I moved to California from Chicago in late September. Needless to say my social circle in Cali wasn't much when Christmas/New years holidays came around. So I was reliant on my friends from Chicago and moreover, I missed them and wanted to spend time with them during the holidays. It was during Thanksgiving holidays that I thought to plan ahead and set up something for new years. I had Vegas in mind and since then, I'd been reminding Ritesh, Rastogi and Sreejit for making arrangements. While they kept procrastinating, I witnessed the rise in flight ticket and hotel prices. I wasn't too worried because in the worst case I can take a bus from San Jose/ SFO or I can just drive, plus the hotel room charges when split between 4-5 people, doesn't hurt much. It was only for them that the flight tickets were a concern. They had their own reasons to delay but the bottom line was that it wasn't until Christmas eve that we all came together to plan something out.
Vegas was out of question becuase flights from Chicago were no less than 600-700 bucks. Ritesh and Sreejith were hesitant. Rastogi had just been employed after months of trying so it was unreasonable for him to shell out buttload of money on this. It was finally of no use to plan something 2-3 months ahead of time when you've got friends like them. Sigh!
I proposed to spend new years in Chicago and that I don't mind travelling which would also save money but Ritesh was against it. He had a record that he has not spent new years in Chicago since he has been there which is 3 years now. He wanted to maintain that record. Driving to nearby places is also not viable because quite simply, there are no decent places around Chicago to spend new years.
Ritesh and Sreejith looked up in internet and found out that Puerto Rico is the second best place to spend new years. The first being New Orleans which we had already covered in 2012. Although Chicago-PR is still 600-700 bucks but other expenses, like hotel , club cover fee etc is cheaper than Vegas.
When I looked up SFO-PR, I lost all hope. The tickets were atleast 1000 bucks and its one whole day of only travelling. More than the price, its the 12hr travel time one way that bumped me off. When I'm spending a grand, I don't want to spend only 2 days in PR and another 2 days in air.
I sensed that someplace between Cali and Chicago would be ideal. I had Texas in my mind mostly because of the warm weather. Sreejith lived in Tx for 2 years and he wasn't too excited about it but when Denver was thrown into the pot, Chicago sensed a possibility. I wasn't too keen on going to Denver and I had my reasons. First of all, weather. No body from California would go to Denver in the middle of winter. Its insane. Its actually the other way round. California is warm and sunny. It was only the other day I went out for groceries in a t-shirt and shorts. Denver reminded me of Chicago where I'd be wrapped in 4 layers of clothing whenever I go out. Even to sit on my patio, I needed a blanket and hot cup of tea. Second, whats Denver special for? New Years? I'd like to see that top-50 list of New Years celebration in US which has Denver in it.
Chicago decided Denver is the best option for them. They can drive which would allow them to return to work on 2nd Jan, plus everything else is cheap, plus its beautiful and above all, they'll not be in Chicago. Weather-wise, it was an upgrade. I think with the cold in Chicago, everywhere else you go, you feel warmer. That leaves me. The only thing keeping me into this was the chance to hang out with my old buddies. I don't like cold, I don't fancy winter at all but the warmth of friends was comforting and it was either Denver or staying home. I chose former. I booked my tickets. I was to arrive in Denver on 28th Dec (Sat) at 9:30pm and depart on 1st Jan (Wed) at 3pm. Ritesh and co. will start driving at 6am and hopefully they'll be there when I land.
Saturday, Dec 28th: Denver, CO
I woke up today with a sense of purpose. A good feeling that I'm going out for the holidays. Taking leave from work wasn't difficult. My manager, before she went on vacation, had assured me of time off if I needed one. I had assurances from Ritesh that they'll be in Denver by the time I arrive but I know them better. When he said they plan to start at 6am or may be even earlier I knew then that this is not happening. On normal weekends, they never get out of bed before 11am and 6am is a far cry. To be able to wake up at 5, they must be in bed by 10pm which is not going to happen. They are 4 of them and if a whisky/rum bottle is thrown in, they'll actually go to bed at 5am. I've lived those moments myself in my 3yrs in Chicago with them and boy, do I miss those nights. After I woke up, I thought to ask if they already left but I did not bother. Even if they start at 10am, there isn't much I can do from here, except board my flight and arrive at the usual time. I took the train to the airport. SFO is 50mi from my home and San Jose is only 5 but I didn't find a cheap and convenient flight from there so had to fly from SFO. On reaching the airport I found out my flight is 30minutes delayed. That was actually a relief because that meant I had to wait less in Denver airport.
