Three Men In A Car – Washington, DC

Three Men In A Car – Washington, DC
Metro and Slug Etiquette – Slice of Life
  By – Sheri de Grom

Slugs: slimy fat, blown-up wormy-looking things I kill in my flower garden. Isn’t that what they are? I thought so—until my career moved me from the Central Coast of California to Washington, DC and I learned a new definition for slugs.

How I loved Monterey and Carmel, California and my work on Fort Ord. But Fort Ord was closing in 1994 and as a career government employee, I had to be proactive. I desperately wanted to stay right where I was where I was comfortable and snug. But I could not.

We were DC bound and I faced the greatest culture shock I’ve ever experienced. My California love affair of driving my car wherever I wanted and at whatever speed I wanted, was gone. Now, all transportation was measured in ‘time’ and not ‘distance.’ DC is a world onto itself.

Riding the metro became my preferred mode of transportation. Its safety record is unmatched by any other city and it’s immaculately clean. No food or drink is allowed and an unwritten law holds that you take all reading materials when departing.

Co-workers offered me one suggestion about metro riding that bothered me: it’s unsafe to make eye contact with anyone. I’ve always been a friendly person and like to talk with people along life’s way—but not on the metro. Each man and woman is an island.

It’s easy spotting tourists on the metro. They’re easily recognizable with cameras hanging from their necks and the endless metro maps creeping from their pockets. Of course, we daily commuters wanted them gone. They cramp our regular rush. There’s nothing like a DC commuter snob.

The solution for non-metro days presented in the form of slugs. The high occupancy vehicle (HOV) lanes going into DC during mornings and back out to the suburbs during evenings requires each vehicle to have three riders. Thus, the formation of slug lines.

To pick up a slug (a person you’ve never met before and will probably never see again) you, the driver, show up in a location in your suburb (e.g. the parking lot of a business) where there will be long lines of people and lines of cars. Crawling to the front of the line in your car, you yell out where you’re willing to drop off riders and then up to three people climb into your car.

It made sense to me. My daily commute for twenty-two miles was roughly two hours each way on a good day and over three hours on a bad day (and I had my own parking space). What about the person who had to pay to park?

Slug etiquette included: no talking, no smoking, the driver’s skills, or anything else, no eating or drinking, no adjusting of seats or anything electronic, and music is driver’s choice.

The HOV lanes are a gift to the commuter and—you whiz by those stuck in bumper-to-bumper traffic—life is wonderful.

The return trip home took on the same routine. I’d pick up slugs from the long lines of waiting riders at The Washington Monument and away we’d go.

In the history of the Washington, DC, slug-rider program, there’s never been a reported act of violence. It allows the driver to reach their destination in record time and the slug has a free ride to and from work each day.

Hands-down, my most entertaining event with slugs occurred one evening after purchasing a new car. I hadn’t read the manual on how to operate all the electronic gizmos (i.e. locking and unlocking doors, rolling windows up and down, etc.). How hard could it be? I’d read the instructions over the weekend.

The first night of the new car, the shot-gun riding slug broke protocol and started playing with the buttons on his door rest. I thought he might get himself into a position he’d rather not be in but didn’t bother to comment.

When we reached northern Virginia and it was time for the slugs to get out of my car, they couldn’t. The car doors were locked, all four of them. Nothing worked. Glaring at the front seat passenger, I pulled the new car manual from the glove box. None of the instructions made sense to any of us. Come to find out, I had three government engineers in my vehicle and one of them even worked at the Department of Transportation.

Evidently, the slug had poked the buttons in such rapid succession the anti-theft device had activated.

I wasn’t thrilled about being stuck in my car, new or not, with three men who wanted nothing more than to get out. How absurd could things get? Only in DC, I thought, could I hold hostage three men when I didn’t want them. I didn’t know any of them and didn’t want to.

Forty-five minutes or so later, the man in the right rear seat managed to get his window down. I still don’t know how. I’m simply grateful he did. It had something to do with a fingernail file.

By this time we had a good-sized audience watching the activities of a woman (that would be me) and three men locked in a car (that would be the three government engineers).

