Monday 9th January – Transit

The hosts were up at 4am for a departure time of 5:10am (they’re not very organised in the mornings). I got out of bed at 4:50am, ready in fifteen minutes. I packed away my bed and published my film while I waited for A&S to be ready. We walked out the door around 5:30am after Alex made a couple of trips up and down the stairs for things he’d forgotten. It was dark and the roads a little icy so we settled in for the drive. Sabrina slept in the front seat while me and Alex talked a little as we took it pretty slow on the autobahn.

It was an eventless trip and smooth sailing to the airport. I was surprised when Alex parked the car, thinking we would be dropped off, but Alex and Sabrina do everything together so I suppose it was to be expected. Alex’s flight was at 10:30am and mine three hours later so I was in no rush and we were there in plenty of time for Alex’s flight. Neither of us had any success at the check-in screens so both ended up in the service counter queue. Before I got there, I got sent on a trip to the United desks, even though I was on a Lufthansa-operated flight. I nearly got pissed off when I returned to the Lufthansa guy who’d turned me away, but he eventually understood what I was telling him and let me through.

The lady at the service desk needed to see my visa, my address while in the US and proof of exit. They were being thorough already and I wasn’t even in the US yet! Still, good that they check now instead of later. I asked for an isle seat and she nearly laughed. The flight was packed and they were looking for ten people to volunteer for an alternative flight, of course they didn’t have any spare seats. Oh well. We were through security and customs a few minutes later, after we’d said our goodbyes to Sabrina.

On the other side, we wandered the airport, not looking for anything in particular, but just for something to do. In the end, as we were heading to Alex’s gate, we had a deep and meaningful chat which had been overdue. We’d both been feeling a little tense since we’d spent more time than we had in the past in each other’s company. We both agreed we should have talked sooner, but were happy that we sorted things out. We hugged it out and said our goodbyes, not sure when we’d be seeing each other again. Such is life.

I sat down on a bench and counted my remaining euros like a child counting his pennies and I had 7.32EUR to blow. I did a thorough investigation of all the food vendors for the best deal for my money and started with a bacon, cheese and tomato pizza (because that’s kind of like breakfast). I sat in a semi-comfy chair and started making calls. I spoke to Jon first, it had been too long and we had heaps to talk about. Then it was Mikey and I was lucky to get him at a good time. After that, a bathroom break and I bought a raisin Danish with the rest of my pennies and went to my gate. From there I spoke to Mum and Dad who were entertaining as ever making me laugh. I was grateful for all my chats, it passed the time very quickly. I had to get off the phone to board.

There was semi-chaos around the gate with people everywhere but we all eventually got on and seated in an orderly fashion. I was grateful to have non-fat people either side of me and spoke to a very nice lady from Colorado who gave me some tips about Florida and how to drive across Kansas safely. All good advice! I can’t wait to get to warm weather!

I watched movie after movie to fill the next ten hours, with a few intermissions for getting up and stretching and blogging. I didn’t feel the need to sleep so stayed awake, not even tempted to nod off a little. We’ll have to see if I pay for that later. We flew over some stunning ice fields that made me dread the weather back in Colorado, but as we started our descent, Colorado looked surprisingly warm. An illusion I’m sure because of the sun and the afternoon haze.

Off the plane and the process started. The passport control line was about 45 minutes long. When it was my turn, I explained my visa situation very clearly, even presented my old passport when the lady asked me for it. She asked a few questions, the gave me a stamp, closed my passport and gave it to me. Before walking away, I opened my passport and checked the stamp. She’d given me up until April 2017, only three months. I asked why and she told me that’s the length of a visa waiver. I then explained to her again that I was previously on a visa waiver and was now on a six-month tourist visa. She took my passport back without a word, flicked through to the visa page again, then crossed out what she’d stamped and gave me a new stamp, closed my passport and gave it to me. Again, before walking away, I checked. This time she was on the money, I’m legal to stay until July 2017. Woo hoo! After all my hard work and preparation, I probably could have told the customs officer anything and she’d have given it to me.

Frustrated from this process, my mood didn’t improve when I found the overflowing baggage carousel did not have my bag on it, despite the fact we’d been off the plane for over an hour. Grrrr. Just as I was starting to grow concerned, I saw my goods and lifted them. The customs check was a joke, not even a question, just people there collecting forms like zombies. I had re-entered the United States. It was now 5:30pm (I’d landed at 3:40pm) and I considered my options for public transport to Fort Collins. The regular public transport wasn’t able to get me there before morning, Uber and Lyft were too expensive, so I was looking for an airport shuttle that Marianna had suggested. Hopelessly lost wandering around outside, where I discovered it was a balmy temperature of 9*C, I asked someone for help. I was astounded to find the lady in a safety vest very helpful. She directed me towards two shuttle companies I could try.

At the first one, Green Ride, I asked the lady at the desk how much to get to Fort Collins. $29. Brilliant. Book me in. The only catch was that the next bus left in 1.5 hours. I was disappointed, but I’d been waiting around all day, what was another hour or so? I booked in, called a mate and vented my anger at the American treatment then had some Panda Express for dinner. By the time I’d done all that it was bus time so I went back outside where I hardly needed my down jacket but I put it on anyway. The bus operation was seamless with very polite, if not over-enthusiastic, drivers that wanted to make sure we were comfortable. I listened to music and I had a few micro-sleeps as we drove along the highway, struggling to keep my eyes open against the dark sky.

The most perfect timing of the whole trip was when Marianna was right there to pick me up as soon as the bus pulled up. I was so happy to see her and grateful that she’d come out to save me from my travelling woes. I sunk into the passenger seat of her Subaru and we talked all the way home and then some more once we were in the kitchen. She’d been on some winter adventures while I’d been away so I caught up on them and we shared our common thoughts about Europe.

I was happy to see Astro again; she looks like she did when I left her, the thick layer of snow having melted away in the last few days. I was happy I didn’t have to face any snow clearing and there’d be no need to get out the shovel I don’t have to drive out. But I’m not being fooled by a “warm snap”, I will be seeking out the warmer sunshine of the south-east.

Now I’m sitting with a bed underneath me, my eyes so tired I just know I’m going to have a solid sleep. I said my goodbyes and thank yous to Marianna since she’s up early for work tomorrow, likely to beat me out of the house, with the promise of seeing her again when I come back this way in a few months. I don’t want to see another bus, train, plane or blabla for a long time, just the sound of the Astro’s engine and the warmth of her interior.

US Immigration Fact: The customer (i.e. me) is ALWAYS right.

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