The Destiny Dream
“I don’t think we spend enough time in silence, just realizing what’s floating around in our noggin.”
There comes a point in life when you slow down enough to reflect, and share the parts of your life that make you who you are. I’ve written many things, but I never wrote the story of my earlier life. My family asks me questions regularly, so it’s time to tell my story. Don’t worry if it sounds a little odd. I find it odd too, to say the least. Bear with me, and pay attention. It’s a one of a kind story.
My name is Sandy Jones. My appearance is every bit as forgettable as my name. I’m 5′5″ tall. I have straight brown hair; dirt brown with no bangs. My mom always called it Sandy blonde to explain my name, even though my full name is Cassandra Marie. My hair is not too long or too short, and normally pulled back in a ponytail. I don’t have piercings, except in my ears and I have no tattoos to this day. I come from other boring working folk who lived in the middle of nowhere in Indiana. My life had been nothing to speak of up until a day in 1984, when I decided to become unforgettable. I had nothing going in the appearance category and I had no money, so I had to rely on my brains and questionable personality to make me something more than bland and Midwestern.
I had a life as a child, but that isn’t what I wish to tell. To be honest, I don’t care to reflect on a whole lot of my childhood life chapter. I missed a lot of childhood by being an adult. By the time I was an adult, I was cynical, dispassionate, dull, and had no ambition left over from what should have been my childhood. All of that was stolen from me, because I had to take care of myself.
By the time I graduated high school, I just wanted to run away. I never would have done that of course, because the people in my life had convinced me that I couldn’t live on my own. Why I believed this, I don’t know. I was the one who took care of everything. They just didn’t want to lose their housekeeper/laundress/cook/gardener/accountant/extra income.
If I’d known then what I know now, I would have run away immediately on my 18th birthday. I would have run as far and as fast as I could, but that’s never been my way. I have to learn my lessons the hard way.
Therefore, July, 1984 was the real beginning of my journey. I’d had my own apartment with a roommate for a while, but moved home because I hated said roommate. I’d been working in a factory for about a year. I’d been to Connecticut the year before immediately following my high school graduation, but that time I hadn’t been driving my own car and going on my first paid vacation ever. At that point in 1984, I was destined for a great adventure. I was sure.
I took off in my brown, two door, 1977 Chrysler LeBaron with a tan Landau roof. I had a battery operated boom box on the front seat next to me, because my car stereo only picked up AM radio, and only when it was in the mood to. My windshield wipers were wired on, because I couldn’t find the part to fix them anywhere. I had extra quarts of oil and extra anti freeze, transmission fluid, and brake fluid to counterbalance my car’s many random fluid leaks. I had my clothes, my cassette tapes, orange soda, and M & M’s. I was ready for my first road trip. I had everything but a map. I hate maps.
How hard could it be? Drive from my hometown, North Manchester, Indiana to Fort Wayne. Take a left onto North I-69 to Angola. Take a right onto the East I-80/I-90 toll road and go to Youngstown, Ohio. Get off the toll road but stay on I-80 East and go to I-81 North, around Hazelton, Pennsylvania. Take I-81 North to Scranton, and get on I-84 East to New England. Follow that to New Britain. Get off at the exit for Farmington Avenue, Berlin, Connecticut. My cousin Anne would be waiting for me there to take me to her house, where I would stay for the week with her, my Aunt Ruby and Ruby’s husband, Sal. Anne was going to be my hostess and tour guide. I was about to drive 1,200 miles. I could stop anywhere I wanted to sleep. The world was my oyster, and I was free for the first time in my life.
I hit the road and hit it hard. I didn’t wait until morning. I left at 5 p.m. directly after work. I loved to drive. I loved to visit my half brother’s place in Chicago on the weekends, or sneak over to Windsor, Ontario and go clubbing with my friends. Cruising the Goshen strip in Northern Indiana was the teenage, not old enough to drink, thing to do, and I went as often as I could. I couldn’t get enough of road trips, and this was the ultimate one to me at 19 years old. 1,200 miles of open road for me to explore by myself.
At first, it was familiar and boring. Ohio, for the most part, looked like Indiana. Miles and miles of four-lane superhighway, so straight that I knew it was the birthplace of the cruise control. I had a bizarre feeling that, if I let go of the wheel, the car would keep going perfectly down the surreally straight road. The only interruptions, if you could call them that, were the giant cloverleaf exit ramps.
