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Dual Highway cruisers

April 01, 2000|By BRENDAN KIRBY

It was about 10 o'clock Friday night and the nighttime sky above Dual Highway in Hagerstown burned brightly with the lights from fast food restaurants and other establishments that line the road.

It's the closest thing Hagerstown has to the Las Vegas Strip, and for hundreds of teens it's a mecca, drawing from all over the Tri-State area.

By 10:15 p.m., there was a palpable chill in the air. But that hardly deters the Dual Highway cruisers, who on most weekend nights remain long after the McDonald's, Burger King and other businesses close for the night.

"We come to meet new people. Girls look for guys and guys look for girls," said Regina Everett, a 16-year-old Smithsburg resident who was hanging out with a group of friends in the Burger King parking lot.

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To the legions of teenagers who cruise the Dual, the tight stretch of road and parking lots represents the best spot to make new friends and hang out with old ones. They show off their cars, blow off steam and pass away the time.

They insist it is harmless fun.

"It's our two nights out of the week that we get to relax," said Jody Sulser, 18, who drives from Sharpsburg to cruise the Dual. "It's messed up the way they want us to stop cruising. We're not actually bothering anyone You don't see a lot of drugs."

Enforcing the law

Police see it differently.

Authorities have asked local businesses to post no-trespassing signs so they can crack down on loitering.

Several business owners along Dual Highway have complained the cruisers have caused problems by fighting, drinking and littering.

Police have issued more than 25 trespassing citations in the month or so they have targeted the area.

The young cruisers have noticed the difference, and they're not happy.

"I'd rather us be hanging out on Dual Highway than selling drugs. We ain't bothering nobody," said Eric Shrader, a 20-year-old Hagerstown resident who has been cruising' the Dual for about three years. "Instead of going out and fighting real crime, they want to come out and bother us."

Police wrote several citations. Shrader received one.

"I already got one ticket. The next time, I go to jail," he said.

Added Hagerstown resident Chris Keefer, 18: "Young people come out, and we can't have fun because of the cops."

Hagerstown Kevin Dayhoff, 21, said the police show up at about 10:30 p.m. to move everyone along.

Sure enough, a Hagerstown City Police cruiser pulled into the parking lot on Friday and the Dual Highway cruisers scattered.

"Sometimes, they just come out and sit in the parking lot so we can't go anywhere," Dayhoff said.

Time-honored tradition

Over at the McDonald's parking lot, the story was much the same.

The police had already been by at least once, so the crowd was not as large.

Those who were there said cruising the Dual did not begin with them and likely will not end with them, either.

Williamsport resident Danny Mullenix, 19, said his sister met her husband while cruising the Dual.

The tradition dates back at least to the 1960s, when the highway was only a couple of decades old and had many fewer businesses.

"I'm a second-generation Dual Highway cruiser," said William "Bucky" Price, a Hagerstown native who returns to the hot spot from Shepherd College on weekends. "My dad was out here with his Camaro in the 1970s. I'm out here in 2000 with my Camaro."

Price, 19, said many of classmates from hours away in the rural reaches of West Virginia have heard of the Dual. He said young people work hard to improve their cars and trucks and like to show them off to friends.

"This is like a car show every weekend," he said.

From far away

Dual Highway may be Washington County's greatest attraction for people under a certain age. It draws from towns in Pennsylvania and West Virginia to the north and south and Frederick, Md., to the east.

Several teens said the Golden Mile in Frederick County used to hold similar sway. But Ben Weisgerber, 17, said he now drives to Dual Highway from his home in Frederick because authorities have cracked down and the area was attracting a rougher crowd.

"They already shut us down, and up here everyone's cool," he said. "It's way calmer than Frederick."

Roger Mitchell, 20, a train engineer who recently moved to Hagerstown from Cumberland, Md., said he is impressed by the atmosphere along Dual Highway.

"This is the most fun I've had in a while," he said. "Cumberland's got nothing like this."

Nothing to do

Mullenix said young drivers congregate on Dual for a simple reason: "In Hagerstown, there really is nothing to do after a certain hour."

That is especially true for youths who are between the legal driving age and the legal drinking age, he said.

Several teens said the bowling alleys and arcades are crowded and outdated.

Everett, of Smithsburg, said the Barracuda Surf Bar on Dual Highway has a teen night on Mondays, but only during the summer. She said the Hagerstown ice skating rink appeals to a younger crowd.

"When people get their vehicles, they come here," she said.

Those are some of the reasons several youths said they keep coming back to the area night after night even though police have begun cracking down - and why they predicted authorities will never be able to run them off for good.

"There's so many people coming from such a vast area that it's hard to get the word out," Mullenix said.

Standing outside Burger King Friday as a police car drove by, Everett admitted she is a little concerned about getting into trouble. But gesturing at dozens of other teenagers, she shrugged: "They can't get all of us."

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