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Slug Tales: Don’t Let A Bad Experience Spoil Slugging

By LAURA CIRILLO

Last week, a fellow commuter said something that concerned me. He said he would never Slug again.

We were standing in the Montclair OmniRide bus line at the Pentagon, just making small talk about the unbelievably long line. It was after 6 p.m., too late to Slug since it was after Interstate 95’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes’ restricted hours, so there in the bus line, we waited.

He was at the end when I approached, so I confirmed the destination with him, just to make sure I was getting in the correct line. I explained that I normally don’t ride that bus, so I wasn’t familiar with where the lines stood. When he asked where I work, and how I normally commute, and I told him that I Slug.

At that, he laughed and shook his head.

“I don’t know how you do it,” he said. “I gave that up a long time ago.”

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Surprised at his reaction, I asked him why. Apparently, a bad experience years ago had completely turned him off to slugging, and he had been taking the commuter bus ever since.

He explained how he was picked up one morning by a young woman heading to Crystal City, who listened to loud music and drove erratically. After almost colliding with another vehicle, he demanded that she let him out on the shoulder of the HOV lanes before the Pentagon exit, and he walked the rest of the way to work.

Some friends had convinced him to carpool several times since then, and they picked up a Slug or two along the way, but he refused to get in the car if a stranger was driving. He opted instead to put his faith in the OmniRide commuter bus drivers, never to Slug again. This gentleman, dressed in Army fatigues and nearing retirement, was too afraid to give the system, with all of its benefits, one more chance.

It made me wonder how many people let one bad apple spoil the bunch. How many commuters have experienced something negative throughout their travels that has stopped them from slugging, like my new friend in the bus line?

I didn’t think it would do any good to remind him of all the benefits of slugging, since he was at the point in his career where he wouldn’t need to commute much longer. But I hope it’s not too late for others who may have ruled it out too soon.

Slugging is a system that is only successful if people support it, either by riding or driving other Slugs. If we stop picking up Slugs because one time, a Slug wore too much perfume, or if we stop riding because a Slug driver drove too fast on HOV, the slugging system would not sustain.

Not that I think the system is in any danger – there are certainly plenty of us who make the choice every day to pick up Slugs, or get into cars with other Slugs. We are the lifeblood of the slugging system; we keep it going every day, ensuring its success since the 1970s.

At the same time, I’m told by many people that they “couldn’t do it,” that they wouldn’t want to risk picking up or getting in cars with strangers. We all have our own personal preferences but the concept seems a lot more intimidating on the outside than it really is. I promise – once you get used to it, slugging is a piece of cake!

The thing is, all of us Slugs have a common goal each day – to get to work quickly, with no cost (well, no cost for riders; drivers pick up the tab for gas and parking).

Keeping that in mind, I hope my commuter friends will at least give slugging a try. It may not be as bad as you think.

 

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Slug Tales: Metro a Wrench in Commute

For commuters in Northern Virginia, there are several different options of transportation available. People who work in Washington or surrounding areas can choose between different bus lines, Metro, Virginia Railway Express, or they may choose to carpool or Slug.

Slug lines are often located along commuter bus routes or near Metro stations, as the bus or Metro can serve as an alternative when Slug rides are scarce. In order to get to certain Slug or bus lines, sometimes commuters may have to ride a couple of stops on Metro, of which I am not a huge fan.

Everything about Metro tends to infuriate me. Just last night the system had a minor derailment causing delays for hundreds of commuters. I could be having the best day of my life, laughing and skipping around town, and Metro has the power to take the wind right out of my sails.

First of all, I have yet to spend a day commuting where everything in my Metro station is fully operational – there is always at least one broken escalator, sometimes down for months at a time, or the elevators are out of order, or the electronic sign that displays train arrival times isn’t working, or the train is malfunctioning and delayed. It never fails – there’s always something.

