Colorado Blizzard - A True Story

By: Steven Gillman

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

Ana's grandmother had never seen snow falling. The only snow in Ecuador is up on the tops of the Andes Mountains. She 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 terminal, it was almost a white-out, and flights were being canceled left and right.?Luisa had caught the last flight from Atlanta before they canceled all the rest. We wondered what she would have done if stuck in Atlanta for days, speaking no English. Were would she have slept? We hadn't considered where she might be sleeping this night in Colorado. As it was, her plane might have been the only one that day to arrive on time. We left the Denver International Airport around noon, as they were preparing to close it. 4,000 people would be camping there for the next night or two, or three.

Driving Into The Blizzard

We arrived at the freeway ten miles and an hour later. For Luisa, it was an adventure. Maybe she thought I was making the car slide around for fun. We told her she could stop praying for her white Christmas now.

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

The traffic moved eventually, and we crept into the town of Lone Tree. We stopped for gas and Ana took a photo of her grandmother next to a snow-covered tree. It was of course the coldest air she had ever been in, so we quickly got back into the car.

From the customer service desk at the Safeway grocery store I called around and found that the hotels were all filled. We were going to spend the night in a grocery store with twenty others.

"No estoy bromeando," I explained to Luisa: I am not joking. At least there was food, and we bought a deck of cards to occupy ourselves. We would be better off than the 2,000 people who spent the night in cold cars out on the freeways.

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

This time we found the first turn, but we couldn't see the Big Buffalo statue that was supposed to be near the shelter. Actually we couldn't see much of anything. I had to laugh at the size of the snow drifts, and the fact that somehow our little car kept plowing through them. We came to the end. The road actually went further, but eight abandoned cars scattered all over it made it impossible to continue.

I left Ana and Luisa in the car in the middle of the road and ran to a nearby apartment building. A door was open a few inches, and I went in, pushing through a knee-deep snow drift inside. Nobody answered my knocks at the first door, but a young couple at the second opened up. They told me we had missed the high school where the shelter is. It was back a mile the way we came.

The Red Cross Shelter

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

"Que bonita!" she said, looking outside. How pretty! She loved it. Then she asked how much we owed for the cots and blankets, and we had to explain that they were free. She ate more once she knew the food was also free. The Red Cross volunteers were the greatest, and even covered us with more blankets in the middle of the night.

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

We finally 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. A couple weeks and many adventures later, we took her back to Denver for the flight home. No blizzard this time, but the windshield washers still weren't working. I drove down the freeway 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.

We drove too fast because at about mile number eight, someone looked at the ticket and discovered that the flight was actually leaving hours earlier than we had thought. At the airport, the nice man at the Delta counter explained that no, fifteen minutes was not enough time to check the bags, get a boarding pass, go through security and catch the plane.?Luisa was able to catch another flight out of Colorado. She then almost missed her connection in Atlanta due to a lack of English. That is another story, which fortunately didn't involve a blizzard.

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