The three men, one at a time, tossed their briefcases out the rear window to an observer. The real excitement came when each man struggled out the rear view window, each in his three-piece suit. None appeared to have had military training, or, if they did, it was at least twenty years prior. Thankfully I’d purchased a full sized car.

Never again did I see any of the men in a slug line.

How about you? Have you had an unusual experience with mass transit or while using public transportation?

About Sheri de Grom

Retired Fed/JAG, 5 yrs. on Capitol Hill. Former book buyer for B and N. Concerned citizen of military drawdown. Currently involved in mental healthcare reform, health care strategist and actively pursuing legislative change wherein dual retirees are exempt from enrolling in Medicare at their own discretion without losing tertiary healthcare benefits. Monitor and comment on Federal Register proposed legislation involving Mental Health, Veterans Affairs, Health and Human Services, Medicare and rural libraries. Licensed OSHA Inspector to include Super Fund sites. Full time caregive to Vietnam era veteran. Conceptualized, investigated possible alternatives, authored, lobbied for, and successfully implemented Title X, Section 1095 (known as the Third Party Collection Program of Federal Insurance).
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30 Responses to Three Men In A Car – Washington, DC

  1. Pingback: Thank You For Inspiring Me « theinnerwildkat

  2. Lynn Garrett says:

    Good grief, Sheri! I can just see it. Grown men diving headlong out of a car window. Sounds like a teenage Chinese fire drill! Only you, and only in D.C.

  3. You’ve confirmed my theory that people on the east coast don’t really live. They just exist. Unfortunately, it’s getting more and more like that in the I-35 and I-45 corridors in Texas. Makes me want to move to Tonopah, Nevada, or Gotebo, Oklahoma.

    • David – I made it for five years and then I ‘had to get out of Dodge’ as the saying goes. I’m thankful for the experience–it was great for my career but more importantly–a greater understanding and empathy for what people put up with on a daily basis. Have you considered moving to Bull Frog, Utah? I was almost sent there by the US gov – the closest diet coke was 200 miles (one way) – I would have croaked!

  4. Oh my land. I have never heard of such a thing. LOL!!!! That’s crazy Sheri. The slug lines and then getting trapped IN your car. RIOT!! I’d have loved to have seen those guys climbing out through the window. LOL!! Now how did you ever manage to get out?
    Here’s in Eastern Canada, I live outside the city and my commute is 12 minutes on a bad day. I cannot imagine a 2+ hour commute. How y’all manage is beyond me.
    Slug lines…who knew?!?!? WAHAHAHAHA!! And love all the etiquette and rules. LOL!!

    • Natalie – I do believe you and that man of yours should go to DC and pull up to a slug line for a week or so and pull your ‘conversation act’ for a week or so. I bet you would have your very own reality show in no time at all. You’d give the government workers something to giggle about all day long. One of the things that always amazed me was that if I didn’t pick up a slug – I had to get up at 3:30 to make it to my job by 8:00 – I was the boss and had to set my example by being there before everyone else – I was one of those bad, hard nose bosses that didn’t give a minute (you had to be in DC or the employees would take the whole darn day off). When I picked up slugs I could sleep in until 4:30 – – – what a bonus. There’s more tales coming up about that particular car but hubby thinks I should space them out for my ‘slice of life’ stories. And, I’ve never in my life had a commute of 12 minutes unless you count my days since I retired and I roll out of bed, turn on the coffee pot, let the dogs out for a minute and I walk straight to my office on the other side of the house:) Thanks for reading with me.

  5. Oh, wow, what a fun holiday-weekend blog — and now I’m dying to know how YOU got out of the car once you reached home!

    But aside from the entertaining imagery, I’m so sorry you lost your first husband and brothers in Vietnam…that makes your dedication to America’s military people even more poignant.

    • Hi Laurie – Hope you are having a great holiday. Well, I could wait and do another ‘slice of life’ about my getting out of the car but you really don’t want to know how I managed in my nice Jones of New York suit and silk blouse, do you? Not to mention, those were the days of 3 inch heels. Were we crazy or what? Don’t answer that! Three inch heels is practically considered going barefoot these days. But, so glad you posted – I just thought of another silly story about that same car. DC was one of those places where you had to laugh before and after work because there wasn’t much to laugh at while you were working (too many crooks). Did I just say that?

