Christy Johnson’s friend drove from Boulder on Sunday morning and picked her up for a cruise. By then, there were already whiteout conditions in the metro area. Highways and city streets alike were slippery hellscapes. It was cold and wet.
Did she regret it?
“Yes, a lot,” she said, taking a break in a Montbello gas station. They’d nearly gotten stuck as they pulled off the highway.
“I didn’t think we were going to get out of it, but we did,” she said. “He’s gonna take me back home.”
Johnson was one of a handful people to whom we posed the question: What the heck are you doing out here? Their answers varied.
Marvin Johnson also regretted being outside, though he didn’t have much of a choice. He had to work – he’s a security guard at Country Club Towers.
Johnson didn’t think it would be so bad. He’d heard there’d be about 8 to 10 inches. And he didn’t worry when he realized the snow was really falling. It seemed like city plows were taking care of the streets.
“When everyone got off work, it was like all of the roads were just like: fend for yourselves,” he said. “I was like, ‘WHAT THE HECK!? All of the snow’s piled up in the streets!”
We met Johnson as he was trying to get his car out of a snowbank on Park Avenue in Five Points. His mom lives nearby, and he figured it might be safer to drive to her place after work. He would have driven home to Aurora if he could’ve gotten out of the drift.
Aidyn Whitcraft was another person who deeply regretted being outside. She spent Saturday night with a friend in a downtown hotel, and did not plan for a blizzard. She didn’t even have a coat.
“Now I’m just trying to get home,” she said. “And I don’t even know how to ride the bus, so I’m trying to figure that out.”
She’d just missed a train at the convention center, which Google said would take her closer to home in Aurora.
Ralph Aragon drove from Elyria Swansea to a Globeville gas station to buy some medicine for his elderly uncle. He was not worried about driving in the snow. He remembers snow “up to here,” he said, lining up his hand with his shoulder. When he saw a reporter looking cold in the parking lot, he said: “You must not be from Denver.”
Shawn Patrick Miller also headed out into the snow for a convenience store run. He lives a couple of blocks from the Sunnyside gas station where we met him.
Miller said he did think twice about heading outside. The wind was blowing fiercely.
“It’s really bad. I’m from Wisconsin and Wisconsin doesn’t even get this bad,” he said.
Megan O’Sullivan wore snowshoes out. Her garage door was opening and closing on its own, and this was not a good day for that. So she took her dog, Maverick, to grab some batteries for her remote opener.
Several readers told us their dogs wanted or needed to go outside, so out they went with them.
Of course, there are others in this city who have fewer choices when it comes to weathering a blizzard.
Randel Gay, who stepped out of the Mile High United Way for a cigarette, told us he knows plenty of people who prefer not to use the city’s homeless shelters. That’s not his thing, however.
“I’m staying at the Denver Rescue Mission right now,” he said. “I’m not an outside guy. I’ve been there quite a while, too.”
Gay is looking forward to a COVID-19 stimulus check from the government. He said opportunities to do general labor pretty much dissolved during the pandemic. He’s hoping to buy a van and get working again. He did step out into the cold Sunday to “fly a sign” and see if he could make a few bucks on the corner; Denver is a “courteous” city, he said, and he tends to get more donations when it’s cold out.
Next to him, Mark Doyle was also getting some fresh air outside of the United Way. He slept outside on Saturday, and planned to do the same on Sunday.
“It’s quiet. A lot better than the shelters. Too many people with alcohol issues and mental health and drug issues. It’s just too noisy, so out here’s better for me,” he said.
Doyle, who served in the Marines, said his military time and his childhood in the Midwest prepared him for cold weather. Still, he wouldn’t make it too long without some help. A couple of days ago, after he lost most of his supplies, a woman gave him a tent and a blanket. A lot of Denverites, on their own dimes and on their own time, have been giving out donated items ahead of the storm. Doyle said that kind of outreach is necessary right now.
“Yes, because without certain items, you’re not going to survive out here,” he said. “Without that tent and that sleeping bag, I wouldn’t have made it last night.”