So it went. The only indication that I wasn’t traveling the same stretch of road over and over again were the different numbers on the various exit signs. Hours and hours of sameness went by, and I loved it. I changed my cassette tapes, sang along with them, and enjoyed my complete and total freedom. Looking back, I realize how precious that feeling was. The older I get, the less frequently I have that feeling. In middle age I’ve noticed that most people wish to cure me of it, like it’s a disease. I’ve learned that they can’t kill my spirit unless they can control my mind. If I had a dime for each person throughout the course of my life who tried to kill my dreams and break my spirit, I would have more money than Bill Gates.
By nightfall the terrain started to change a little. I encountered some slight inclines and an intermittent view of Lake Eerie between Sandusky and Cleveland. By the time I got used to the slight change, I was in Cleveland. All of a sudden, it felt like I was driving in Chicago. There was traffic everywhere and planes flying low overhead. My mind was alive, and I was excited at all the new scenery.
Shortly after dark, I left Cleveland, bound for Youngstown where the bridge is. Just outside of Youngstown, there’s a steel bridge high above the highway. It’s the kind of arched steel bridge you see on TV commercials and in pictures of New River Gorge, West Virginia. That was the first time I’d traveled that path, but it certainly would not be the last. Over the years that bridge became the point in that route that I called the gateway to the East or the Midwest, depending on which way I was traveling at the time. St. Louis has its Arch, and I have the Old Route 8 bridge. It’s long since been a sign of many things for me. Freedom was only the first thing that it represented.
Next came Pennsylvania. I had a lot to learn about driving I-80 across the Keystone State. The first significant thing that I discovered about I-80 in the 1980’s was that every single gas station closed by 9:00 p.m. Boy did I learn that the hard way. Thank God for Holiday Inn.
Nighttime was pitch black dark in the wilds of western and central Pennsylvania, unlike the well lighted turnpikes in the Midwest. I had to stop for the night due to lack of gas, and couldn’t see much but the building that the Holiday Inn was located in. When I woke in my hotel room the next morning, I went to the window and saw, for the first time, the Pocono foothills of central Pennsylvania. That made it feel like an adventure. Finally, I was out in the world, away from what I knew, and ready to experience life.
I paid my bill, hopped in my car, got some gas, and hit the road. It was my first real adventure. By evening I would be in Connecticut. By the time I reached Anne’s house, I would have driven 1,200 miles all by myself.
The morning was gorgeous. The hills, the trees, the open road. By the time I changed over to North I-81 toward Scranton, I felt like I was in a whole other world. The hills turned into mountains, and the signs started to say, “To New England”. What a rush.
I approached Scranton, Pennsylvania. There are some things that I’ve never understood in my lifetime. One of them was the road construction around that city in the 1980′s. Scranton is where you leave North I-81 to get on East I-84 “To New England”. The good people of Pennsylvania built an interchange there called the Throop Dunmore Interchange; a project that seemed to go on forever, and I drove through it for years. Due to the construction, the traffic backed up for miles, especially at rush hour. The diverted lanes used to go over the biggest junk yard I’ve ever seen in my life. That day I sat there long enough to realize that someone actually lived in the house in the middle of that junkyard that sprawled across several acres. Strangely, the house had an enormous playground in its yard, which looked as though it was well used. I still sometimes wonder about that.
There are many things that I’ll never understand about that construction project. I never saw more than a couple of people at any given time working on that site. I drove through Scranton many times over the years, and as of 2001, the road construction was still in progress. The house, the junkyard, and the playground were still there too. But, I digress. Long story short; after watching all of that weird scenery for hours, I was finally on I-84 East “To New England”.
Pennsylvania turns into New York State when you cross the Delaware River on I-84. It’s interesting, because you come down one of the biggest hills that I’d seen at that time, cross a bridge over the Delaware at the bottom, and head up an even bigger hill on the other side. I take a lot of trips to that area because of the great hiking now, but my first impression was overwhelming. Sheer cliffs next to me and over my head made me nervous when I’d never seen hills that big before or that steep. It’s quite a view from the pull off at the scenic overlook halfway up the New York side. You have to look straight out to appreciate the view. If you look down all you see is a hole where a strip mine used to be.
