the Region's Commuting Battle, Many Choose to Slug It Out
By Katherine Shaver
Sunday, November 2, 2003; Page C04
Every morning and every evening, hundreds of commuters
referred to as "slugs" line up for free rides from
motorists they don't know who are seeking passengers so they,
in turn, can use Northern Virginia's faster high-occupancy
Sometimes, it's a scary, smelly or dirty ride.
Among the problems: sleepy drivers, eardrum-bursting radio
volume and back seats covered with animal hair.
The number of problem drivers are minuscule compared with
the vast majority who provide clean, comfortable rides, slugs
But as Lee Hargraves, 47, who slugs between his Burke home
and his job as a sociologist near L'Enfant Plaza, put it:
"I'm more likely to find bad drivers in my own family
than I am among slug drivers. But, like anything in life, it's
that one in 1,000 that sticks in your mind."
Stories of vehicles and drivers to avoid circulate among
slugs waiting for rides. Some are even joining forces on a Web
site to create a "do-not-ride-with" list.
"I, myself, can tolerate a free ride, so if these
people made it on my list, then they must be really, really
BAD," one slug wrote last October on the www.Slug-Lines.com
message board when suggesting such a list.
Since that posting, dozens of fellow slugs have written in
to voice complaints. Among them: space taken up by child
safety seats, smelly cars, aggressive drivers and intolerable
The phenomenon of slugging, believed to be unique to the
Washington area, has operated as a casual carpooling system
for more than 30 years. Slugs travel to commuter parking lots
in the outer suburbs and then line up for rides from motorists
who need warm bodies to meet the three-person requirement of
the faster HOV lanes.
Slugs regulate themselves according to an unwritten but
strict code of conduct: Slugs don't speak unless the driver
speaks first. The driver chooses the radio station and volume.
Same goes for the air conditioning and heater. Slugs, however,
may pass up any driver or vehicle of their choosing.
The privilege of bypassing a ride can come in handy, some
Susan Buchanan, 28, of Spotsylvania said she remembered one
ride home last winter with a couple who picked up her and her
mother in Washington and blasted National Public Radio all the
way into Northern Virginia -- and then refused to take them to
the correct commuter lot in Stafford County.
She and her mother had to walk along a busy road with no
sidewalk and then cross six lanes of traffic to get to the
"I found out later [from other slugs] that that couple
was notorious for telling people to be quiet and not talk
because they wanted to listen to NPR," Buchanan said.
Out of the nine months that she slugged, Buchanan said, she
came across four drivers whose rides she later took pains to
pass up. These motorists included a man with whom she chatted
just so he wouldn't fall asleep at the wheel; a woman who
drove so erratically that Buchanan arrived at work badly
nauseated; and a car with dried saliva from dog licks covering
the back windows.
"You recognize a [problem] car and you step aside and
say, 'Help yourself,' to the person behind you," Buchanan
said. "Normally, people just want a ride home, but
sometimes it's just too much."
Army Maj. Frank March, 36, who slugs between Potomac Mills
and the Rosslyn Metro stop, said the relatively few tailgating
drivers and hair-covered back seats are worth the time savings
of the carpool lanes and the free ride.
Slugging is so convenient for both drivers and passengers,
March said, that most people "go out of their way to be
polite and do the right thing."
© 2003 The Washington Post Company