Not to mention the tourists who stand on the left side of the escalator, ignorant of the “stand on the right, pass on the left” rule understood amongst those who use Metro regularly. They all seem to be perpetually lost and blocking traffic, wearing their matching t-shirts and fanny packs as they cautiously study the colorful Metro system map.

A typical long line of Slugs at the Pentagon wait to catch a ride to Tackett’s Mill in Lake Ridge.

Then, there are the teenagers, out for a good time with friends after school, sometimes completely harmless, but other times downright obscene and seemingly oblivious of other passengers. Even other commuters can be a source of frustration; with everyone wanting to board immediately during rush hour, as opposed to waiting four minutes for the next train, there tends to be some crowding and shoving as people hurry home in the evening. Funny, considering no one seems to be in such a hurry to get to work during the morning commute.

And these are just a few of the challenges we face in attempting to Metro just a stop or two to the Pentagon or other Downtown Slug lines or buses. After all that, the last thing I want to find is a line of 3,495,873 people waiting in the same line that I need to get home.

Do I sound bitter? Maybe. I guess sometimes a long or difficult commute can make anyone feel that way. I find it almost unbelievable that it can take so much time and energy to get home, when home is only 30 miles or so away.

Slugging is a fairly easy and convenient system overall, and the best part is, it’s free! Still, there can be obstacles along the way, so as a commuter, it’s important to be aware of all the options that are available in order to choose which method works best for you.

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Bus Driver’s Kindness Offsets Slugging Shortcomings

SLUG TALES

By Laura Cirillo

I always like to think that there are Good Samaritans in the Slugging community.

When people occasionally let me down and little things begin to add up, sometimes I start to become jaded. Little things, like when a slug driver has plenty of room in their backseat but still refuses to “take a third,” allowing a third slug to sit behind the driver’s seat. Or drivers who sit and wait until 9 a.m. at Woodbridge’s Horner Road commuter lot entrance ramp for the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes just so that they can drive alone, instead of picking up Slugs. It drives me nuts to see them sitting while a line of Slugs wait for rides, especially in the rain or cold.

The other day, after passing through the Route 234 Commuter Lot in Dumfries and finding no parking, and the Route 123 Lot and finding a line of slugs with no cars to pick them up, I decided to check the Old Hechinger’s Commuter Lot at Old Bridge Road and Va. 123 in Lake Ridge. There, I found no parking available but also found a line of cars waiting. I pulled up to the end of the line, warning a couple of the drivers that may not see any more slugs since the lot was full. I let them know that I’d be heading back to the lot at Va. 123, where there was sure to be a line of slugs waiting, and they were welcome to follow me.

One driver thanked me, and followed me back to the lot. As I parked, I hoped that he would at least stop to pick me up before driving around the lot to pick up another slug or two. But, no. He passed right by me and picked up only two slugs (not even a third) from the line, leaving me to stand and wait for the bus! At least he thanked me for the tip. Maybe I shouldn’t have expected him to take me; I just thought it would have been a nice thing to do, considering  how long he would have waited at the other lot… right?

But every once in a while, people will surprise me and renew my faith in humanity, or at least in Slugging.

The other day, 15th Street in Washington was closed during rush hour due to some hoopla at the White House, and all 15th Street traffic was diverted to 14th Street causing major delays. Since there are no Slug lines back to the Route 123 Lot where I was parked, I decided to take the Lake Ridge OmniRide bus home from a stop on 14th Street.

Traffic was awful – joggers on the sidewalk were passing gridlocked cars, and the bus lines seemed to be never-ending. And oh, lucky me, the Lake Ridge bus line was by far the longest, as it hadn’t seen a Lake Ridge bus for some time. Even with the heavy traffic, other OmniRide buses came and went, with the Lake Ridge bus nowhere in sight.

An hour passed as I waited, and the line only continued to get longer. Commuters sighed with impatience, some calling family members to warn them they’d be home late. We complained to each other – it was so windy! Where was our bus?

