Dana looked out of the window.
The flight was just under two hours. We deplaned, made our way to the exit, and it was then that I realised why I had never made my way out of the airport at Denver. It is not possible! The signs were rather aloof, and when we finally found one that pointed in the right direction, (I wondered if they, the signs, were left over from a conflict, where they were trying to confuse the enemy,) we went down the stairs and got on the train to the 'terminal'. Only it was not 'the terminal' where we exited. I spoke to a 'help' person, who said, quite simply, "You are in the wrong place". Clearly! "Perhaps you could tell me where I can go to leave the airport", I asked, considering it not to be too much of an imposition for him to 'help', as he was situated at the 'Help Desk'. Perhaps this was classified information, as he gave a heavy sigh, and said, "You need to take the train". Take the train where? Down the escalators we went, again, boarded the train, and finally came to the exit.
The car hire place was supposedly on site. Or was it? The sign was clear above the unmanned booth, with a small placard on the desk, 'Go to island 4'. I was starting to regret coming to Denver! Island 4 was not marked, or at least not so as we could see, but the buses for our car hire facility were queuing up. "How are you today?", Dana asked the driver. "It's been a long hard day, and it ain't over yet", she replied, without a smile. The doors closed on the bus, and she took us to the compound.
"I have been here for nearly an hour and a half", was the first thing we heard as we entered the building, where the queue was almost out of the door. With sixty people in line, and three people, manning the desk, it was going to be a long wait. I started to giggle. This was like something out of the Twilight Zone. The 'preferred' customers were told that there were no cars available in their 'special' lot, and they had to stand in line with the 'unpreferred'. Signs depicting the convenience of being 'preferred' were dotted around the walls, and smiling faces of customers being handed keys were displayed encouragingly. Nowhere, did the posters say, "Pay for this service, and queue up with the masses". Somehow, I think that would not be productive! Eventually, the couple in front of us reached the front of the line. I asked, with an element of humour in my question, "You are together, aren't you? You are not going to be going to separate windows?" The female of the twosome answered, "Oh yes. And even if we were not when we came in, we would be now. In fact, we would probably have gotten engaged, and married, and are now leaving to go on our honeymoon"!
When we finally got our car, we attempted to find our way out of the airport vicinity. "Turn left and you are on the road to your hotel", said the lady at the kiosk as Dana handed her the contract to confirm our departure. We turned left. We were still on the airport perimeter road. "There is an exit sign", I said, dubiously. We followed the sign, and headed towards our temporary dwelling place.
All that had taken place before, the delays, and queues, paled into insignificance, as the hotel was probably one of the most luxurious, and palacious, I have ever stayed. Although there was not a jacuzzi in the bedroom, the bathroom was enormous, and housed a large round bath, a spacious walk in shower, a double vanity and of course, a comode. The bedroom was large, and there were two proper wardrobes as opposed to the rail with a couple of hangers in the corner! The fridge had bottles of 'complimentary' water, and the coffee machine was accompanied by many varieties of beverages for our consumption. The bed had many pillows, both functional and decorative, and there was enough drawer space to facilitate a very long stay!
Dana would have happily gone 'exploring' on Saturday afternoon, but I was aware of the hours he had been working, and how he would rather just sit and veg for a while. I told him that I was happy to leave the 'heavy duty' weekend holidays to those I take with Samantha, and as the previous weekend was packed with fun, and 'non-stop', I was happy to sit in the glorious surroundings of the lounge in the hotel. At five o'clock, the bar staff came round to the tables in the elegant salon, and invited us to join them in a complimentary cocktail, or beverage of our choice. Aware of the altitude in Denver, (which is nicknamed the 'mile high' city,) I chose to stick to the cranberry juice! "Please help yourself to snacks", the waitress said as she brought our glasses to the table. I did. Dana saw the popcorn machine, and that was 'all she wrote', as far as he was concerned. After devouring the spinach dip, crudites, and chips, I returned to sample the 'bite size' beef wellington! Why were we going out for dinner? Would I have room left for dinner? The lure of bison was quite overwhelming, and I limited my intake of delicious hors d'oeuvres, to but a few.
