By Nina Kindred


Newburgh, gateway to the Northeast, where you have to cross the Hudson River. 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 tolls going east. West is free. I've always wanted to know why. It's just one of those spaces left unfilled in my mind.

I wonder about the most trivial things.

Newburgh was great. Home of WestPoint, some Vanderbilt estates to look at, and on the East side of the river, a maximum security prison. Details escape me, like the name of the prison. I do remember the feeling that I had in the pit of my stomach that day in July, 1984, as I approached it.

I was on my first real vacation. I'd never been anywhere in my life. I was born and raised in North Manchester, Indiana. Farmland, to the extreme. It was that July that I hit the road with my M & M's, orange soda, and a boom box on the front seat of my 1977 Chrysler LeBaron. I was headed for Connecticut to visit my favorite cousin, Debbie. The events of that one trip would change my life forever. I had no idea what to think when I saw that prison ahead of me.

The prison looms on both sides of the road. To the South are the walled, barbed wire buildings that house dangerous criminals. To the North, the windowless, electrical fence enclosed buildings that house the criminally insane. As you approach this scenic vista from either direction you see 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.

I drove on until the prison came into full view. When I saw the wire, the walls and the security, I thought the signs must have been a precaution. Police cars were blocking both directions of I-84 that day.

Until then, it had been an uneventful trip. The most shocking thing had been that every single gas station in Pennsylvania closed by 9 p.m. The entire way I had been excited about what was ahead of me. I was free for the first time in my life and had yet to discover how important real freedom was.

Every single vehicle was stopped and searched, and every driver and passenger was questioned. When I stopped, an officer from the U.S. Marshall's Office came to my window.

"Good afternoon, miss." He said. He was a handsome man in his forties. He was tall and muscular, with blond hair and amazing blue eyes.

"Hi. Can I help you?'

"Maybe. We seem to be having a little problem today. Could you step out of the car please?"

"Sure." I stepped out as he asked.

He climbed around the inside of my car, checked the glove compartment, looked under the seats, and then jumped up and down on them. He opened my trunk and looked in my luggage, then he came back to the side of the road where I was waiting.

"Where are you traveling to today?" He asked.

"Berlin, Connecticut." I replied.

"Where did you come from?"

"Today, or where do I live?"


"Clearfield, Pennsylvania."

"Where do you live?"

"In the middle of nowhere." I was beginning to feel a little defensive and punchy. "You wouldn't know it."

"You might be surprised. Does the middle of nowhere have a name?"

"North Manchester, Indiana."

He smiled. "I'm from Warsaw."

"No way."

"Yup. So, is this your first trip to Connecticut?"

"It's my first trip anywhere."

"Well, you've started with one of the most impressive places on Earth. A lot of people complain about life in Connecticut, but I think that it's beautiful there. I came out here as a kid, just like you."

I saw a far off look come across the officer's face. "What made you move out here?"

"It cast a spell on me from the first minute I was there. I can't explain it. I just knew I belonged there. I never went home. That was 25 years ago."

"You think I might feel a little magic too?"
"Oh, I hope so. There's nothing like the feeling that you belong somewhere. Nothing like it on Earth."

"Hey, Ben!" Came a shout from behind us. "Are you going to finish up today, or do we have to make a special lane?"

He smirked at the ground and shouted back, "Knock it off! We're about done here." He looked back at me. "May I see your license?"

I got my purse and handed him my license. He read and studied the entire thing front and back, and then he held it up next to my face to compare it. He handed it back. "Thank you, Kathy O'Callaghan. Would it be possible for you to answer a few questions?"

Now I was ready to wet my pants. "I guess so."

"You seem nervous."

"Where I come from, we don't even have this many cops, in case you don't recall."

"Don't be nervous. We're just looking for someone. Did you see anyone walking along or near the road anywhere in this area today?"


"Did you see anyone at any of your stops in the last 20 miles or so, who looked out of place or anxious?"

"Not that I remember."

"Okay, that's it. 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. "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."

"I won't." I climbed back into my car and drove away. I vowed I wouldn't stop at all until I got to Berlin. Any bathroom stops would just have to wait. I hoped I had enough gas.

The adventure was about to begin. I didn't know what it was, but something made me feel like things would never be quite the same for me.

