By Laura Cirillo

Getting into a car with strangers goes against everything we were ever taught as children. After all, strangers can be dangerous, right?

Well, until recently, I had never felt as if a driver had put us Slugs in danger.

Though Slugs will occasionally post warnings on slug-lines.com about particular drivers, I was completely shocked last year when I read the story of Gene McKinney, a Slug driver who was charged with felony malicious wounding when he allegedly ran down one of his passengers after police said he recklessly drove on Interstate 95 / 395’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. I couldn’t even fathom a situation like this spiraling so out of control.

And then, it happened to me. I didn’t fight with the driver or get run over, so I guess I should consider myself lucky. Slugs have virtually no control as passengers, at least it feels that way sometimes, and that alone can be a scary feeling.

While slugging one morning, it all started the moment our driver merged onto HOV. She may have been upset that the SUV behind us was being driven by an HOV cheater (a single driver without any passengers during HOV restricted hours between 6 and 9 a.m. and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday). To be honest, I don’t know what started it, but very quickly I realized that the driver of the SUV was tailgating us, with our driver antagonizing her the whole way.

First, she drove in the left lane at the same pace as the car in the right lane, so that the SUV couldn’t pass. Though I never saw the driver’s face or any obscene gestures, it was obvious that they just wanted to speed through the HOV lanes and get off as quickly as possible, probably to avoid being caught cheating. But this wasn’t enough for our driver, who pretended not to know what she was doing. I knew. And it became even more apparent once she started to “clean her windshield.” Repeatedly. There was not a spot on that windshield, but she continually sprayed windshield wiper fluid. Seriously, who was she kidding?

I started to get uncomfortable, but one of the first rules of slugging is that the passengers don’t speak unless spoken to, and if I did what would I say? I was practically frozen in the front seat. I held my belongings a little tighter, wondering when and how this would end. The driver of the SUV finally had the opportunity to pass us, and did – only to cut us off and come to almost a complete stop, forcing our driver to slam her brakes, and the driver behind us to swerve onto the shoulder to avoid rear-ending us.

Of course I was wearing my seatbelt, but I flew forward toward the dashboard at the sudden halt of momentum. Thinking quickly, I pulled out my cell phone to record the license plate number of the SUV, which now flashed its hazard lights and began creeping forward, very slowly. The other driver was now spraying us with windshield wiper fluid, clearly making a point of getting revenge.

As our driver called 911, I didn’t make a peep when she cried to the dispatcher that this other person was driving erratically, almost causing an accident and by the way, cheating by driving alone on HOV before 9 a.m. – the nerve! Of course, there was no mention of how our very own driver had started it, but that was no surprise. After hanging up, she commented to us that there was, “no excuse for stupid these days” and that some people should just stay off the road. No kidding!

After being dropped off at the Pentagon later that morning, the second Slug passenger who rode with us asked if I had seen what set off the whole chain of events, and I explained what I had observed through the ride. He admitted that he had been reading emails on his BlackBerry and hadn’t realized what was happening at first, but that he had ridden with this lady before and had a similar experience.

“She seems to get very… upset… with other drivers,” he said. “And I’ve seen her pull the windshield wiper move before.”

So, lesson learned. We both agreed we wouldn’t make the mistake of riding in her car ever again!

Laura Cirillo lives in Prince William County and commutes to work daily in Washington, D.C. Whether she’s slugging or on the bus, Laura knows commuting is always more fun on Northern Virginia’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes, avoiding rush hour madness and catching a power nap along the way.

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