A normal Wednesday night at the Streets at Southpoint mall is a swirling mass of activity. Shoppers. Diners. Teenagers on escalators. But this Wednesday was not a normal night.
“Everybody seemed fine until they realized, oh shoot, it’s really coming down,” said Maureen White, an employee of the mall. “It came on so quick.”
Maureen proved pretty quick herself. About 1:30 in the afternoon she called the hotel across the street and booked a room.
“I tried to leave the mall and somebody spun out and I said I’m not going to get stuck on I-40 like everybody else,” she said. “I immediately called, but there was a 25-person waiting list.”
Lucky for her, Maureen booked her room before the waiting list, and by the time she got to the front desk a couple hours later, the lobby was also filled with people who had abandoned their cars on the interstate - but were too late to get a room.
A few folks stayed all night in the Mall, but it wasn’t as bad as it might sound, at least for one person.
“It was the BEST,” said Laura, who works at the Sleep Number store. “Because I was just laying on a really luxurious bed at zero gravity looking at my phone at all these people stuck and I’m like ‘I’ll get out when I can.’”
Not everyone was so fortunate.
“I knew from the get go it was going to be bad,” said Stephen Smith, who works at Panera and rides the bus to and from work. “And I was like, whatever, another thing on my bucket list I’ve never done before.”
Stephen saw stranded motorists come and go. He watched fellow mall employees find hotel rooms or get rides from family members. Meanwhile, he enjoyed a burger and fries at CHAMPPS Restaurant and thought about what else he could do to pass the time.
“I was hoping to see the new RoboCop movie,” he said. “And I was like ‘what, the theater closed on opening day? What’s up with that?’”
Without the diversion of a movie, Stephen looked around for a place to hunker down. He chose the food court.
“Well, my accommodations were my bag, my tablet, my phone, and a bench. And it wasn’t very comfortable,” he said. “I’ve now learned if this ever happens again, pack boots or wear boots, pack a blanket, and make a makeshift pillow and then I’ll be good.”
Stephen says sleeping on that bench was tough. When he got up at around six, he headed out to try to find breakfast. He found it at the hotel across the street.
By 10 am, Stephen was trudging back through the slush and ice of the parking lot to – believe it or not - start his shift at Panera.
And then, irony struck - the mall doors were locked.
“I’m stranded out here. That’s not cool. I got to walk around the other side…”
Stephen shook his head at his latest predicament, before stomping back through the parking lot to look for a security guard.
“I’m hoping they can let me back in.”