  6. Tom de Grom says:

    Sometimes Sheri would let me drive the car, so we only needed one more Slug to make our HOV quoto.

    • The best part of having Tom drive the car (other than having his company of course) was that he could circle the block while I ran into Starbucks in downtown DC – would you believe they knew exactly what we wanted and from the time I hit the door and had the money out to pay the cashier – our order was up and ready to go. Starabuck baristas in DC are truly amazing. It often took more than 1 venti skinny latte to make it 22 miles!

  7. Mae Clair says:

    OMG, what a vivid image you painted of you and the three men in the car with a crowd onlookers gathered as you attempted to find a way out. And then the men having to crawl through the window – – hysterical! I’d never heard of a slug (in this context before). I live in a small/midsized town where my daily commute consists of 15 minutes on secondary routes and back roads to reach my job. I don’t think I’d survive in a big city! You’ve enlightened and entertained me all in one post. Loved this, Sheri!!

    • Mae – It’s amazing what we can survive when we have to make choices that’ll protect our career and keep our insurance policy – and that’s how I ended up in DC. Once I became used to the daily requirements of survival – well a girl has to do what a girl has to do. I’ve often wondered if any of those guys have ever thought about crawling out that window!

  8. thoughtsfromanamericanwoman says:

    OHGosh – that is funny!! As someone who lives in rural PA our rush hour traffic means we will be 15 minutes late to a destination and if there is construction and a delay of say 30 minutes, people act as if the world has come to stand still and can’t function!!! Anyway…I applaud that system, and often wondered how someone gets around in DC. Do they also pick up tourist slugs getting from one memorial to another? Just curious, our next trip hubby wants to take me around in the metro and I get nervous just thinking about it – I do not like closed in spaces, I did make it down to the first level on of our trips – that is a start – but I think I prefer to be a slug!! LOL

    • Life as a slug is for covering several miles in the wonderful world of the HOV lanes. Do take advantage of the metro while you are in DC. My suggestion is to use it during non-rush hours. My husband and I always used the metro if we wanted to go back into the city at night to go to the theater or hear a speaker or some such thing. The lines have been extended many miles since we’ve lived there. As for getting from monument to monument and the many museums – try one of the little blue trams wherein you buy a ticket for the day and can get on and off as many times during the day as you want. And, by all means, take a pair of good walking shoes that are broke in. I have many places I frequented when I wanted peace and quiet and think of the days when I’d go to Mount Vernon to sit on what I called ‘George’s Porch’ and watch the Potomic go by. I’d often sit and watch the soldiers guard the tomb of the unknown soldier at Arlington and on and on. Running my hand over the name of my first husband and my brothers on the Vietnam Memorial always brought me another kind of peace after so many years of boiling anger. Have a wonderful time–it is different from the peaceful landscapes I’ve been viewing on your blog.

      • thoughtsfromanamericanwoman says:

        Thanks for the suggestion of the tram – I will remember that. The last time we went was to go to the WWII memorial where I placed a rose for my dad, and we of coarse went to the Vietnam wall – I am so sorry about your first husband and brothers. I have been blessed that my cousins came back, but my husband lost his best friend – they were friends since they were 5 yrs old – in Vietnam so we also placed a rose for Ray. Tom’s brother has yet to go. Like you Tom ran his hand over his friends name and we have a picture of it to keep it close. Blessings – Patty

        • Good morning, Patty. The monuments in DC are truly remarkable in that they allow many of us to heal in different ways. The years I worked in DC they had a calming affect on me and the years I’ve been either there as a tourist or on business they’ve presented that grand feeling of history. The causal relationship of where my country has been and what we’ve been through (both bad and good) to get where we are now–is someething I think about now. I love to sit on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial at night and look out across the lighted monuments. Talk about the wow factor. Have a great day and week ahead. – Sheri

  9. Oh, Sheri, this post is hilarious! I used to participate in the “slug” line but we didn’t call it that. In fact I don’t know that we named it anything, but it was considered normal and safe. We’d get in the car with some stranger and say “good morning” and then be whisked away, across the San Francisco Bay Bridge, and get dropped off wherever it was convenient for the driver. At no other time would I EVER suggest getting into a strange’s automobile but this was considered totally sane.

