Colorado to Israel, one cab ride at a time

Boulder, Colorado, is a magical place. I’m not the first to discover that — Bay Area folks are moving there at an alarming rate. Just breathing the crisp, clean air makes you feel that anything is possible. And the people are so happy. When you pass them on a hike, instead of the curt nod or grudging “hey” you get here, they break into a huge smile and say, “Hi, how are you?” as if they really want to know.

So I was pretty jazzed — “stoked,” in Boulderspeak — two weeks ago when I headed to SFO for my two-hour flight to Denver. From there it’s a scant half-hour drive to my friend’s place, and even though I wasn’t landing until 10 p.m., she kindly offered to pick me up. (Did I mention that everyone’s nice in Boulder? And yeah, she moved there from Oakland.)

Virgin America is in the sleek new Terminal 2 at SFO, which put me in an even better mood. There are actual restaurants in that terminal (you’re on notice, United). I had a drink, bought my bottled water and lady magazine (Marie Claire, I believe), and headed for the gate, the week’s cares already draining from my body.

Ugh! There it was, up on the big board. A three-hour delay. High winds, apparently. High winds? Isn’t that what gives planes loft? Or lift? If they can’t power through a wind, how the heck do they carry hundreds of people and their luggage halfway around the world?

Crap. Estimated arrival in Denver was 1:30 a.m. No way my friend would pick me up. And the shuttles all stop by midnight. I headed for the fast-growing line at Virgin’s customer service desk to find out my options.

None, the rep told me. Weather isn’t the airline’s fault. No transport to Boulder. No hotel for the night. Why don’t I just sit up in the Denver airport until 6 a.m. when the shuttles start again, she suggested helpfully.

Talk about killing my buzz. I called my friend to tell her I was canceling the whole trip. No, she practically yelled, she’d find me a cab. Two seconds later I got her text: Gilad was standing by in Boulder, waiting for my confirmation.

Gilad! Of course he was standing by. I had no idea who he was, but if any taxi driver was ready at all hours, it would of course be a landsman. I texted him my flight info, with a “todah rabbah” at the end (English transliteration of Hebrew for “thank you”). Back came his response, in Hebrew letters. I felt a big smile creeping across my face. Gilad had this. No worries.

Almost buoyant, I grabbed the mike from the harried desk clerk and announced that I had a taxi to Boulder — did anyone want to share it? A young couple hurried up. They were going to a downtown hotel, would the driver make a second stop?

Sure, I almost smirked. I got on the horn and called my good buddy Gilad to let him know. We were chatting away, and I overheard the young man whisper to his girlfriend, “that’s Hebrew.” I got off, and he told me they were going to a double bar mitzvah in Boulder. Of course they were!

Needless to say, my whole mood changed. Instead of a disaster, the evening was shaping up to be an adventure. The time flew by, we landed in Denver and rushed through a completely empty terminal to the exit, just in time to see Gilad’s black SUV glide up to the waiting area, just where he’d said he would be. He leapt out of the driver’s side — a fit man in his mid-60s or so, with a winning smile (Boulder!) — threw our bags in the back, and off we sped into the night.

For the next half-hour, Gilad and I merrily swapped tales. He grew up on a kibbutz near the one where I spent six months in the late ’70s. He knew some of my friends at Chochmat HaLev, the Berkeley Renewal shul where his daughter davened when she was a student in the Bay Area, and we both knew Reb Zalman, the late Jewish Renewal leader who spent his final years in Boulder.

His daughter was back in Israel now, teaching at an Arab-Jewish school in Jaffa; his son lived in a spiritual community in the Galilee.

Great, I gushed. Social-justice kibbutz activism at work! He sighed. “I just wish they’d make some money,” he confided.

By the time we got to my friend’s place it was 3 a.m., but I felt completely refreshed. I jumped out of the car with a wave and a grin, all travel woes forgotten.

That’s what the tribe can do, if you let it.

Sue Fishkoff

Sue Fishkoff is the editor of J. She can be reached at