Shaky Breakdown Start You don’t have to stand out on the side of a superhighway to sense the power and the danger of the vehicles passing by. All you need to do is simply park your car on the shoulder of an open stretch of road where the speed limit is 55-plus, turn off the engine and radio, and just sit there quietly for a while. Then you may come to appreciate the tremendous force generated by and influence exerted on what speeds by.
Passenger cars, tractor-trailers, pickups, construction trucks, RVs, vans, SUVs, even tightly packed herds of Harleys. It’s just basic physics; the phenomenon of a body in motion passing tangential to one that is static, and the pressure gradient created by the moving object grabbing hold of the stationary one in its wake or draft. Physical properties such as velocity, inertia, mass, and momentum stirred in a pot of an Arabic numeral, mathematical symbol, and English and Greek alphabet soup. Whether this is known by physicists and engineers as the Coriolis or Venturi or Bernoulli effects or forces or actions, or defined as something else entirely or in combination, beats me. Whatever it is called and however it is formulaically represented, the energy of the approaching vehicle seems initially (inertially?) to slightly nudge the parked car further onto the shoulder side of the white line as it passes. This is followed by a delayed sensation of the car at rest almost being pulled from its tires and sucked in toward the traffic lane and into the dust of the vehicle that, by then, is some distance down the road.
Without getting into anything other than the most elementary of physical principles--which is about as deep as I can go on the subject anyway--the larger, heavier, and faster the passing vehicle and the smaller, lighter, and boxier the parked vehicle, the greater the amount the physicists’ stew of terms and squiggles is ladled into its kinetic cup, and the more dramatic are these sensations. So, for a stationary hitchhiker, these sensations are even more exaggerated.
First there is a relatively gentle brush back, followed by a momentary calm, and then a blast of turbulence that could cause even a snugly fitting baseball cap to be pried from your head and dragged yards down the road in the company of flecks of dust, granules of sand, and bits of detritus and tire rubber and whatever matter small and light enough and of the right physical dimensions to be sucked up and pelt the body and soul of anyone standing there in its wake. And, with respect to standing shoulder-side, this gives a new meaning to the already oxymoronic, auto-antonymous, and physically paradoxical term of “to stand fast.”
And these sensations are compounded with the frictional physics of noise—generally defined as sound that is loud, unpleasant, unexpected, bothersome, annoying, and/or unwanted. Each vehicle that passes by necessarily composes an impromptu symphony of sound, adding a unique musical modulation to the poetry of and on the roadside. Aside from the blare of engine combusting the fuel that cause the chain reaction for the clatter and chirps from the movement of various mechanical parts, there are the random harmonies and backbeats made by everything from sports car solos to a battle of the buses--the whistles and hums, the squeaks and rattles, the swishes and whooshes, the booms and thuds, and the George Jetson flying car-like whirs. And then there are the ti-taps and cu-thunks of the tires running over stress-relief seams in the road and bridges and the cracks in the road from the stresses the seams could not seem to relieve. And then there are the wheels of the tractor-trailer, nine of which will scream square in your face in an electrifying shrill that will shoot through your head and down your spine like emanations from a metal band’s amplifier dialed up to 11, gripping you by the bowels on the way down. All of these rasping howls and tonal dins envelop you as the changing pressures of the camber waves of grind play on your tympana like open palms on conga drum skins. And then, all quiet...until the next round of highway sound.
Granted, at the top of the on-ramps of superhighway acceleration lanes--where today most hitchhikers stand because it's a violation to pedestrianate on most interstates--to if they want to minimize negative forces brought to bear on them by the enforcers of local laws if they wander past the “Pedestrians Prohibited” signs, such physical phenomena are significantly less dynamic than those out on the open thoroughfares where vehicle speeds and the sounds they create can be unnerving.