I am in Denver now and its 10pm. I pinged Ritesh for status. They are 2-3hrs away. Ritesh, Rastogi and Sreejit are accompanied by Varun (Rites/Rastogi's undergraduate friend) and Zain (Sreejit's friend). I got the hotel info from Ritesh and before I took a cab, I thought to ask the hotel if they have a shuttle service to/fro from airport. As a matter of fact, they did. After some inquiries and couple of minutes of waiting I found their shuttle van and got in. It barely had any space left and It was packed after I took up the passenger seat in front. A few yards ahead, another couple, who also were waiting for the shuttle, didn't take it lightly that they got a shuttle after waiting 45mins and then its full. The dude was seriously pissed off and before he finished expressing his feelings he slammed the rear view mirror on the passenger side (where I was sitting) and broke the glass. I wasn't hurt but before I could hurl some abuses, he was already gone. The driver, a young women working for the hotel front desk, was equally shocked. It was pouring down that night and snow everywhere. The cold is back. Damn! I'm shivering already. Denver, you better have something fun for me. I'm from Cali, after all.
Soon, I'm in my hotel room. Nice and warm. I quickly changed into my PJs, tucked myself in a blanket and turned on the TV. I'm warming my bed but I can't sleep because I know Ritesh and Co. will be here in couple of hours. I didn't want to wake up soon after I'm asleep. That leaves a bad feeling in me. Alas, I get the call. They ask me to come down and come along for dinner anywhere nearby. I denied. I was just too comfortable and lazy to come down now when they could just instead carry some to-gos and we all can eat in the room. That they did and finally we all meet. I am introduced to Varun and Zain, and I was glad to see familiar faces in Ritesh, Sree and Rastogi. Good old times are back again. We had food, booze, TV, cards and some great company. The next 4hrs of fun was worth the whole trip. Tons of gossip, usual taunts, jokes both poor and awesome, under influence, win or loose, it was a fun filled quality time. By the time we all went down to sleep land, it was 5am.
Sunday, Dec 29th: Driving from Denver to Glenwood Springs
I do not suffer hangovers and I'm very irregular in my sleep hours. I woke up at 6:30am, thanks to a phone call from my brother, back in India. After the call, it was Liverpool's day at the Etihad stadium for a 1-on-1 fight with Man City. I couldn't miss this game even if I could. I'm totally immersed in the game and soon enough Reds score. I'm jumping up and down in the room, albeit very quietly. Fist bumps into air, imaginary punches and kicks but remaining within the confines of silence, not to wake up my sleeping friends. My efforts are in vain as Varun is up. He is now enjoying the match with me and soon Sree joins in. Sree and Rastogi are football followers so I didn't have to explain the game. Although we lost 2-1, it was an entertaining match nonetheless. Kudos to Liverpool for putting up a fine show. Few days ago City pasted Arsenal 6-3 and it was part dull, not to mention the most boring match ever that followed few days later, Arsenal-Chelsea but Liverpool didn't disappoint me. They created doubts in Man City's heart that they can loose too. The loss did hurt but it was not much of any damage. The Merseyside has played some good football against other teams and they had the cushion to loose to Man City and not hurt their top-4 ambitions.
The brunch happening in a nearby ihop, we made a pitstop at a walmart store because Rastogi needed a sun glass. He forgot his in Chicago and didn't want his pictures in the backdrop of beautiful Colorado mountains without a shade enhancing his handsomeness. Few extra awesomeness, 25 bucks only.
I was on the driving seat for the trip to Glenwood Springs. Staying in Aspen was very expensive and GS is 50mi away from Aspen. The choice was easy. I didn't partake much in planning out stuff. Zain only seemed to enjoy it or maybe he was forced into it seeing that everybody else is so lazy.
