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A Colorado Blizzard Story

Our first Colorado blizzard was on December 20, 2006. Driving to Denver to pick up my wife's grandmother Luisa, who was coming from Ecuador to visit, the windshield washers stopped working. Then the snow started falling more heavily. A two-hour trip became four hours. Our little Chevy Cavalier slid down the freeway while I squinted to see through the one clean spot in the glass - a taste of things to come.

Ana's grandmother had never seen falling snow. In Ecuador snow is only found up on the tops of the Andes Mountains. Luisa had been praying for a white Christmas, and apparently God was listening - with a wicked sense of humor. By the time we were in the airport, it was almost a white-out. Flights were being canceled left and right.

Luisa had caught the last flight from Atlanta before they canceled all others coming into Denver. We wondered what she would have done if stuck in Atlanta, speaking no English. Were would she have slept? We hadn't yet considered where she might be sleeping this night in Colorado. Fortunately, her plane seems to have been the only one that day to arrive on time. We left the Denver International Airport around noon, just as they were preparing to close it. More than 4,000 people would be camping there for the next night or two, or three.

Driving In The Blizzard

We got to the freeway ten miles and an hour later. For Luisa, it was all just an adventure. She may have thought I was making the car slide around for fun. The snow fascinated her, but we told her she could stop praying for her white Christmas now.

Hours later we had made it another 20 miles before getting stuck for more than an hour on an exit ramp. The freeway was closed, and nothing was moving. It looked like we might be spending the night in the car right where we were. Ana explained - and her grandmother thought we were joking.

The traffic did start moving eventually, and we crept into the town of Lone Tree. I got gas while Ana took a photo of her grandmother next to a snow-covered tree. It was of course the coldest air Luisa had ever been in, so we quickly got back into the car. From the Safeway grocery store I called around and found that the hotels were all filled. We would have to spend the night in a grocery store with twenty others.

"Lo siento, pero no estoy bromeando," I explained to Luisa: Sorry, but I am not joking. At least there was food. We got some soup before the deli closed, and bought a deck of cards to occupy ourselves. We would be better off than the thousands of people who spent the night in cold cars out on the freeways.

Later we were informed that a Red Cross shelter had opened up a couple miles away. After writing down all the bad directions I could get, we went out into the dark to get lost in the blizzard. We hadn't had enough adventure yet, I explained to Grandma Luisa. Of course we didn't find the shelter, but carefully weaving our way through the abandoned cars and semi-trailers, we made it back to the Safeway, to get better directions.

On our second attempt we found the first turn, but we couldn't see the Big Buffalo statue that was supposed to be near the shelter. We couldn't see much of anything, except the huge snow drifts in front of us. Somehow our little car kept plowing through them - then we came to the end. The road went further, but eight abandoned cars scattered all over it made it impossible to continue.

Ana and Luisa waited in the car in the middle of the road while I ran to a nearby apartment building. I found a door which was open a few inches, and I went in, pushing through a knee-deep snow drift inside. No answer at the first door, but a young couple at the second opened up. They told me the high school (where the shelter was) was back a mile the way we came.

The Red Cross Shelter

Driving through drifts past many cars that apparently couldn't, we found the Red Cross shelter. There were 54 people there before long. Luisa's first night in the U.S. was to be homeless, in a shelter, watching the snow as it piled up seven-foot high drifts outside the school-cafeteria windows.

"Que bonita!" she said. How pretty! She loved it. Then she asked how much we owed them for the cots and blankets. We explained that they were free. Once she knew that the food was also free she was very hungry. The Red Cross volunteers were great. They even covered us with more blankets in the middle of the night.

The blizzard ended by ten the next morning. By two o'clock everyone in the shelter got tired of waiting for the freeway to open. Along with the rest of them, we decided to risk the back roads instead. Five hours later we were home in Canon City - the only place in Colorado without a flake of snow. I stared at our grassy lawn. Ten miles in any direction eight inches of snow covered the ground. Denver had over 20 inches.

We did get some snow a week later - enough for Grandma Luisa to help build her first snowman. After a quick sex-change operation it became her first snow-woman. Two more weeks and many adventures later, we took her back to Denver for the flight home. No blizzard this time, but the windshield washers still were broken. I drove too fast, repeatedly splashing tea from our thermos onto the windshield in order to clean it well enough to see through it - a little bit.

I drove too fast because at about mile number eight, someone finally looked at the ticket and discovered that the flight was actually leaving hours earlier than we thought. In the airport, the nice man at the Delta counter explained that no, fifteen minutes wasn't enough time to check bags, get a boarding pass, go through security and catch the plane for an international destination.

Luisa caught another flight out of Colorado a couple hours later. She almost missed her connection in Atlanta due to a lack of English, but that is another story, which fortunately didn't involve a blizzard.


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