However, one does not need to be a hitchhiker to find oneself roadside on a superhighway shoulder. Mechanical failures, empty gas tanks, vomiting children, spilled beverages, foul weather, spectacular views, weary drivers, highway patrol pull-overs, or a myriad of other circumstances can cause anyone who uses the highways to find themselves stuck or otherwise stopped on the side of the road. Anyone availing themselves of the services and conveniences of the interstate superhighway system or any other limited-access road—be it for one or a dozen exits or through one or a dozen states--enters into an unwritten, unspoken, and perhaps unconscious or unconsidered agreement with all other roadway users and managers that there will be small but certain degrees of risk and danger that come with the convenience of high-speed unimpeded self-motivated transit. Whenever we roll past the freeway entrance sign, step on the gas, and accelerate we accept all potential unintended consequences or unexpected incidences, whether or not we know or care to take the time to assess this reality. After all, the highway shoulder is not also known as the breakdown lane and the emergency stopping lane for nothing. Those shoulders bear quite a responsibility.
Now, it is true that the hitchhikers and the drivers who pick them up–the two human elements required to consummate the act of bumming rides--expose themselves to an increased level of risk than do the typical users of the roads. Maybe. But with that risk comes the reward. Maybe.
For the driver, it may be the act of altruism or maybe a vicarious thrill of a moment in wayfarer’s journey, or maybe securing some company for a long stretch of road.
The cell phone killed the hitcher They used to pick us up for someone to talk to. Now they call a friend NY to here 16 days 6-24-2002 going to San Diego 115° HOT C. Manson Logged on 2/01/03, I-8 West, Exit 172, Winterhaven, CA, (Chaqua Nation)
For the hitchhiker, maybe it's the adventure or the urgency or whatever else compels or necessitates a given hitchhiker to feel the need to thumb a ride as a trade-off with the convenience and relative safety of some other mode of self-propelled or motorized forms of solo or group or mass transport—save, that is hitchhiking’s estranged cousin: riding the rails a la the style of the hobo or tramp.
Jill + Sharon taken off train Sept 4/83 Sept 5/83 Try and thumb out of this motherfucker I-8 East, Yuma, AZ, @ US 95, logged 2/01/03
Fuck this hitchikeing [sic] I'm going to catch a train and I'll be city bound Bill L. From Tex to Reno Cal-99-North, Delano CA, at County Line Road on-ramp, logged 7/7/96
Track it Don’t truck it (with train track grid drawn through it) I-84 East, near Maybrook, NY @ Route 208, logged 12/31/01
Lucky The guitar guy Lost my train Fuck hitchin Gotta do it I-80 East Elko, NV at Exit 303 (East Elko), logged 7/29/12
Lefty IIIII 6 years now (on the) rail I-10W, Blythe, CA at Lovekin Blvd/Palo Verde College exit, logged on 2/21/98
Where's The Romance? 07/2014 <= DjD => [drawn railroad tracks on one side, highway on the other] I-84 East, Boise ID, @ Exit 53 on-ramp, logged 7/25/14
What if God was at the Bus Stop? While the motivation for the driver to stop for a hitchhiker may be as simple as that of the act of a good Samaritan, any driver too can end up on the shoulder of the highway in the breakdown lane and, just like the hitchhiker, may find themselves thumbing or otherwise in need of a lift and seeking the kindness of strangers. Consider the guy helped by the Good Samaritan. What was he doing out there on the Jerusalem-to-Jericho trade route in the first place; a stretch of road sometimes now and some say that in biblical times was called the "Way of Blood" (or on Blood-way?) because of the commonness of robbery and violent assault? And, why did this man said to be of Samaria go out of his way to help a stranger in distress? Was it with Hermes, the god of travelers, or but for the grace of God goyim?
In a 1996 television-magazine interview, rocker Bruce Springsteen stated, “There are nice guys and assholes on every block.” Although he was referring to any neighborhood, no matter where you or I or he lives--not to hitchhikers and those who give them rides--this sentiment applies equally to thumbers and those who pick them up, as well. There have always been nice people and creeps; creeps that occasionally do nice things; and some nice folks that under the right circumstances may do something creepy. And then there are always the passive opportunists.
