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
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.