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From The Hill publication:
http://thehill.com/thehill/export/TheHill/Features/Hillscape/080305.html

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 evening.

It is a world with its own language, its own code of courtesies, its rules, its history, its literature, its website (www.slug-lines.com) 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 happy.

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 up slugs.

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 “riskiest” markets.

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 market.

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 was.

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 year.

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 Baseball?

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?

METRO

• 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 idea. ...

• 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.

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