Wending back for a moment to the heyday of the hobo, such tramps in American lore have come to have something of a tragic-romantic persona and are seen as a product of the economics of his Great Depression-era times. Compare this to the present-day image of the hitchhiker, which leans a bit more to the sinister (left?) and to the suspect. With respect to Springsteen’s remark regarding his and, for that matter, Mr. Rogers’ block, it must be true that there likely were plenty of hoboes that were SOBs and had larceny or worse intent in their hearts and minds, although in spirit and in deed, most of them likely fit the sentimental mold of the belongings-on-a-stick-carrying, soulful-harmonica-playing, coffee-can-stew-cooking, rail-yard-philosophizing caricatural codgers we most often think of when we imagine these drifters and wayfarers of a bygone era.
One evening as the sun went down And the jungle fires were burning, Down the track came a hobo hiking, And he said, "Boys, I'm not turning I'm headed for a land that's far away Besides the crystal fountains So come with me, we'll go and see The Big Rock Candy Mountains --The Big Rock Candy Mountains, Harry “Haywire Mac” McClintock, ca. 1928
But, it must also be so that, like to Elisha from Elijah and the chariot of fire, some hitchhikers have picked up the mantle of these noble men of the rails and have taken it on the road. There are, no doubt, at this moment mystics and prophets, wise men and enlightened women, and sages and poets adrift across the landscape and standing on the shoulders of our roads. Out there, somewhere. Some may even be taking the time, as they wait for their next ride, to write their words of faith and hope and love and danger and warning on any available light pole, guard rail, or underpass wall space. But, which of these traveling souls are divine, which are sublime, which are benign, and which are out of their minds and which do you give a ride--aye, there’s the rub.
Blood on and off the Tracks As sure as there is the likelihood that hands are writing enlightening words on light poles and are waxing poetic or waning prophetic, there are yet other hands with blood on them. There have always been predators out there. Be it in the year 2014, 2004, 1994, 1984, 1974, 1964, 1464, or 64. For instance, what about all those kids who ran away from home and the young people who set out to seek their fortunes over the millennia and were never heard from again? Did they make their way across the borderlines and past the herms and find success in other lands? Or did they make it no farther than the edge of their own villages? It is sad to think. And how many Good Samaritans in the millennia since the one in the parable on the road to Jericho have been duped or tricked or worse? Who can blame anyone for being more like the priest or Levite and just pass the injured traveler by? All are 64 dollar-a-year questions.
I have heard and read in the media, and have been told by armchair sociologists, that hitchhiking was safer and the act was more of a part of the culture and society was more amenable to it back in the 1970s and early 1980s, which is when I did the bulk of my to-date approximately 6,000-miles-worth of it in my lifetime—way less than some; way more than most. Having come out the other end of that experience relatively whole and far richer for it, and changed in many ways–hopefully mostly for the better--it is hard to argue with those who claim the relative safety of the road “back in my day” relative to today, at least on a personal basis.
However, the proposition here is to hearken back to when sadistic assholes and murderous psychopaths a la Ted Bundy, William Bonin, Gary Ridgway, and so many other both known and anonymous creeps were somewhere between beginning to or in full throttle of honing their respective demonic, pure-evil “skills” of unspeakable and unforgivable cruelty.
Is it all just a numbers game or game of chance? Could it also be that the more hitchhiking rides you get or you give, the more there is the chance of you roll snake eyes? Or that those who regularly accept or offer rides let their guards down and become less selective and more trusting?
Wherever the reality lies, I have come across two pointed, tragic examples that unfortunately demonstrate that the road was not necessarily a friendlier place for flagging rides back when I was doing so; back at a time when the hippie generation was waning and waxing into the “we”; back before Saigon became Ho Chi Minh City. I am providing these two short stories, or actually two long, unfinished stories of shortened lives; haunting “cold cases” of cold-blooded murder that equally demonstrate just how dangerous it was to hitchhike “back then” in those perceived good old days because these cases particularly haunt me, because while I was having the ride of my life, they were on the rides to their deaths. Thus, I feel compelled, at having learned of the murders of Dennis Michael Clougherty and Dianna Veronica Singh, to make their cases a little bit better known—because truly but for the grace of God go I. Although never having met or having known or known of them until I wrote this essay, in some small way I hope here to celebrate their lives while praying I do not in any way offend the loved ones who have had to carry on without them and without knowing why, how, and by whose hands they perished.