I saw my view and jumped back in my car. Clouds were starting to roll in, and I had miles to go, so I thought I should drive more and sightsee less for the time being. My next stretch was through the kills. “Kill” is and old Dutch word for stream, and in New York and Pennsylvania, there are lots of towns and other places named accordingly. Fishkill is one of my favorites. There’s also Deerskill, Kaaterskill, Bushkill, Raymondskill, etc. The list goes on. Many roads that exit off of I-84 in Pennsylvania and New York State go to Kills.
After the Kills you get to Newburgh where you have to cross the Hudson River. This is another interesting thing I’ve always wondered about. You only have to pay a toll to get into New England. Every single bridge across the Hudson, North of New York City, only charges a toll going east. West is free. I’ve always wanted to know why. It’s one of the questions that linger as I get older and have yet to hear an explanation. It’s another one of life’s little wonders and another space left unfulfilled in my mind.
Newburgh, New York. One of the major crossings of the Hudson in upstate New York with visions of WestPoint down the river, historic estates to visit in the area, and on the East side of the river, Fishkill Correctional Multi Level Security Prison.
The prison looms on both sides of the interstate. To the South are the walled, barbed wire buildings that house most of the inmates up to and including dangerous criminals. To the North are the windowless, electrical barbed fence enclosed buildings that house the criminally insane. As you approach this less than scenic vista from any direction you encounter signs that say, “Caution, maximum security prison ahead. Do not stop for or pick up any hitchhiker in this area.” It left a lump in my throat that day. It was the first time I saw one of those signs.
I drove on past the sign until the prison came into view. When I saw the wire, the walls and the security I thought the signs must have been a mandated precaution. I couldn’t imagine anyone picking up a stranger along the side of the road with a frightening looking prison on both sides.
As I approached the area that afternoon, I saw police cars entirely blocking both directions of I-84. The police cars had their lights flashing and traffic was at a standstill.
Every single vehicle was stopped and searched, and every driver and passenger was questioned. Even the kids were asked questions. When I stopped, a tall, blonde, blue eyed officer from the U.S. Marshall’s Office came to my window.
“Good afternoon, miss,” he said. “I’m Officer Benjamin Hansen.” He showed me a badge.
“Hi. Can I help you?” I asked.
“Maybe. We seem to be having a little problem today. Could you step out of the car please?” he asked.
“Sure.” I stepped out as he asked. From what I saw all around me it seemed like a huge problem.
He didn’t explain any further at that time. He climbed around the inside of my car, checked the glove box, looked under the seats, and then jumped up and down on them. Then, he opened my trunk and looked in my luggage. When he was done, he came back to the side of the road where I was waiting next to a police car.
“Where are you traveling to today?” Officer Hansen asked.
“Berlin, Connecticut,” I replied.
“Where did you come from?”
“Today, or where do I live?”
“Where do you live?”
“North Manchester, Indiana.”
“May I see your license?”
I retrieved my purse from my back seat and handed him my license. He studied the entire card front and back, and he held it up next to my face and compared it to me in person. He handed the license back to me. “Thank you. Could I ask you a few questions?”
I was ready to wet my pants I was so scared at that point. “I guess so.”
“You seem nervous,” he said.
“Where I come from, we don’t even have this many cops,” I replied. “We only have three cop cars.”
“Please, don’t be nervous. We’re looking for someone. To be fair, the person we are seeking is extremely dangerous. Did you see anyone walking on or near the road as you approached, or today at all along the highway?”
“Did you see anyone at any of your stops in the last 20 miles or so, who looked out of place in any way? Maybe their clothing seemed unusual, or they appeared to be anxious? Maybe a large man with a dark beard and curly dark brown hair?”
“Not that I remember.”
“Okay, that’s it. As I said, nothing to be nervous about. We are just seeking information. You can go. Remember not to pick up any pedestrians or hitchhikers from the road or from anywhere you may stop, no matter what. Now, have a nice day.”
“Okay.” I started to get back in my car, but I had to know. “Are you looking for one of them?” I pointed to the South buildings.
“No. We’re looking for one of them.” He pointed to the North buildings.
“What’s the difference?”
“Those are certifiably insane.” He pointed to the North buildings again. “So whatever you do, don’t pick anyone up.”