Just then, a car pulled over to the curb, and a lady rolled down her passenger window to offer a ride. It was well after 6 p.m. when HOV restrictions are lifted and it becomes a free-for-all on Interstate 95 and 395, so she could have very well driven the HOV lanes solo. But she saw the despair in our faces, the commuters tired after a long day at work, shuddering with cold, just waiting to go home. Although she could only fit two or three people in her car, it was the thought that counted.

Other commuters shouted their thanks to the kind driver. Although we were left waiting in line, we all appreciated that a few less seats would be taken on the bus, which was certain to be crowded.

Soon after, a Lake Ridge bus made it to our stop, with a second bus following to pick up the rest of the passengers still waiting. Our driver apologized for the delay, even though it wasn’t his fault, and promised to get us back as quickly as possible. Who could complain about that? We were just happy to be sitting on the bus, finally heading home.

Despite the long commute, it was refreshing to see people being kind to each other, willing to help one another out when the going got tough.

Once again, my faith in the commuter community is restored.

 

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Harrowing Commuter Tale Wins $50 Gas Card

PotomacLocal.com congratulates Barbara Dorver of Woodbridge for winning a $50 gas card for submitting her commuter tale to Slug Tales – the weekly online column that’s focused on your commute in Northern Virginia.

Read below for Barbara’s harrowing account of being stuck in traffic on “The Day the Springfield Interchange Iced Over.”

During Ice Storm, Bathrooms on I-395 Hard to Find

 If you are a native of the Northern Virginia area, I am sure you have a traffic nightmare horror story. Nothing in this area is gauged by sheer mileage, it gauged by a complicated equation based on mileage, weather conditions, time of day, direction traveled and percentage of roadwork being done on that particular day.

My horror story comes from the fateful evening of February 12, 2008 or as most of you natives know it as “The Day the Springfield Interchange Iced Over.” Oh yes, for most of us it was a glorious commute home of no less than a ridiculous amount hours. For me, it was six hours in the car with two slugs I picked up from the Pentagon–who just happened to be Officers in the Army. First there was the Colonel, a stern man who took the front seat and stared straight ahead for most of the trip. The Lieutenant Colonel took the backseat.

The first hour stuck in the dead stopped traffic was not so bad. Some small talk ensued as we sat between the concrete barricades on the HOV lanes on 395. Into about the third hour, we realized we hadn’t moved at all. This caused my bladder (and myself) to come to terms with the fact we were all going to have to pee at some point.

The Lieutenant Colonel was first to admit he needed to utilize the facilities (which at this point was an open door to the car facing the concrete barrier. Easy enough for him. In the fourth hour I realized I couldn’t hold it anymore. Being female, it was a more complicated process. I had to kindly ask both gentlemen to exit my car, stand on the opposite side of the vehicle while I opened both doors and relieved my bladder…and peed all over the back of my pants.

The next two hours were complete akward silence in my car, which now reeked of urine-and embarrassment.

I have never picked up slugs again as I envision they told all their slug friends of my misfortune. I was officially labeled “The girl who peed herself” and self exiled from the slug world. That, my friends, is a risk you take everyday as a resident of the NOVA area.

 

 

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For Joyfully Employed, Commuting is a Series of Hoops

WIN A $50 GAS CARD! DETAILS BELOW

By Laura Cirillo

There is possibly nothing more frustrating than dealing with the hassles of a long daily commute.

On one hand, it is your own personal choice whether or not to take a job where you have to commute; on the other, now is not really the time to be picky about jobs, is it?

When I was offered a position in Washington, D.C., I considered the commute from Woodbridge, but jumped on the opportunity anyway. After all, thousands of other people manage to do it every day, so why not? And there are so many options – Virginia Railway Express, Metro, OmniRide, slugging – commuting should be no problem.

And yet, it is.

For those who commute early in the morning (i.e. before 7 a.m.), parking isn’t much of an issue at most Prince William County commuter lots. However, there are plenty of people like me who work more traditional hours (i.e. 9 a.m. to 5 p.m.), when the options are so much more limited. Since the High Occupancy Vehicle lane restrictions are lifted after 9 a.m. on weekdays, slugging is only an option until then. This would be fine if parking was still available at that time.