To the best of my recollection and calculation, the first time I hitchhiked was either on August 12 or 13, 1974-- just days after President Nixon resigned. In the middle ground between light and shadow, the murders of Mr. Clougherty and Ms. Singh bracket these two dates. I came upon the reports of their respective murders by a chance Internet search using as Boolean search terms the above two dates plus the word “hitchhiker.” With respect to Dennis Michael Clougherty, this search led to the Iowa Cold Case website (http://iowacoldcases.org/case-summaries/dennis-clougherty/), and the unsolved homicide from its jurisdiction, and the crime perpetrated on Dennis, for which the verbatim synopsis of the webpage devoted to his case states:
On Monday, August 12, 1974, sometime between the hours of 10:30 p.m. and midnight, 23-year-old Dennis Clougherty was shot several times in the chest and left along Union Road, south of First Street in Cedar Falls, Iowa. His body was discovered early the following morning by a passing motorist.
Twenty minutes later, some of Clougherty’s personal belongings were located approximately five miles south on Viking Road, including the college student’s backpack, motorcycle helmet and clothes bag.
A coroner’s report indicated Clougherty died from five gunshot wounds to his body.
A Vietnam vet preparing to start graduate school at the University of Wisconsin in Madison, Clougherty left Madison around 4 p.m. Monday with plans to hitchhike to Torrington, Wyoming, to retrieve his motorcycle and then ride it back to Detroit, Michigan, to attend a weekend family wedding. Clougherty’s motorcycle had broken down in Torrington earlier that year and he’d left it behind for repairs.
Clougherty’s route from Madison to Dubuque was never determined, but an investigation confirmed a motorist picked him up at approx. 7 p.m. Monday while traveling westbound on Highway 20 near Dubuque, and gave him a ride to Independence, Iowa, dropping Clougherty off at a café there around 8:15 p.m.
Clougherty ate at the then-Rush Park Café and left Independence around 9:15 p.m., hitchhiking westbound on Highway 20. Another motorist picked him up and drove him to Waterloo, dropping him off at the Highway 20 and Highway 63 intersection.
Clougherty’s route from Madison, Wis. was never determined, though he was later spotted in Dubuque, Independence and Waterloo, Iowa, traveling westbound on Highway 20. Here, Clougherty was picked up around 10:30 p.m. by two male subjects in their early 20′s driving a brownish/gold 1962-1964 Chevrolet car, possibly a four-door, with a beige interior. Clougherty was never seen alive again.
Robbery was not considered a motive, as Clougherty’s billfold still contained $80 and his backpack’s contents were left undistrubed. Police said there was no property missing from his person, and that no motive or suspects have been identified in the case.
On the 35th anniversary of Clougherty’s murder, Cedar Falls Police appealed to those who may still know something to come forward with any information that might prove useful. With the passage of time, new technology could help make a difference in the case but police say they need new information to help point them in the right direction.
If you have any information about this case, please contact the Iowa Division of Criminal Investigation at (515) 725-6010, e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org, or contact the Cedar Falls Police Department at (319) 273-8612.\
The other unsolved case I came upon while doing this very same Internet search comes from the website of the York (Ontario, Canada) Regional Police Summary at http://www.yrp.ca/coldcases.aspx, which states:
On August 25, 1974, The body of a woman was located off of a laneway on the east side of Keele Street, north of the 15th Side Road in King Township. An investigation revealed that the victim was Dianna Veronica Singh, aged 21, a resident of Toronto who had been reported missing. Dianna was last seen on Tuesday, August 13, 1974 at 9 p.m. at the Becker's Milk Store located at Jane Street and Woolner Avenue in Toronto. It is believed that Dianna hitchhiked to the Becker's Store where she was last seen. She worked as a waitress at the time of her death and was reported to have been pregnant. An autopsy determined that Dianna Singh died as a result of stab wounds.
