Slugging brings strangers together
in the fast lane
The Free-Lance Star, Fredericksburg, VA
Datee published: 6/1/2003
IT'S DARK AND DRIZZLY, and I'm standing in a parking lot on
U.S. 17 trying to hitch a ride from a perfect stranger.
If I started running around the commuter lot with scissors,
I could probably fulfill my mother's worst nightmare.
But I'm too tired to consider it. It's 5:20 a.m., a good
four hours before I'm normally conscious.
I've been curious about the slugging phenomenon since I
moved to Fredericksburg two years ago. Where I'm from, it's
called "hitchhiking," from the Latin word meaning
"Have you plumb lost your mind?"
I say as much to a fellow slug. She assures me that in her
eight years of slugging, no stranger's ever tried to kill her
or offer her candy. I'm comforted.
One by one, drivers in sedans and SUVs pull up to the slug
line and shout where they're going: Crystal City, the Navy
Yard, 18th Street.
Slugs heading to those destinations hop in. They get a free
ride, and the driver gets access to the faster-moving
high-occupancy-vehicle lanes, which require at least three
occupants in each car.
Legitimate slugs claim they've seen some drivers ferrying
inflatable dolls to avoid a ticket.
At 5:47 a.m., I accept a ride to the Pentagon from a man
who looks like he won't fall asleep at the wheel of his Ford
David Blosser, a computer systems administrator from
Stafford, also picks up Fred Kane, an Army intelligence
officer from Spotsylvania, and Jamie Miniter, a Department of
Defense worker from Stafford.
I have lots of questions, but I don't want to break the
silence. There's an unspoken code among slugs: The driver
makes the rules. If the driver speaks, others can speak. If
not, shut your trap.
I told Blosser when I entered his car that I was a
reporter, and after a few moments he asks me what I'm working
on. I explain that my goal this morning is to reach the
Washington Monument faster than my colleagues.
Bragging rights are on the line, and these guys rise to the
challenge. They guarantee me at least a second-place finish.
Each has tried the Virginia Railway Express and insists
that slugging is faster--and cheaper. The woman in the van
pool might beat you today, they say.
But the lone driver doesn't stand a chance, says Kane,
pointing to the line of brake lights in the regular travel
"It'll take him at least two hours," Kane says.
"You don't have to worry about him."
Our journey up the HOV lanes is uneventful, and by 6:32
a.m. I'm standing in the Pentagon Metro station, trying to
make my way to the Smithsonian stop, which is near the
I get as far as L'Enfant Plaza before a stranger points me
toward the wrong Metro line--hired no doubt by my
I lose some valuable time here, but I hustle once I reach
the Mall, and I'm standing in front of the Monument by 6:59
a.m., no worse for having accepted a ride from a stranger.
Date published: 6/1/2003