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  Newspaper and Radio Stories
Slugging brings strangers together in the fast lane

The Free-Lance Star, Fredericksburg, VA

Photo by Mike Morones / The Free Lance-Star
Reporter Edie Gross (left), in an early morning drizzle at the slug line on U.S. 17 in Stafford County, waits for a ride to Washington.
Click for larger photo.

 


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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 Explorer.

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 lanes.

"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 Monument.

I get as far as L'Enfant Plaza before a stranger points me toward the wrong Metro line--hired no doubt by my van-pool-riding nemesis.

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

 

 
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