I braved the Pennsylvania turnpike on a Friday night after work to make it back home to Cleveland from Washington, D.C.
It was October 30, 1987 and it was my first trip home since I had graduated the previous spring. Filled with anticipation of being reunited with my high school buddies and the exhilaration that we were all “adults” and on our own gave me a sense of false bravado.
I was one of the only members in my group with a new car (I had a real job) so it was decided that I would drive our group of misfits downtown looking for mischief that Saturday night. The night of Halloween.
The air was warm for a late October night in Cleveland, but it was also raining quite hard. We were all under drinking age at the time, but that didn’t stop us from acquiring some marijuana with which to melt our minds with. With that decision, I turned the driving over to my best friend B (guilty parties will remain nameless). As I recall, there was Scott S. (since deceased – he killed himself the following fall), Sherri B. a straight laced gal home from college, and one other person whose name escapes me.
I was your classic paranoid stoned person. The one member in the group focused on all the bad things that could happen and this night being Halloween night, I was in full-on paranoia. Everyone else was partying and having a good time, but suddenly as I looked out the rain-soaked windows of my little red Nissan Sentra and before my eyes, all the street lights and carlights took on a hazy orange glow and I had a sinking feeling of doom.
I swallowed down my anxiety like a mouthful of medicine and tried to regain the moment. Someone retold a crazy memory from our not so distant high school years and laughter filled the car. As the laughter echoed in my brain I felt momentary lift from my fear. It was short lived.
Our carload of crazy kids was traveling down Rt. 90 into Cleveland. The rain was growing heavier and it was difficult to see out the back windows where I was trying mightily to remain cool. We were approaching a famous section of freeway in Cleveland called Dead Man’s Curve – a 90 degree right hand turn that appears almost out of nowhere and has proudly claimed many lives.
Panic shot through me for some unknown reason and I saw a vision of all of the occupants in my car in ghastly conditions of dismemberment. I cautiously, but firmly stated “slow down.” A warning that was unheeded, which then led me to yell “this is my car and I said SLOW THE FUCK DOWN” everyone shot me a dirty look for spoiling the mood – but I didn’t care.
B calmly, (she was always calm) looked at me in the rearview mirror and smiled reassuringly. “Dawn, relax everything is fine,” and she proceeded to slow down, as her eyes returned to the road she saw what we had all seen almost simultaneously; flashing red lights, emergency vehicles, firetrucks, police cars and ambulances. Red flares defied the rain forcing us to slow down immediately as all lanes merged to one.
Like a train in slow motion we passed the scene where all sirens and lights converged. There was a jackknifed semi taking up two lanes and pickup truck smashed in the far right lane. Men were standing around in yellow rain coats, and a man wearing a flannel shirt leaned against the semi with his head down low. There were two motorcycles, but only one gurney with a body on it. As we did the math and were forced to pass the wreckage within mere feet of the carnage, a figure lay sprawled on the road, lifeless. No one wanted to look, but everyone HAD to look.
It was only until we passed the lifeless figure that we saw the body and the helmeted head were no longer one. Blood and bone were easy to identify and we all became white as ghosts and silent as the dead.
Moments later, Scott would blurt out without any tact for those of us in shock, “Did you see that guy’s head?”
I was sick and immediately sober. I wasn’t alone. It was quickly decided that we would all head back home for a nice quiet evening in our hometown. Our Halloween scare, firmly cemented in our minds forever.
Take heed, beware and have a Happy and SAFE Halloween.