March 23, 2016 Metro-Denver Blizzard
Our blizzard yesterday caused me to reflect upon a number of past snow events this time of year. March in Colorado often generates a spectacular snow to be long remembered. March 2003 definitely stands out as “the big one.” I was teaching back then and was granted two weeks of spring break–something I did not mind at all! Neither did my students! March 2006 is another vivid memory, but not for the depth of the snow. Howard and I decided to make a trip to Missouri over spring break that year. The weather was wet and snowy–a rain-snow mixture that plagued us most of the trip until our return home. But we enjoyed it. As I recall, this was our second trip over spring break. Our first spring break trip included our children in 1984 when we left on a road trip for California. We experienced at least three seasons then. But there is one year that stands out vividly in my mind as another March storm event. That storm involved not only me but our children Brian and Debbie as well.
It was March 7, 1990. I awoke at my usual time and got ready for my day at the office. Turning on the radio, I caught the tail end of a local weather forecast.
“Light snow today!” the announcer stated. “No accumulation; just flurries.”
“TIME TO GET UP!” I yelled down the stairway.
“Yeah! Yeah!” Brian’s sleepy voice responded.
Discharged from the Army a couple of months previously, our son Brian returned home and settled in with us. He needed a job, so his sister Debbie got him hired by her employer–a radio shop in downtown Denver. At that time, my husband and I owned a large 1974 Buick Electra I had nicknamed Beulah. Driving Beulah was like driving a huge battleship, something I refused to do. I always felt the boat was driving me! So I used a monthly bus pass while Brian and Debbie drove Beulah. Howard drove a 1974 Cadillac DeVille he acquired at a local auction. So we all set off in our separate directions that morning.
“It’s going to snow!” I announced to the others as we left. “But I don’t think it is going to amount to much.”
…or so I thought!
I stood on the bus stop, watching light flakes descend about me. By the time I reached the park ‘n ride, the flakes had grown larger and heavier. And by the time I reached downtown, the ground was painted white. During the ride down the mall, I watched the swirling flakes outside the window.
Glad I wore my boots! I hope the kids wore theirs!
“NEXT STOP! TREMONT!”
I remember calling home when I first arrived in the office. No answer. Everyone had left.
“Can I see you for a moment?”
The office adversary’s nose penetrated the doorway of my office. I quickly forgot the snow swirling outside my office window and turned my attention to her. Something in her voice suggested that this would be one of those days. She led me down the hallway to the refrigerator in the employee’s lounge.
“Did you toss out the salad dressing in here?” she demanded.
Surprised, I responded, “No, I did not!”
“Well, someone threw it away! It’s not here now!”
“It wasn’t me!” I told her. “I don’t use the refrigerator.”
I watched her storming down the hallway in search of another victim. As for me, I returned to my office where a pile of correspondence awaited me on my desk–blessings from the adversary with a note:
You are to read through this correspondence, circle important matters, copy the correspondence and put it on the proper desk.
That project engaged me most of the morning. The noon hour found me in the employee’s lounge where the adversary was complaining about missing salad dressing to her thirty-fourth victim that morning. I elected to return to my office to eat my lunch, where I turned on the radio. The list of closures caught my attention immediately.
“All local colleges! All local schools! All government offices! All public libraries…”
Is it that bad?
A sheet of white draped the window, preventing me from viewing the extent of the storm. I returned to my desk where another project awaited my attention. And then at 4:00, the office manager arrived.
“Barbara, we are closing the office. You should go home now. We want to make sure all our employees get home safely.”
At 4:00? I thought.
Other places had closed hours ago. But I wasn’t about to argue the situation. Before leaving, I called home. Hopefully, Howard, Brian and Debbie were there.
“I just got home!” Howard told me. “It’s terrible out there!”
“What about Brian and Debbie?” I asked.
“They aren’t here. I called the radio shop, and they have already closed. So hopefully, they will get here soon!”
“I’m leaving now. I should be home in an hour or two.”
Then I locked up my office for the evening and headed out into the storm.
Stepping out onto the street was like stepping out into the Ice Age. Huge snow drifts blanketed the streets and sidewalks making movement impossible. The shuttles had ceased running. I would have to trudge to the bus terminal on foot–an endeavor that proved quite challenging. I don’t know how many times I fell during the process. Finally, the bus terminal came into sight.
And look at the lines!
It took a long time for me to make my way through the bus terminal, following the line for the Boulder bus. About an hour later, I actually mounted the steps of the bus and dropped upon the last seat available. When standing-room-only filled the aisle to the emergency line up front, the door closed, and the driver put the bus in reverse. This was not a small bus. Regional and express buses in this area are the size of Greyhound or old Trailways buses.