From the prison, it wasn't far to the state line. The weather had changed suddenly, becoming dark and gloomy. It looked as though it might pour rain.

It wasn't long before several emergency vehicles came screaming by, headed in the direction that I was speeding away from. I wondered if the ambulances were headed that way because someone had found the criminal that they were looking for. Hopefully the officers and bystanders were all okay. Thank God that I wasn't there when whatever it was happened.

The roadblock had taken a while, and it was getting late. I'd never driven in the area, so I didn't know where to tune my radio for a weather report, or any news about traffic, or any word on what was going on at that prison. There wasn't much that would come in except for a station that was playing "Southern Cross" by Crosby, Stills and Nash. It seemed perfect for a road trip; even though it wasn't a song that I would typically listen to. What the hell?It seemed to fit in with my journey. I had no idea how important it was.

I drove on, unaware that I was headed into a vortex of events that would alter the course of my entire life. All I was thinking about at the time was the weather and trying to get to Debbie's house.

What was it that Debbie had warned me about? Oh yeah, she said, "Be careful not to be in Danbury between 4 and 6 p.m. That's rush hour." I looked at my watch. It said 3:45. Then I saw a sign that said "Danbury 20 miles". Great.

It wasn't long before I hit the traffic. It hit right before I crossed the state line. It was so dark and gloomy that I expected a cloudburst at any moment. Then I saw it. I'd made it. I spotted the sign that said "Connecticut Welcomes You". That was when the cloudburst came. In a split second my vision was reduced to zero. The sheets of rain hitting the windshield looked more like the view from behind Niagara Falls—on the Canadian side.

I had to stay on I-84, so it seemed the best idea was to follow the red glow of the taillights in front of me. For brief seconds as the windshield wipers flew back and forth I could almost see shapes. The defogger wasn't working, which was normal for my Lebaron. Many things failed to work on that car. I cracked the window enough to get some air from outside and also got a lot of water.

Next came the surprise. My driver's side windshield wiper snapped loose enough to whirl it off of the windshield, around to the side of the car, and in my open window. Now, there was nothing but water.

How I got there, I don't know, but I made it all the way to Waterbury. When the rain finally stopped, I was at the downtown exit that led to the Holiday Inn. I stopped and went into the lobby to call Debbie and have her come pick me up.

Twenty minutes later Debbie and her boyfriend, Jimmy pulled into the parking lot. My clothes were drying in the sudden wash of sunshine which followed the storm. My car was starting to dry off too, although with its broken windshield wipers, it looked like it belonged in a demolition derby. Debbie had a smirk on her face that said she wanted to laugh, but felt that she shouldn't. Instead she gave me a big hug and said that she was glad to see me.

"Looks like you've had quite a trip." She said with a huge grin on her face.

"Well, it's been interesting." I replied.

"I can't believe that the folks let you take off like that."

"Well, I didn't exactly wait around for their opinion."

She cocked her head at me suspiciously. "What do you mean; you didn't wait around for their opinion?"

"They weren't home. They were gone when I left, like usual. I left them a note."

Debbie burst out laughing. "You did what? When are they going to find it?"

"Probably in a couple of days."

"I would love to be a fly on the wall when Aunt Jess finds a note saying that you just took off for the East Coast for a week."

I did a lot of things on my own, because my parents had their own plans. Needless to say, when my family didn't come to see me graduate, I wanted to do something rebellious. I left a note on the dining room table telling them that I was at Debbie's house and I would be back in a week. The morning after my graduation party, which I hosted myself in my parents absence, I jumped in my car and went to see her in Connecticut.

And there she was. Debbie was a ball of energy. She was thin to the point of being anorexic. Her hair was straight, blonde, and long. She spent most of her time around her neighbor's stables, so she lived in cowboy boots and jeans. She was an Eastern cowgirl though, so she didn't wear the 10-gallon hat or country and western snap closure shirts. Tee shirts were more her style. Debbie had a flash in her eyes. It was a spark that made you wonder what she might be up to. That spark and energy was what made coming Connecticut so much fun. I was looking forward to a week of fun and unexpected adventures. Debbie was always full of surprises. She'd lived in Indiana for a brief time, and we'd had a ball. It didn't really matter what we did. It was always great.