By LAURA CIRILLO

Although very popular among commuters, slugging is sure to be one of the most misunderstood practices in the Washington area.

Over the time I have spent slugging to Washington from Northern Virginia, I have come to learn that this unique system can seemingly only be truly understood by those who have done it. In conversation with my friends and family who have never experienced the Slug lines, in short, they just don’t seem to get it! Getting in cars with strangers… isn’t that something we were taught as children not to do?

People ask questions, like “isn’t it true you’re not allowed to talk?” And “how do you know that you’re all going to the same place?” As an experienced slug, these questions are fairly easily answered. But for a non-commuter, or someone who sticks to the familiarity of the regular carpool or bus route, Slugging seems to be such a foreign concept. Why would you want to ride with a car full of strangers anyway?

While visiting family in New Jersey over the weekend, I was once again reminded of how strange slugging can seem to people who are unfamiliar with the idea. After finding out that I work in Washington and commute from Virginia, the first question asked is usually how I get back and forth.

Of course, if I say that I take a bus or Metro, there isn’t much explanation needed. And since I often use public transit, sometimes it’s much less complicated to just leave it at that. But slugging is so much more interesting, especially to those who have never heard of it before.

At first, my family seemed completely confused about slugging.

“So, you’re basically hitchhiking?” they asked.

Well, not really. Though I can see how they’ve made the connection, what comes to mind when I think of hitchhiking is a guy on a side of the highway with his thumb sticking out, carrying a knapsack on the end of a stick. Real original, right? That may not always be the case, but slugging is way more organized than that.

As I enlightened my out-of-state family members, I explained how slugs convene every morning in designated commuter lots, and stand in specific lines destined for specific locations, either to the Pentagon or surrounding areas, or Downtown Washington.

“But how do the drivers know where to drop you off?” they inquired, still perplexed.

And so I continued on about how many slugs are dropped off near certain buildings, Metro stops, or other agreed upon intersections or locations.

“And do you pay when you get in the car?” they asked.

That’s when I like to explain how slugging is mutually beneficial to drivers and riders alike; the drivers benefit by picking up enough riders to access the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95 or 66, the slugs get a free ride, and everyone gets to work faster than they would by using the regular lanes or other methods of public transportation.

By this point, my family seemed to begin to understand the system, at least a little bit, but still expressed concern about me getting into cars with people that I don’t know. They worried that it’s dangerous, that I could be riding in cars with serial killers. Luckily, I haven’t met one yet, but I tend to reassure my loved ones by telling them how many thousands of us slug without any serious problems every day of the week.

Sure, I’ve ridden in cars that smell funny or don’t have AC; I’ve ridden with drivers who don’t let their passengers sleep or with other slugs who tell crazy personal stories – but honestly, I’ve never felt personally threatened by anyone while slugging. In fact, I find that with few exceptions, people are generally quite pleasant and just trying to get to work or back home.

By the time we moved onto other conversations, I wondered if I had adequately portrayed the slugging system to my extended family. For the most part, slugging is the quickest, and mostly painless way to get in and out of our far-away city offices. Still, I can see why it seems so strange to non-commuters to ride with strangers every day.

Maybe it is a little weird, but it works for us – and really, that’s all that matters!