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.
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?