Oh Colorado didn't disappoint. Picturesque snow covered mountains on either side, valleys, rivers, tunnels. The drive had everything. Six best friends, with 4 of them somehow managing to fit themselves in the back seat, good and loud music and view outside to die for. Perfect opportunity to stop at a gas station and click some snaps. Everybody anticipates a breathtaking profile picture. Group pictures are formality, selfies is the new trend. We encountered Mt Evans scenic drive off the I-70 and it was criminal to let go of opportunities for more selfies. Even though the sign board said the road to the summit of Mt Evans is closed, we didn;t care. Lets follow the drive as long as we can. It was not a bad call. The drive is what matters. Driving uphill on the snow covered roads and hills left right and front, it all made it memorable. But we are not to trust on our memory and relied on DSLR instead. Finally we reached the frozen lake and the logs of wood with 'Closed' written in lock letters. The chilled wind gusts outside did not deter us to come out of the SUV, and click pictures. Everybody is looking for the perfect background and the signature pose to go with it. We are instructing whoever is holding the camera about the angles, and lighting, zoom and focus and everything in between. Group and selfies alike, each picture is taken with a passion. The cameraman thinks he is a professional and the dude in front of him thinks he is Mr Handsome. The sun is fast going down and temperature is dropping like we drop saliva when we see a bikini clad damsel. Time to head back. Inside the car, everybody is blowing into their fingers and each others' ears.
It was 9pm when we reached Glenwood Springs. After it gets dark, when the scenic views are not visible anymore and the visibility is confined to the range of headlights, which was very very poor by the way, it doesn't matter whether you are driving in Colorado or some highway in Indiana or Iowa. From 6pm onwards, my views were only of the highway roads and vehicles in front of me.
In Glenwood, we booked two rooms. After dinner in a nearby Thai restaurant, it was time to setup the booze, card games, TV and tons of garbage discussions. We broke off at 4am for bed, little earlier for our standards.
Monday, Dec 30th: Skiing is busted but Aspen and Hot springs rocked.
I woke up early, but it doesn't really matter. When the rest of your entourage doesn't wake up until another 3-4hrs, you are on your own actually. I kept myself busy with TV and soccer news. At 11, we left for breakfast and from there, went to the ski rental place. Its 12:30pm. The store owner saw the crowd that we were and was concerned. The ski place is open till 4pm and by the time we are done with fittings etc, it will be 2pm. Do we really want to ski today? Do we really want to shell out 60 bucks for ski pass and another 50 for rental, just for 2 hours of skiing? I don't think so. Promising each other that we will start the day tomorrow at 8am so that we have full day of skiing, we left the store. Again, I wasn't too optimistic but the thought that everybody wants to atleast ski before leaving Denver, gave me a small hope that may be the folks will be able to leave the hotel at 8.
Now, what to do next? We had the whole day ahead of us. Me made some inquiries for snowmobile rentals but all in vein. It was booked everyplace and the ones where it was available, it was too far for us to make it in time for their tour. So now, skiing and snowmobile, both are busted.
We went to Aspen. Ritesh and Sreejit had heard alot about the place. No one else knew about Aspen before the trip. Aspen did not disappoint. It is a very small city, comparable to a suburb of Chicago but surrounded by snow covered hills. The place was buzzing with pretty girls. They don't know what cold is because their clothes did not cover their legs. There was a hill directly overlooking the city and it was filled with skiers. A few blocks away, there was an ice rink and cute little girls were showing off their skating skills. Then there was 100-odd years old heritage hotel. I thought it'd be a museum of some sort, turned out its a proper hotel with rooms and business like any other hotels. We went in and clicked some pictures. It was getting cold and we were hungry. Ritesh wanted to eat Indian. He is a big fan of samosas, momos etc and regularly ventures to Indian restaurants to satisfy his cravings. A Nepalese restaurant was near Glenwood Springs we we decided to head back.
In the restaurant we saw Martina Navratilova. We were into our food when some blonde women went to the front desk and picked up a box, which I suppose was full with her order. Nobody else in the restaurant bat an eyelid. Rastogi drew out attention to the lady and said she is Martina. Martina who? Sreejit and Ritesh were not sure but Varun and Zain supported Rastogi. Is she, is she not? Not to mention we were all trying to sneak a glance of her. Her back was to us. Before we got the second glance of her, she was on her way out and yes, this time everybody agreed it was her. She was already out and in her car so there was no point chasing her. We are decent people after all and we are not paid for this. Just to make sure that we indeed came across a celebrity this close, we asked the waiter who helped her with her box and he said it was her, Martina N. I'm positive she came for Aspen. There is nothing out there anyway.
