The Hill publication:
By Duncan Spencer
August 3, 2005
Slugging solution is too simple for experts
If you’ve ever been crawling over the 14th Street Bridge
trapped by thousands of cars — each one driven by a single
frustrated individual — the thought is inescapable: there
must be a better way.
And there is. It is called “slugging.”
The slugging world is little-known to us here on the Hill. It
is a world of suits and briefcases and dusty parking lots and
intersections where “slugs” — commuters who are seeking
to share cars with other commuters — gather, morning and
It is a world with its own language, its own code of
courtesies, its rules, its history, its literature, its
and even its own doggerel poetry. It is also the simplest,
cheapest and most logical hope for the wretched mess that rush
hour in this city has become.
Because using all those single-driver cars to carry just one
more passenger — just one — would reduce the tangle on the
bridge, on I-95, on I-66 and other routes by an enormous
amount. Yet it is a fragile idea, subject to fears of crime,
fears of interaction with strangers. A single crime could kill
it. Rush-hour toll lanes would damage it. And it is completely
free and unregulated. Many think it is the only hope for a
commuting city like Washington.
D.C. slugging started at a place called Bob’s, a restaurant
parking lot (once Bob’s Big Boy, now Shoney’s) at the
corner of Bland and Old Keene Mill roads, Springfield. The one
destination was the Pentagon. The inaugural year was 1971, at
the conjunction of the Arab oil embargo and the widespread
acceptance of high-occupancy-vehicle (HOV) lanes in Virginia,
which began in 1969.
The logic was ordinary. Drivers needed passengers to
“make” the HOV cut, and slugs needed a ride. Everyone was
Since then, the idea has spread, with lines of slugs appearing
at 14th Street and Constitution Avenue N.W., 14th and
Independence Avenue S.W. and 14th and New York Avenue N.W., to
name only the oldest and most established sites.
There is a communal code among slugs. The cardinal rule is
slugs do not talk. Second is no mention of religion, politics
or sex if the driver does converse with his slugs. Third, no
money or gifts; and fourth, no cell-phone conversations.
Fifth, slugs do not leave women standing alone in the slug
line. Sixth, no smoking. And there are others.
The lingo of the slug is decidedly weird. The name began
because bus drivers began to notice that people at bus stops
were not waiting for them, but for slugging cars. The drivers
disparaged them with the same name they use for counterfeit
fares — they don’t intend to pay. Other slug terms include
“body snatcher,” for a driver who picks and chooses among
the waiting slugs instead of taking the first in line;
“caller,” a driver who yells out a destination instead of
having a card on the dashboard that says, for instance,
“Pentagon”; and “scraper,” slang for a car that picks
Now the slugging world is shaken by proposals to replace HOV
lanes with toll lanes. This will cut the logic out of slugging
and add expense, perhaps enormous expense if new lanes must be
built. All along, slugging has gone on and prospered without
official help; this may well be the time for local governments
to step in and facilitate this economical, ecological and
practical idea. Even signage would help.
The D.C. housing bubble swells
D.C.’s housing bubble has grown so big and so airy that the
spunky City Paper weekly lampoons what’s known as a
“lipstick job,” recording the sales history of some
humdrum row house on a nothing street that has risen $200,000
in price in the past 15 months.
And on the street you hear story after story of amazing gains
in value, of people “cashing out” of their $60,000 row
houses for $900,000 and more.