Dressing up was not necessary, but we did! Wearing shoes, it would appear, was not necessary, but we did! The restaurant we had chosen was within walking distance from the hotel, and I was rather surprised when Dana suggested that we walk, as he is normally opposed to the concept. Two blocks is as good as a mile in his opinion, but he yielded to my preference, and strolled the two hundred yards. The booth was rather splendid, as was the menu. My choice was threefold, if I was to sample the local carnivorous options, and whilst I was tempted to select the one that offered the smallest cut, I chose the rib-eye. Fourteen ounces of bison is not as filling as that of cow. I did not finish the entire steak, but the amount that was left on my plate would not have been enough to feed a child! Our waiter was originally from Austin, but had not returned since his departure in 2002, and was rather pained to hear that his last place of employment was no longer! We told him of the 'improvements' that were taking place, both on the roads, and skyline, and we all commiserated at the 'progress'.
The short walk back to the hotel was followed by devouring the 'birthday' dessert that our waiter had insisted on supplying, and one we felt we could not manage to digest whist in the surroundings of the restaurant. The minor distance from eatery to home had restored our appetite. As the popcorn machine was still churning, Dana ignored his better judgment and scooped up another basketful to accompany the cookie and ice-cream!
Sunday started reasonably early. I swam at 7am, and then we went to see what was on offer for breakfast. Still rather full from the previous night's meal, my husband ate meagerly, whilst I feasted on eggs, toast and cereal, with fruit and concoctions that looked, and tasted most appetising. Reluctantly, we left our grandeur surroundings, and drove towards the 'main event'. We had tickets for the Silver Plume train ride. We followed the map (as we were unsure as to whether the signs would actually take us there!) and enjoyed the beautiful scenery en-route. The traffic was fast moving to begin with, but slowed down to a crawl, as roads steeped upward, and then sloped down. The elevation rose three thousand feet, from our starting point, and it was easy to see why some vehicles appeared to be reluctant to be challenged! Eventually, we arrived at the station, parked the car, and walked to the ticket office. Despite being last in line for the 'parlour car', we were seated at a very nice table, by an open window, in a carriage that although fairly authentic, had been modernized for our comfort. The Georgetown Loop is an original railroad, completed in the late nineteenth century, and connected the towns of Georgetown and Silver Plume. Although only two miles apart, the terrain was rocky, and the roads would not have been conducive to early motor vehicles, should they have been available at the time! The engineering feat was incredible, as we witnessed when rattling over the deep ravines. The views both up and down were breathtaking, and the journey took a little over an hour. The ticket collector, in true nineteenth century fashion, came and punched our cards, before heading out to the open aired trucks to take the tickets of those who were not travelling first class. The bottled water, packet of crisps and chocolate chip cookies that we were given as part of the elite package, were not authentic! However, they were enjoyed!
Arriving back at the station, Dana congratulated me on my composure, and ability to enjoy the experience, without fretting that we were on a precarious looking track, which did not appear to have the strength to hold a matchbox car, let alone a heavy steam engine! I assured him that it was the whistling morse code of the letter "Q" for "Queen", that was the reason. Apparently, in the early days of the railroad, the engineer would whistle the "Q" to let the other trains know that the Queen was on board, and they had the right of way. Although they thought the Queen was no longer riding in the carriage, I knew differently! After all, it was my birthday weekend! I could dream!
Tempting as it was, I resisted the 'souvenir' shop, and we headed back towards Aurora. I did want to experience some of the local sights and I was, once again, placated. We drove to Lookout Mountain, and were greeted by the guide, who resembled (although somewhat older) Jerry, our process server. He gave us a brief history of the area, and told us that the best views would be along the road, at the place that hosts 'Buffalo Bill's' grave. The lady behind the desk asked where I was from, as she detected an accent. I told her that I had lived in Austin for nearly twelve years, and we discussed the different climates. Colorado has four seasons. Austin has one, which can encompass all four in one day. I said that we are situated in a very pretty part of the city, and there is some very pretty scenery. "We even have a mountain", caused a hearty laugh from the listener. "How big", was the comment that caused me to mumble. In comparison to those around us, I had to admit, "Not very". It would not even extend to half the elevation we had risen to on our ride to Georgetown! However, it was our mountain, and we were proud of it! Everyone appeared to be amused at my pride!