Glenwood springs has a hot water natural spring. With nothing better to do, we decided to soak ourselves in some hot springs. I had been to a natural hot water spring before, near Manali in India and I was utterly disappointed. Manali springs was going to be my first experience and I had imagined I'd see a hole in the ground from where hot water would be pouring out and the place properly built for tourists to see the natural springs in action. Instead when I went there, I saw a small size pool, not even a proper swimming pool size but I'd say three bath tubs length and width filled with hot water. People said the actual hole is way up in the hill and that they have made arrangements to collect that hot water in here. This is the hot springs. What a waste. There were loads of half naked dudes and kids playing in the pool and it was very congested. There are billions people in India and every tourist attraction is overloaded with tourists. So was this one. I went into the pool but I had to be careful. If I stretch my arms and legs too far, I'd touch the dude in front of me. And the water, it was so dirty, even a bacteria wouldn't survive. It was very disgusting feeling and I got out as soon as I can.
Compare that experience to this one. When I heard hot water spring, it didn't excite me much, thanks to Manali. But this one was far better. The pools were huge. Almost the size of 2-3 olympic swimming pools put together. The water was chlorinated and Sulphurized so it was bluish and most importantly clean. Above all, there were so many scantily clad women, it was a treat for the eyes. The water was warm. There were three sections with water temperature maintained at 30, 40 and 50 degrees. I liked it. I could stretch my arms and legs, swim, dive, float or even sit while partially submerged. And there were shower and locker services, just like any other swimming pool facility. I had forgotten to take off my contacts before I got into the pool and I paid the price. After few dips and underwater swimming, I realized I've lost my lenses somewhere in there. There goes my perfect HD quality picture of bikini clad women bathing live. Damn!
We all loved the experience. We finally had to leave at 10pm because it was closing time.
Back to the room, we setup our usual hangouts with booze, TV, playing cards and nonsense gossips.
Tuesday, Dec 31st: Skiing and Aspen.
A fine day to ski. Bright sunny and snowfall the day before. It was our plan to head out by 8am and be done with rental by 9 and then ski the rest of the day. We all got up at 9 and with 6 people getting ready one after another, it was already 10am. Then there was the breakfast. The rental guy had given up on us and for the last time, as a last resort, he gave Zain a call to check on us. We had our boot fittings yesterday to save time today and he had everything setup and I don't blame him to go after his potential customers. Only problem was, we were his potential customers.
Boy, was he relieved to see us. Since we had already checked out of our hotel, the car was full of bags and we couldn't fit the skies. The rental guy offered to keep our luggage. A small sacrifice for his business. We loaded up our boots and skies. All of us rented trousers and jackets and except me, everybody else got helmets as well.
None of them had skied before. I had done once, when I was in Chicago and that too, 3 years ago. So I had a feeling of superiority in the group. I'd not miss a chance to tell them that I could ski in this slope, whenever we'd come across a ski hill. I offered to instruct them on how to ski once we are out there and that they could save some money on lessons. I was very confident and for the right reasons. When I skied for the first time, I did take lessons but I learned very quickly and after an hour I was sliding down bigger and bigger slopes. I told them helmets are unnecessary but they were too cautious. They looked funny in helmets so I didn't object.
So off we go to the ski place. Sunlight ski resort in Glenwood Springs. I helped Rastogi put on his boots. He was really struggling. I really needed to pee. I didn't get a chance when we were having breakfast because we were in a hurry. It skipped my mind when in the rental store and when my bowels called, I had three layers of clothing over my pee-pee. At the resort, I frantically raced towards the ticket place and found a restroom. I relieved myself. Out in the beginners slope, I showed them how to put in your feet into the skies. While they were relaxing at the top and busy taking pictures, I thought I'll have a go at the slope. I positioned myself properly and then let myself slide. I lost control midway and fell down. It was not a normal fall but I fell down on my back, then slid few yards on my ass and then rolled few times and finally ended up on my sides, in a very awkward position. I then struggled little bit to use to my poles to unlock my skies. What a sight it was for my friends. Laughs aside, when they saw this is their mentor, they immediately signed up for the lessons. $80 per person. I kept telling them its unnecessary and that I'll soon find my confidence and ski like I did the last time but it fell on deaf ears. I didn't demo my skills properly. They were concerned not to injure themselves and finally I let them take lessons. I was soon able to ski without falling ever again. And this time I tried using the poles occasionally to pick up some speed when I'm sliding. Some of my friends were able to join me on the slope.