No wonder more and more people are buying houses not to live
in but to live well by — hoping that in an year or less
their large investments will bring them a handsome profit with
little risk. A recent issue of Kiplinger’s magazine,
however, counts D.C. as one of the nation’s 13
Analysts believe that the higher the proportion of investor
purchases (which in places like Las Vegas amount to over 40
percent of all purchases) the more likely a selling panic is
likely to occur. In that scenario investors sell at the first
sniff of a downturn, unlike occupiers of houses, who in many
cases are delighted to see a downturn that may ease their tax
assessments. And when many investors sell prices fall quickly
because few investors have the courage to buy into a falling
It’s a human failing. Wise investors, I’m told, buy when
bombs are falling and people are running and sell when people
say the market is good and will get even better. This advice
came from a relative who would be 100 years old had he
survived to this month, yet his advice is as sound as it ever
Bulldog Bob Siegel won’t give in on sin sites
Sin-club-site owner Bob Siegel, whose land is occupied by such
places for refreshment and entertainment as Glorious Health
and Amusements, the Follies Theater, Heat, Secrets and
Ziegfeld’s — all located in the Hill’s X-rated zone near
the unit block of O Street S.E. — has become the unlikely
poster boy for eminent domain.
It’s too bad, but gruff and pugnacious Siegel, formerly an
advisory neighborhood commissioner (6B), isn’t your ordinary
victim of the development mania that has gripped formerly
overlooked industrial Southeast. Yet his argument — that the
city has no right to condemn his land to give it to a
developer — is no less valid.
Siegel has chosen to fight in court, and he lost a round this
summer when a Superior Court judge, Geoffrey Alprin, dismissed
his suit against the city on the flimsy grounds that the city
had not yet begun the process of condemnation that leads to
eminent domain. Siegel will sue again, he says. Three other
owners of “adult” entertainment houses are also suing,
claiming their civil rights are being infringed.
And the city has ordered him off his land by Dec. 31 of this
The issue is important not only because large sums are
involved, and Siegel clearly plans to test the cost limits of
the stadium, but also because his suit squarely asks the
question: Can the city simply take land when it is not for a
public good but for a moneymaking venture such as Major League
Eminent domain, after all, is usually invoked to take land for
highways, bridges and other infrastructure needs that benefit,
directly or indirectly, the whole community. Baseball, on the
other hand, benefits mainly the business of baseball, and the
fans, who most observers say are middle-class suburbanites.
The Supreme Court earlier this summer stretched eminent domain
to include projects judged to be “for the public good.”
The question is: Who is making that judgment?
• New on the Avenue: A bar at 1420 Pennsylvania Ave. S.E.
called Trusty’s Full Service Bar is the latest in a spate of
original new spots from the fertile imagination of the
hill’s Bar Czar Joe Englert. Trusty’s was chosen by the
hard-partying Capital Rowing Club for its post-regatta blast
July 30 and features many televisions and cheap beer. ...
• Barry Watch: Is the former mayor and present councilman
from Ward 8, Marion Barry, making his pleas for the reopening
of D.C. General personal? He was back under hospital care
again July 21 for dehydration, his third such event this year.
Barry was released after an overnight stay at Greater
Southeast Hospital. ...
• Williams Watch: Auguries about Mayor Anthony Williams’s
(D) reelection intentions might as well be read the old way
— with chicken intestines — but there is a hint in the
surging interest in Council Chairwoman Linda Cropp’s entry
into the race. Cropp has all the inside information. If she is
a go, Tony will be a no. ...
• Parking-meter prices in the District are due for an
overhaul, and the trend will be to charge more for high-demand
areas, less for lower-demand areas, says Dan Tangherlini,
D.C.’s transportation chief. The aim is to lure cars away
from downtown meters, where meter feeding and “circling”
for parking are rampant. ...
• H Street N.E. is hoping to hire a contractor simply to
clean up the 13-block shopping strip between North Capitol and
15th streets N.E. — usually littered with trash, wrappers,
etc. Advisory Neighborhood Commission 6B Chairman Joe Fengler
has appealed to local merchants for financial support for the
• Eastern Market is opting out of the Capitol Hill Business
Improvement District (BID) because of the $22,000 annual cost.
Manager Stuart Smith says the services BID crews perform on
other Hill commercial streets are not much needed at the old
market on 7th Street S.E. ...
• Del. Eleanor Holmes Norton (D-D.C.) is relieved that the
Senate appropriations bill has a minor but consequential
provision allowing the city to spend incoming money without
returning to Congress for authority. “This is a start toward
full budget autonomy,” she said.