Many of the lots are filled to capacity by 6 or 7 a.m., and by the time eight o’clock rolls around, they are so full that there isn’t even a place to park illegally – if you wanted to risk it. On any given morning, there are hundreds of cars parked outside of designated spaces at most commuter lots – there just isn’t enough parking for everyone.

While I consider the Slugging system to be the easiest, cheapest (free!) and overall most convenient way to commute, it has its flaws, too. For example, I can’t slug directly to L’Enfant Plaza in Washington from every Slug line. And even if I were able to Slug to L’Enfant from, let’s say, the Va. 234 lot in Dumfries in the morning, there is no returning Slug line to Va. 234 in the afternoon. Therefore, my only options are to take the bus from L’Enfant Plaza, which makes for a fairly long ride, or to take the Metro to another location where there is a Slug line to Route 234. Not only is that a bit complicated, but it can be expensive to do that every day. Many commuters have to pay their commuting costs out of pocket, but this year, Congress also reduced the amount of transit benefits paid monthly to federal employees.

If a commuter chooses to utilize other public transit options, such as the PRTC OmniRide commuter bus, the VRE commuter train or the Metro, the cost for those alternatives can really add up. Bus stops are often co-located with the Slug lines at commuter lots, where of course, the lack of parking may be an issue. To park at a Metro station, there is also an additional cost per day, and since the closest Metro station to the Potomac Communities is Springfield, you have to battle traffic just to get there.

Clearly, I have plenty of gripes about living the life of a commuter, but considering the current economic climate, I’ll be honest – I’m glad just to have a job, regardless of any headaches my commute may cause. I am lucky to have what I have.

It may seem like a daily game of planes, trains, and automobiles, but unless you can afford to live where you work (or better, telework), commuting is just part of the job.

Share with us!
Share with Slug Tales your best Slug story, from the funny to the irreverent, sometimes just Slugging to or from work can be one of the most memorable events of the day. In April we’ll pick our favorite submitted Slug Tale and award the submitter with a $50 gas card. Please be sure to include your full name, address, email and telephone number with your submission. Good luck.

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Slug Tales: No Apologies for Near-Miss Crash

By Laura Cirillo

I think it was Forrest Gump who once said, “Slugging is like a box of chocolates: you never know what you’re gonna get.”

On second thought, maybe that’s not exactly how the saying goes, but it certainly could easily apply to slugging. Slugs may often come across the same people; however, the system is such that Slugs generally don’t know who they will be riding with until they get into a car at the Slug line. And unless you’ve ridden with that driver before, you just get in, buckle up, and hope for the best.

Before Potomac Mills selfishly decided to reduce their commuter parking agreement from 1,000 to 250 spaces (yes, I realize that it was a business decision – I still don’t think it was very nice!), I used to be able to slug from the mall to my building every morning. In the afternoon, I would make the trek back to the Pentagon slug lines, and pick up a ride back home. Taking Metro to get to the slug lines certainly isn’t ideal, but it works.

One evening, it was just one gentleman and myself left waiting for a ride close to 6 p.m. when the restrictions on the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95/395 are lifted so Slugs can use the lanes, so we were thrilled when a lady in a small SUV pulled up to our line and picked us up. Relieved, I climbed into the backseat, put on my sunglasses and closed my eyes. I noticed the driver shifting around in her seat a couple of times before we got on the road, but I assumed she was just getting comfortable.

As we left the Pentagon and merged onto the HOV lanes, she was driving pretty fast – and while merging, came thisclose to hitting another car. As the other driver lay on the horn and presumably shouted profanities in our direction, the driver of our car hardly seemed to react at all. Again, I noticed her shifting around in her seat, and I continued to watch as she did so repeatedly for the remainder of the ride. Apparently, she suffered from some sort of twitch or something. She never once uttered a peep, not even to apologize for the close call, until we got back to the commuter lot and she wished us a lovely evening.

