July 7, 2016 – Watertown
As we squealed down route 46 in a Ford Falcon washing-machine, this particular driver wore round-rimmed glasses so thick that his eyes looked like bowling balls as he smirked over at me.
"That's right… Mid-State."
"Is that a college?"
"It's a state prison, man! Mid-State Correction Facility to be exact… Supposedly, it's a light-weight, medium security joint but prisoners cut loose all the time and come out raising hell. They take a shot at Canada via the 12, the 26 and this one, Route 46 and for whatever reason, this one's their fav and the most treacherous, boys. Lucky for you I came along."
Then he laughed.
I really wished he hadn't done that.
It was creepy.
I glanced back at Brent, my buddy in the back seat, noting his eyebrows had taken over the zigzag expression usually reserved for his lips and to make matters worse, Bug-Face wasn't done with his guided tour.
"Over there is the reservoir. Yep, bad things gone down over there through the years and sometimes the bodies pile up and float around like lilies on a pond."
"Cheese us cry ice, really?"
Again with the disturbing laugh.
"Oh, yeah. Where you guys going, anyhow?"
"You got a pretty crappy sense of direction, you know that, bud? That place is in the opposite direction but, again, lucky for you I came along!"
I wasn't sure I agreed.
He continued chortling away, shredding our nerves into frazzled paper dolls.
"There was this one dude called HOODIDME, sort of like Houdini, but stupider, and he greased himself up with lip balm and shimmied through 500 feet of ventilation ducting. He must have gotten scraped up pretty good, anyways, because people say he looked like a zombie staggering alongside the road."
"Did they get him?"
"Oh, sure, but only after he killed five people and dumped ‘em all in the reservoir."
"Come on… You're making this up."
The man wearing the magnifying glasses pointed out the windshield as we rolled through a small town.
"This here's ROME. Not much of a town, especially since MERLIPS made a fool out of everyone with his fake gun and painted nectarine."
"That's what I said. He doctored one up to look like a hand grenade and all these Rome nimrods bought into it. No one bothered to ask themselves where a Mid-State inmate could have possibly rustled up a knuckle-bomb but, hey, why not?"
"Did they get him too?"
"More bodies in the reservoir, dude."
I came to the conclusion that this guy was pulling our leg but he did it with such earnest.
"The worst guy, however, was this BASILBUB goon. He MAILED himself out of the pokey, can you believe it? Climbed onto a pallet full of mailbags and sucked his air through a coffee stirrer when they shrink-wrapped the whole kit and caboodle."
I never even heard of shrink-wrap but that didn't deter him.
"What about DIGGER and BUTCHER? Digger tunneled out using forks and spoons and Butcher stabbed a few more people with those same dirty forks and spooned their bodies into the reservoir but don't worry because the cops eventually caught up with those muttons for nuttin' too."
He dropped us in Syracuse, obviously relishing in his ghost-time campfire tales, and I wanted to ask him about the hook-hand mental-patient and the bald-head roof-knocker but we ran out of road.
A couple of more rides later and we were well up the 81, out of our map's eraser spot, and into Watertown, New York. Brent fished a phone number out of his wallet which he used at a phone booth outside the General Store and soon a black Volkswagen Beetle chattered up to our backpacks.
These guys weren't really the Travelling Do-Rag Brothers from C Street, that's just what I call them.
Well, they did live on C Street during winter break and they certainly had to travel to get there so the name had merit, not to mention their perpetually heady head gear. Both of them were as skinny as pencils and Pete wore a pirate-looking head-kerchief while Paul sported an ugly ski cap, the kind Aunt Grizzly-Bear sewed up special, just for him.
I began to wonder if all the dudes in New York dressed this way.
A few hugs and Bro'-shakes later, my hitchhiking crony introduced me.
"Pete, Paul, this here's COREY, my high school buddy."
"We've heard about you. Are you still drawing cartoons?"
I grinned at the two teens and we all piled into the little car. We rumbled out of town and across a few miles of cow-infested landscape up to their parent's house, a two-story, sprawling thing like someplace LASSIE or the BEAVER might live. I marveled at the huge white home and the detached two car garage with the external staircase.
"You guys get to stay in the apartment above the garage."
Apartment above the garage, are you kidding me?
No, they weren't and it was pretty cool.
Just a one bedroom loft with a couple of twin beds but it had a little living room and a tiny kitchen and the best thing in the world right now: a bathroom with a hot shower!
"You guys make yourselves at home… Dinner's at six, we'll come round and fetch you. Tonight, there's a party over by Black River."
I got the shower first and scrubbed all those days of road-crust off my aching body, feeling happy. We made it! We were here, our first destination! We had travelled thousands of miles with just our backpacks of perseverance and carriage of circumspect and now we got to take a breath of safe haven.
There was definitely a chill to the air so I donned some clean sweats and decided to wander our new digs, always the explorer.
I flip-flopped down the outside staircase and strolled through tall grass alongside the driveway nosing the wonderful air.
I spun to face the sweet voice.
A petite thing stood at the fence, five foot one or two, slender as a gazelle, silky brown hair and eyes as blue as the sky. She smiled and waved, a dimple denting her cheek.
Waving just would not do.
I marched double-time towards the neighboring fence, smiling at this lovely creature like I was Tom Sawyer and she was Becky Thatcher.
"Hi there! How you doin'?"
"Je ne comprends pas."
It sounded familiar, what she said. I had heard it before… A long time ago.
She spoke in a cluttered accent.
"I do not understand English."
"You don't understand English?"
Oh my God, is she kidding me?
Nope, no one seemed to be joking around today.
Pirate Pete walked up alongside.
"She doesn't know English because she just moved here. Bonjour, Danielle!"
Foreign words suddenly rolled off my tongue.
"Je suis Corey."
Wow, where did that come from?
I took a couple of years of French back in the day.
Could I remember any?
Because... I definitely had some things I needed to communicate, here.
How do you say Hubba Hubba?
To be continued….
At five foot small, she weighed only ninety nine pounds and had the tight sculpted body of a dancer or a swimmer yet she was neither.