At the end of the day, I think it was a good idea for them to sign up for lessons. The instructor was real patient and was guiding them step by step and I could see Ritesh and Rastogi, the most scared of the lot, gain some confidence and slide the slopes of their own, without any fear. Zain was a quickest to learn and was quite smooth. Sreejit was very audacious, never afraid of falling down. That has always been his attitude. Overall, skiing was a good experience. I'd have preferred snowmobiling since I had skied before, but something is better than nothing.
We came back to the hotel and after couple of minutes rest, we headed to Aspen for the new years celebration. The weather was bad. It was snowing and the drive from Glenwood Springs to Aspen was very painful. I was driving and I had to be very cautious. We were in Aspen by 11:30pm. A large bonfire was setup in a park in the middle of the city and there was a crowd of some 2,500 people. They had all gathered to witness the fireworks. We clicked some pictures of us and others and then at the stroke of midnight, the fireworks began on the skiing hill. It was nice, the crackers glowing up the snow hill in the back and it made for a beautiful spectacle. I wish I had been with a girl, either girlfriend, wife or just friend, instead I was with 5 other single dudes. It hurts a bit, to go to romantic places and occasions like this, and turn your head around to see dudes in your company while everybody else is with his girlfriend.
One thing I did notice is the crowd mostly comprising of Caucasians. That too, mostly European Caucasians. It is indeed a different town. No Indians! Everywhere you go in US, you'll find few Indians knocking about. But not here. Also, very few blacks. Strange place this. It has not been touched by desies. We were the only one. I was happy. Aspen is definitely one of the possible destinations in my list for a second visit.
Wednesday, Jan 1st: Murphy's law.
What makes a trip memorable? The things that you did, the friends you were with, the food you ate or the places you stayed? I'd say, an experience...an incident on a large scale. So far, our trip had been without one. Sure, there were ups and downs, there were some poor plannings and some great ones, we did something and we missed some, but none on a large scale that would make me ecstatic or cringe when I look back on this trip. It was in store for me, until this last day.
My return flight to SFO was at 3pm from Denver. Glenwood Springs is 2h:30m drive away from Denver. We wanted to spend the night of 31st in Aspen and that required us to stay in GS. I was a bit concerned. For me to be able to catch my flight, we had to start from GS at 11:30am, after breakfast. Which meant that we need to wake up by 9am latest. I was less optimistic we'd get up that early given that we will return late from Aspen and we'll be drunk. But Ritesh assured me we'll make it. I still had my concerns. For the past 3 nights we all are going to bed not before 5am, after we've indulged ourselves with booze and card games. This night will be no different. Hoping for the best, I let it flow.
It was a surprise that we were able to checkout from the hotel by 11am. To save time, we had our breakfast in Subway and by noon, we were on our way to Denver. Estimated arrival time 2:10pm. Perfect.
The drive was, as mentioned earlier, beautiful. This time we had the daylight. So we clicked pictures, shot videos etc. We were 100mi away when the weather suddenly changed from bright sunlight to horrendous snowfall. Visibility was reduced to less than 50 yards and we had to slow down to avoid skidding. I still had hope. We had pressed hard for the drive until now, and that had saved us another 10-15mins. That hope vanished when we soon encountered heavy traffic. Traffic that was stand still. I could see cars one after another, as far as my vision permitted me and the pace, even a snail would have beaten us. I thought there is still hope for me. May be its only few miles, after which the highway is clear. But that wasn't the case. It was a terrible jam. There had been an incident, with a truck skidding off the highway. Its 2:30pm and I'm still 100mi from Denver. The only hope I had left was of some divine intervention. The weather this bad, I thought the flight may be delayed, giving me some space. I checked the status but it was on-time. I thought to wait until 2:45pm.