Buffalo Bill may, or may not be buried at the site along the road from the couple who found me to be so entertaining! As we strode up the steps to see the tombstone, the controversy thickened. "He is in Wyoming", said one man to his wife. It appears she was unconcerned as to the actual location, as her camera clicked, and the pictures she took would differ from his statement. "Anyone can put a tombstone down", he continued, as her camera continued to click. It mattered not to me. I was a tourist, and this was a tourist trap!
Returning to the hotel, we ventured around the area to spot a likely place for dinner. "This is not right", Dana announced, as he took the turn off the highway, and drove to where he thought we should be going. Once again, we were in the Twilight Zone, and the roads did not match up with the map. "Perhaps we took the wrong exit" was not listed in the top ten reasons as to why we were not able to find our hotel! I never argue with my husband when it comes to reading maps. I simply glow in smugness when he says, in his own way of humbleness, "Oh shut up!"
After snacks, spring rolls and more crudites, with dip, we went back to the room to get changed for the evening. We had a choice of going to the Outback, where we had a modicum of assurance that dinner would be good, or we could try the unknown, and head towards the local restaurant, similar to the 'TGI', or 'Appleby's' chain, and take a chance. A chance we took, and enjoyed our dinner very much! A birthday dessert was offered, but declined. We drove there and back, as the few extra yards did pose a problem to my husband, who considered that we had walked a fair distance during the day. I told him that we barely broke into a stride, let alone a sweat, with the small amount of legwork that we experienced! However, marriage is about compromise, and on that we agree!
Breakfast on Monday was, once again, wonderful, and as I wore my 'stars and stripes' shirt, adorning my 'birthday girl' badge, many wished me many happy returns, and I was a 'happy camper'. We packed up our belongings, took one last look at our delightful chamber, and left to head towards the airport. Returning the car was very simple, and we rode the bus to the airport, where we alighted and stood in line for the security check. "You need to be over there!", said the nice guard, to Dana. He further commented that if there was any way in which he could explain that my husband was under twelve years of age, he would have gladly let him through with me in the 'Pre' line. Dana did not argue this time, and smiled politely as he was led into the distant queue.
Being upgraded to first class was quite the delight, considering it was my birthday, and once we had negotiated the train system, and arrived at terminal B, we sat and waited for 'Group 1' to be called. We sat in our larger seats and put our bags in the overhead bins, rather than gate-checking them, as we would have no doubt had to do, had we been in the other section. The young man in the front seat was slightly perturbed that there was no room in the bin above his seat, and I offered him the space under his chair, which was meant for my bag. The stewardess was most impressed. "We are not allowed to suggest that first class customers move their bags, or offer space in front of them". I was quite amazed. It appears that 'money talks' in this particular instance, and those that pay for the privilege, do not want to abide by the rules that apply to others. I told her that I had been upgraded, and even if I had purchased the more extravagant seat, I would have no problem in her advising or suggesting a more practical solution. The passenger in front of me was very grateful for the space under the chair, which meant that he did not have to wait for the seatbelt sign to be extinguished before claiming his bag.
After a non eventful flight, we deplaned, and walked to our car. Once home, we unpacked and headed out north to Samantha. Edward was busy tending to the grill when we arrived, and I was given gifts and cards, from my daughter, and a couple of framed picture cards from my son. I felt very blessed! Dinner was delicious, and whilst we did not stay to see fireworks (as the main event, apparently, was held on Sunday) we saw many on the way home. I did not need to go 'downtown' to witness more displays, despite Dana's offer to drive me to a suitable location. The relief at my rejection to the offer was more evident than he realised! Instead, I settled for a cup of tea, and an ice-cream cone! Bliss!
Heading into another four day week, I arrived at work on Tuesday to a decorated office. Balloons, banners and streamers were all over the room, and a cake awaited me, care of my very caring daughter! It had been another wonderful 4th July, and I was grateful for the opportunity to celebrate it in the country where it means more than any other. Happy Independence Day, America!
Normality was once again on the cards, and I was looking forward to it! The week ahead would not be full of anxiety and plane travel, but I would be looking for a flight home in the not too distant future. The weekend ahead was going to be reasonably quiet, or so I thought, but then again, that is .............. another story!