  10. Betty Bolte says:

    I’ve seen the lines of slugs when I’ve visited DC in the past. I don’t know that I’d ever have the guts to stand in that line or to pick up anyone. Seems too much like picking up hitchhikers, which I’ve learned isn’t always safe. But it does save time, that’s for sure! Thanks for the insights into the slug world of DC!

    • Betty – The individuals in the slug lines are like the rest of us – they need to get to work and home again. It’s the best of all worlds when you have to commute in DC and almost everyone does. I would never pick up just one slug. I believe in numbers. Somehow I never considered a slug a hitchhiker or a ‘stranger’ – but they were exactly that. They were clean, well-dressed professionals going to work and then back home again. Perhaps it’s a case of misery loves comany.

  11. Sheri, two things came to mind as I read this post … One: as a die-hard New Yorker, I’d have to be brain dead before I’d pick up anyone in my car … Two: my commutes were ALL on subway or bus and later with crazy gypsy cab drivers. New York highways and major arteries to and from Manhattan are reportedly almost as dangerous as those in California … and they are also the slowest in the country. I-95 which goes up the East Coast of the US and becomes the Cross Bronx in NYC is so bad, you could have added another two hours to your commute!! We call the Long Island Expressway the longest parking lot in the country.

    About strange? We’re talking NYC Rapid transit … subways where you are stuffed in to cars, face to face … belly to belly. If you get on at the beginning of the line you might find a seat and then dozens of faces are leaning over trying not to fall into your lap … men with with their legs spread wide as though nature had given them the (blanks) of an elephant … and the wise female subway rider keeps a long straight pin somewhere in her lapel or collar for the ones who grind or grab. There are so many stories, I fear I’d use up more words than your post to list them … the most disturning was a man who ended up “hanging” on in front of my seat and decided to open his zipper to air the little sucker 🙂

    • Yikes – there’s several positive things I can say about the Washington DC metro area . . . but I won’t go on and on. Actually, if you take the politicians and the crooks out of DC–it’s not a bad place. The metro is the cleanest I’ve been on and the safest–my rule of thumb was to avoid standing with my nose in someone’s armpit–but sometimes ya gotta do what ya gotta do. Additionally, I’d never pick up anyone that wasn’t in a slug line–but I always trusted my slugs–until they started messing with the buttons for the electrical system.

  12. Wow! I think you have effectively convinced me to never move to DC (though, in all fairness, they’re not even in my top 100 cities to live). Growing up in Chicago, I’ve ridden public transportation before. I don’t mind it.
    Unusual transportation experience? I lived in the Philippines for a little while. The area I lived in didn’t have very many traffic lights or signs, and when you did see them, they were more a suggestion than a command. Public transportation consisted of “jeepneys”. They were usually colorfully painted vehicles…kind of like the covered military trucks you see in movies, except instead of canvas, it had a metal roof. There was a step up into the back and benches on either side. You found a seat on the bench. Slightly above the bench and up to the roof, the sides were either open or covered in see through plastic to protect against the elements. It was not unusual to share your ride with 15-20 strangers (some of whom were prostitutes, recognize able by their red lacquered nails and obvious makeup). Often, there were also live chickens in cages on the floor of the vehicle…someone bringing home dinner.
    Even as a kid, I enjoyed the ride because I felt grown up, and it allowed me an opportunity to people watch.

    • Hi Kit – I laughed and laughed about the “jeepneys.” I can picture it in my head and of a young girl riding along just for the fun of it all. I hadn’t heard about this particular mode of transportation before and after living all over the world–have been feeling a little smug in my experiences. As I mentioned to someone else, DC isn’t that bad of place. It would be a really nice city if we could take out the politicians and the government contractors:) I’ve used the mass transit in Chicago–but has been many years. O’Hara is still one of my frequent hubs and during the years I worked for the government, it was one of the major sites I kept an extra suitcase in an airport locker. Thanks for stopping in.

  13. What a hoot! What are the odds of having three engineers in the car when this happened? Wonderful blog, Sheri. Looking forward to the next ones!

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