By José A. Morales: November 16, 2002 is not a day I'll forget anytime soon. There are two very good reasons for that, (three maybe but we're keeping this PG), and both involve the Holiday season. I was born and raised in the small eastern town of Ceiba, Puerto Rico. The coldest temperature I ever felt in the 21 years I lived there was something like 64 degrees and I remember feeling like I was going to freeze and die.
Sometime after September 11, 2001 (yes, that one), I decided to join the United States Air Force and do my civic duty as an armed service member of the United States of America. After completing my training in Lackland Air Force Base in San Antonio, Texas (and experiencing a fairly chilly September), I went home one last time before being assigned to go to Warren Air Force Base in "Cheyenne, Wyoming." Now, understand that I had never lived outside of Puerto Rico for 21 full years and I had never learned the 50 States in any sort of class from the public school system. Now, also understand that none of my fellow squad members that were being sent there had any idea what Cheyenne or Wyoming was. In fact one of them was from Omaha, Nebraska and he, with the least bit of irony, swore to us that Wyoming was in Europe (this was before smartphones and Google, so cut us some slack). Reflecting back, I don't feel nearly as bad about my own personal ignorance in that moment. We eventually figured out where we were going and I remember a very important piece of advice before I booked my flight to Denver International Airport and the connection to the Cheyenne Municipal Airport: "Dress warm." Mind you, dressing warm in the Caribbean meant you wore a hoodie and the thickest jeans you owned. Maybe even a pair of boots. Which, luckily enough, the military had graced me with a pair of winter boots. So, against my better judgement, I kept those on my carry on luggage just in case. I have seldom experienced horror. I've seen things that have shook me to the core, but there's very little things that scare me. Snow absolutely terrifies me. As the sliding doors welcomed me with a not comfortable 24 degrees with that ever present windchill, outside, I felt the chill of death (dramatic I know, but seriously, what is up with the wind around here?), a handful of us walked the slippery airport runway as we made our way to a very small airliner. The ride from Puerto Rico to Denver was approximately 8-10 hours, most relaxing trip of my life. The flight from Denver to Cheyenne was less than 30 minutes, and I have the distinct memory of telling our flight attendant that we were going to die with the way the plane was being rocked by the violent Rocky Mountain winds. "No sir, we are not going to die..." she offered to me in a combination of Southern drawl and Boston snarl. We landed safely in Cheyenne (I'm writing this, ain't I?) and I was escorted to my base by a young Airman First Class by the name of... let's go with Smith. Before I left the airport I put on my winter boots that I was carrying on my smaller bag. "That's not a bad idea," I remember him musing as I noticed he was wearing Airwalk skater shoes in this demonic weather. We got on his Jeep and drove a few miles south to Warren AFB, but not without a few slips and slides across the highway to truly break me in to the Holiday spirit. Before I was dropped off to my new dorm room, I remember hearing "Baby, It's Cold Outside" playing on the radio. It was the first time I ever heard that song, and believing it to be some form of satire, I quipped "I agree" and slammed shut the SUV door as I walked on the snow towards my, hopefully warm, sleeping quarters.