Anyone with information on this case is asked to contact the York Regional Police Homicide and Missing Persons Bureau at 1-866-876-5423 x 7865, Crime Stoppers at 1-800-222-TIPS, leave an anonymous tip online at www.1800222tips.comor text a tip by sending TIPYORK and a message to CRIMES (274637).
In addition to the cold, hard facts of these stone-cold cases, each is chilling to me in a somewhat more personal way–not only because these were two young people of my generation murdered while hitchhiking on the day, give or take, I thumbed my very first ride. In the case of Dennis Michael Clougherty, it was not ten days after his body was discovered, that I--although going by Greyhound at that time, not hitchhiking on my travels during that stretch of my first-ever cross-country trip--found shelter in a frat house living room on the campus of Iowa State University in Ames; my first stop on this trip after my visit to Provo, Utah, for which I made my first-ever hitchhiking sign. Also, Ames, Iowa, like Denton, Texas, lies on Interstate 35; and Ames is also no more than one hundred stair-step road miles across a piece of the Great Plains from where Dennis Clougherty took his last breath. These are possibly some of the same country back roads on which the bastard(s) who breathed in the wisps of Dennis’ last exhales had been cruising before or after they extinguished his promising life. In any event, it is clear that Cedar Falls indeed was the waterloo of Dennis Clougherty.
With respect to Dianna Veronica Singh, it was within one week of my returning home to New York from this very same American journey of discovery I was on--having continued by bus from Ames to Florida and then hitchhiking for its final leg from Florida to New York via a stop at relatives in North Carolina—that Dianna’s body and the embryonic life she was carrying was discovered like so much roadside rubbish in a place called York in the Canadian province adjacent and coterminous to the American state to which I returned home--a place called New York.
It seems that somehow and in some ways, my life and those of Dennis and Dianna and her unborn child are hitched. Just how, other than herein, I have not yet discovered. A question is, was I, at 18 when I hitchhiked that day, the lucky one? Or were Dennis, at 23, and Dianna, at 21, just an unlucky two out of thousands of hitchhikers in a numbers game of the risks that life poses to us all or are risks peculiar to bumming rides? Or is the answer somewhere else or in between?
If the families of these two then young people whose lives were cut far too short of their respective promise and whose futures were never realized, had the opportunity to respond to this, what would they say? And what would Dianna and Dennis tell us? Were they like the man robbed and left for dead by highwaymen on the road from Jerusalem to Jericho? And, if I had come upon either of them in their time of need, would I have acted like the priest, or the Levite, or the man from Samaria? I pray it would have been the latter, but who’s to say?
And, of the murderers of Dianna and of Dennis, may they all just rot in hell?
Tlot-tlot, in the frosty silence! Tlot-tlot, in the echoing night! Nearer he came and nearer! Her face was like a light! Her eyes grew wide for a moment; she drew one last deep breath, Then her finger moved in the moonlight, Her musket shattered the moonlight, Shattered her breast in the moonlight and warned him-with her death. He turned; he spurred to the West; he did not know who stood Bowed, with her head o'er the musket, drenched with her own red blood! Not till the dawn he heard it, his face grew grey to hear How Bess, the landlord's daughter, The landlord's black-eyed daughter, Had watched for her love in the moonlight, and died in the darkness there. Back, he spurred like a madman, shrieking a curse to the sky, With the white road smoking behind him and his rapier brandished high! Blood-red were his spurs i' the golden noon; wine-red was his velvet coat, When they shot him down on the highway, Down like a dog on the highway, And he lay in his blood on the highway, with a bunch of lace at his throat. And still of a winter's night, they say, when the wind is in the trees, When the moon is a ghostly galleon tossed upon cloudy seas, When the road is a ribbon of moonlight over the purple moor, A highwayman comes riding Riding-riding- A highwayman comes riding, up to the old inn-door. --The Highwayman, Alfred Noyes, 1906