FREE RIDE: Someone at work asked me, "Are you a slug?" I didn't know what she was talking about, so I said no. The next day another co-worker gave me the low-down: Slugging is a kind of instant carpooling where commuters pick up total strangers from organized stops. The slug rides for free and the driver gets to use the quick-moving HOV lanes. The moniker "slug" actually comes from bus drivers. It's a term they use for nonpaying riders.
AND YOU ARE? At first the concept sounded strange. It's not endorsed by local law enforcement, though generally nothing is done to discourage it. I pictured myself standing on a corner waiting for a random car, which didn't sound safe. But I asked around, and co-workers knew people who have been slugging for twenty years. The worst complaints were of smelly cars or fast drivers, but I appreciate a speedy, aggressive driver who gets me to work on time. Now I've shed $20 a week off my weekly metro fare -- and shaved about twenty minutes off my commute.
PICKUP JOINTS: There are about 24 slug lines that form around the area. The Web site www.slug-lines.com provides a map of stops. Most are in commuter parking lots and have specific hours. Somehave been there forever, like Bob's in Springfield, which has crowds starting around 6:45 a.m. (It's called Bob's even though the original restaurant no longer exists.) The most popular drops in the District seem to be the Reagan Building and along 14th Street.
MS. MANNERS: The first person in line hears the destination from the driver and shouts to the rest of the line. Only the first two available sluggers in line get in the car; you never cut. Once in the car, don't touch the radio or adjust the air conditioner, heater or windows. Don't slam the car door. Also, you shouldn't eat or drink coffee in someone else's car. I've had drivers that sip coffee, but it is their car. If the driver initiates talking, by all means chat away, but it's understood that he may want to listen to the news or his music and just enjoy a quiet ride.
LOVE IN THE FAST LANE: Right now, I update friends daily about my commute because I rode several times with a cute driver and I try to adjust my hours to catch him. But maybe that's too much information.
As told to Karen M. Hart
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