Snow and ice had filled the exit of the bus terminal. As soon as the tires struck the obstruction, they could only spin. The driver threw the bus into reverse and charged again to no avail. Finally, with chants of “Go! Go! Go!” from the passengers, the great bus overcame the barrier and lunged out to the street.
What is the number of this bus? I wondered, peering at the overhead sign at the front. 1518! I need to remember this. I think this is going to be a long ride!
I no longer remember how long it took for the bus to attain I-25, but it was a long time of tire-spinning, getting stuck and unstuck, stopping and starting. And the trek up I-25 was no better. That portion of the trip was an inch-by- inch enterprise.
“I don’t think we’re going to make the 5:30 connection at the park-n-ride!” one man commented.
The driver turned on the radio so we could listen to music.
“Don’t forget Happy Hour at Benigans!” the radio announcer stated.
“I don’t think we’re going to make that either!” another man quipped.
We were standing still at the entrance to the Boulder Turnpike. As we sat there in the darkness, listening to the howling wind outside, I settled back in my seat, wondering about the kids.
Presumably, the radio shop closed earlier in the afternoon. I do not know the time Brian and Debbie were actually set free. I’m certain the trek across the parking lot was a challenge and the fight getting Beulah out of the parking lot was profound. I-25 was jammed; the kids knew that. I believe Brian may have opted for Wadsworth. Wadsworth is one of the major snow routes in the area that is supposed to be plowed and ready for action. However, in a situation like this, the plowing was undoubtedly one swipe. Brian spent more time spinning his tires and freeing himself from snow banks than he did in achieving progress up the road. Debbie acted as cheerleader during the ordeal. When Beulah was stuck in a drift:
“Oh, please, God! Oh, please, God! Oh, please, God!”
And when Beulah sprang free:
There were more “Please, Gods” than there were “YIPPEEES” on their trip home. However, Brian and Beulah prevailed. Beulah inched her way up Wads with a lot of tire spinning, rocking back and forth no doubt to the rhythm of the blaring radio. They finally reached the end of our street about 7:00 or 7:30 that night. And that’s when Beulah’s battery sighed and died. They got out of the car and trudged down the street to our house!
“WE’RE HOME!” Brian announced.
Relieved, Howard added, “But, I’m worried about your mother!”
Meanwhile, back on the bus…
We were still sitting at the entrance of I-25 and the Boulder Turnpike. Music continued to play on the radio. Passengers cracked jokes. Maybe we could get home faster if we walked, some suggested. Finally, the bus gained some traction and navigated the low hill it was trying to mount. We crept up the Turnpike and passed a school yard slowly, its swings and slides buried in drifts. This storm occurred long before the invention of cell phones, so no one could call anyone and let them know our whereabouts. Then, we stopped again and sat still, completely unable to move.
“Well, that’s it!” the driver said. “We’re here for the night unless we try something else.”
He opted for the second choice. In those days, there was only a small barrier between the eastbound and westbound lanes on the Boulder Turnpike. By rocking the bus back and forth, the driver was able to turn the bus sideways. And then with more rocking and churning, No. 1518 mounted the barrier and landed safely in the eastbound lane.
“There goes the playground again!” someone quipped as we headed past it.
We took the Federal entrance and headed north. Federal is another snow route that is always plowed first during such occasions. In this case, the road was plowed, but ice defied travel up hill. At one point, passengers got off the bus and pushed it to free it from an icy spot.
I glanced at my watch. 11:30 P.M.
“I don’t think I’m going to work tomorrow,” I told the person sitting beside me.
“You and me both,” came the response.
The bus turned down a side street. We navigated that street well and came out on Wadsworth near the park n’ ride. Cars were buried there. We were told to get out at the edge of the park n’ ride and walk to emergency vehicles waiting there for us. They would take us down to Nativity Church for the night. Well, Nativity is only a couple of blocks from my house, I noted. I could walk home from there.
By now, the snow had stopped. We grabbed hands as we struggled through drifts to police jeeps waiting to drive us down to the town. I hurried up to one of them.
“Do you have room for one more?” I asked.
“Right here in front,” the officer told me.
First and only time I’ve ever had a trip in a police vehicle.
We pulled into the parking lot at Nativity. I went inside briefly to call the house, but discovered the line for the phone went on forever. Instead, I thanked them for getting me down out of the park n’ ride and headed home.
The moon glowed brightly overhead as the clouds moved away. As I headed down Emerald, I remembered some of the resolutions I made over the course of my experience. One was to free myself from the awful environment where I worked–a place full of snap dragons and venom suckers. I had been in similar environments previously and now I was doing it again. No more! At that moment, I felt as though I could walk on forever.
When I turned our corner, I stopped to look at the great white Buick stalled there.
“Beulah?” I exclaimed. “Then the kids got home safely!”
By now it was 12:30 A.M. And when I opened the door, a chorus of voices greeted me:
“WHERE IN THE WORLD HAVE YOU BEEN?”.