Its 2:45 and the flight is still on-time. Damn you! With no hope left, I tried to change the flight but couldn't do it through my phone so I called Southwest customer service. Believe me, I was on hold for 20minutes, while they played all sorts of adverts, claiming Southwest is the best airline, with best service, best deals, most efficient and bla bla bla. The irony of the situation made me laugh. Finally a women answers the call. I explain to her the situation. She put me on hold again, to check for next available flights. And then, we entered a long tunnel. Any other day and time, I'd have appreciated the beauty of it but right now, I was counting seconds. I knew I'll loose the connection anytime now. My heart, full of prayers and fingers tightly crossed, I waited to hear a voice on the other side. Instead I heard a beep. The call had disconnected because of no network. Fuck.
I couldn't do anything else until I'm on the other side of this tunnel. A long tunnel and our moving speed less than 5mph, made it the most boring stretch of the drive. It was already 3pm when I was able to call Southwest again. Again, another 20minute session of their adverts later
SW: Hi, this is Jennine from Southwest. How can I help you?
Me: Hi. My name is XYZ and I was to catch the 3:10 flight from Denver to SFO but I'm stuck in traffic and I don't think I can make it. I'd like to change the flight but before I do that, can you please check if the flight is on-time or delayed?
SW: Sure...give me a moment while I check.
A moment later...
SW: Sir, the flight has already left.
Me: uh oh....alright. Can you please check if I can take some other flight today.
SW: Umm.... I only have availability on the 9:10pm flight.
Me: Yeah, Lets do that. I don't think I have any other option.
Now we have 6hrs to make it to the airport. Plenty I suppose. More than me, my friends were relieved. They all had been holding their restroom emergencies because they didn't want to delay the drive any more. Some were hungry, some thirsty and all of us needed to empty our bowels. We took an exit and found out a small cafe. A glass of hot chocolate when its snowing outside, had its own charm.
Soon, we were on the road again. The highway cleared up after 10 odd miles. We were on the outskirts of Denver by 5pm. Since we had time till 9, we decided to go for dinner. Because of Ritesh and Rastogi, we looked up the best Indian restaurant in Denver and found one in some Bombay food, or something similar. At 5:45pm, we were in the restaurant ordering food.
Its 6:30pm and the appetizers have just arrived. Now I'm starting to panic. For a 9pm flight, I need to be in airport by 8pm latest. That means we need to leave the restaurant by 7:30pm as its 25miles from the airport.
Its 6:45 and there is still no sign of our entrees. The thought that there is a possibility I might miss 9pm flight as well, crept in my mind, and I'm growing restless. This is not good. I don't want to look like an asshole demanding the food to be hurried up. Its a classy restaurant and we are classy people. Finally I inquired about it and the server said it will be on the table anytime now. The food arrives at 7pm and we are finished eating by 7:30. Ritesh then complains about his upset stomach and that he needs to use the toilet. Sreejit follows the suit. I'm cursing them while we all are having a laugh at my situation. I prepared myself for a touch-and-go possibility. Finally we are driving again. Ritesh is riding the car like he is flying and I'm in the back seat, fists tightly clasped and eyes intently fixed on the time.
I'm in the airport at 8:15. Goodbyes and hugs later, I'm running towards the check in kiosk inside. While I'm printing my boarding pass, I look up to see the status and gate info of my flight
Flight# Going to Scheduled Gate # Status
1139 SFO 9:10pm C32 Now 11:50pm
WTF!!!! 3hour delayed!!!! Where was the delay when I wanted one? This is fucked up. Suddenly my arms and legs are numb. No point with the haste now that I've plenty of time. The days event flashed in front of my eyes. All that frustration, anger, haste, everything was a waste is this was going to be the end result. What would Ritesh and co think about it. Same way as I feel. Absolutely gutted.
I took my boarding pass and headed to security check. I went to my gate and thought to ask if there are flights for San Jose. I had forgotten to ask for San Jose alternative when I rescheduled in the evening. San Jose is more convenient. The airport is much closer to my place, more like 5 miles, so Raj, my friend in Sunnyvale will have less trouble picking me up. Its a huge ask to come pickup your friend at 1:30am from SFO airport which is 35miles away. Raj was still fine with picking me up from SFO in case San Jose does not work out. But I desperately wanted SJC to pan out. The Southwest agent behind the desk said there was a 8:55pm flight to San Jose which is now delayed to 9:55pm and she will put me on standby for that flight. Thank god for flight delays. "I'll take my chances", I said, and went to the SJC gate.
Fortunately I got that San Jose flight. Raj picked me up from the airport at 12 and that was the end of my eventful trip to Colorado.
Happy new year.