After safely exiting the car, the front seat passenger threw his hands up into the air and exclaimed dramatically, “It is by the grace of GOD that we have arrived here! I should get on my knees and kiss the ground that we have made it here alive!”

I laughed in agreement, and we parted ways. Months later, I ran into the man again one cold and windy morning back at Potomac Mills (before the lot closed), as we waited for a ride.

When we began talking, his eyes lit up in recognition, and he said, “Oh, yes! I remember you! We almost crashed that day in the car with the lady with the ‘jerky behaviors’! I hope she does not need riders this morning!”

I laughed as we recalled that afternoon – yup, that was me! He said he had never seen her again after that day. Thank goodness!

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.

Share with us!
Share with Slug Tales your best Slug story, from the funny to the irreverent, sometimes just Slugging to or from work can be one of the most memorable events of the day. In April we’ll pick our favorite submitted Slug Tale and award the submitter with a $50 gas card. Please be sure to include your full name, address, email and telephone number with your submission. Good luck.

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Slug Tales: Driver Earns Hostile Reputation

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.

Share with us!
Share with Slug Tales your best Slug story, from the funny to the irreverent, sometimes just Slugging to or from work can be one of the most memorable events of the day. In April we’ll pick our favorite submitted Slug Tale and award the submitter with a $50 gas card. Please be sure to include your full name, address, email and telephone number with your submission. Good luck.

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Slug Tales: Elvis Lover Bewilders Commuters

By Laura Cirillo

Anyone who frequently uses the slug lines to commute is bound to experience something out of the ordinary from time to time. When asked, most slugs could probably manage to recall a unique personality or situation they’ve experienced at some point of their travels.

One morning while Slugging to work, I was picked up by a retired Marine who was headed to the Pentagon. It was clear from the start he was a Marine, from his car’s license plate holder, to his Marine Corps baseball cap, to the piles of Marine doodads inside his car, there was certainly no mistaking it.

What made this significantly more peculiar was that he didn’t look like a stereotypical fit, retired military-type, and more like, well, Santa Claus. Overgrown white hair, white beard, glasses and… denim overalls? Look, I don’t know what Santa wears in the off-season. I just knew the second I got into the backseat and shut the door that this was going to be an interesting ride.

I wondered where this man would go once he arrived at the Pentagon. Could he possibly work a desk job dressed like that? I pondered this while we listened to a twangy old country song that sounded a lot like Elvis Presley. Though I didn’t know it at the time, I discovered later that it was actually an Elvis song.

“Train, traaaaain, comin’ round, round the bend…” I was pretty sure that would be stuck in my head all day. The song ended as I closed my eyes in an attempt to catch up on the sleep I undoubtedly missed out on the night before, and next thing I know, the song started playing again!

“Train I riiiiide, sixteen coaches long… Well, that long black train got my baby and gone…”

OK, I get it. He likes the song and wants to hear it again. He must have hit repeat on his CD player, which I’ve done that plenty of times myself. But once it was over, it played again. And again. That song played in one continuous loop, repeating itself over and over as Saint Nick drove 90 mph on the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes to the Pentagon. I was starting to feel like I had entered The Twilight Zone.

The best part of that morning had to be the end of the ride. As he stopped the car at the designated Slug drop-off spot, he turned down the music and said, smiling, “Well, I hope you’ve both memorized the words to my favorite song. I know I sure have!”

Normally, I’d say “thank you” before exiting the vehicle, but that day, even I was at a loss for words. After all, how do you respond to that?!

The front seat passenger got out, shut the door and looked at me, bewildered.

“Was that the same song playing over and over?” she asked. I told her that I was pretty sure it was the exact same song throughout the ride.

“Weird,” she said, shaking her head. “I thought maybe it was a remix, but I didn’t think they could remix country songs like that.”

All I could do was laugh.

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.

Share with us!
Share with Slug Tales your best Slug story, from the funny to the irreverent, sometimes just Slugging to or from work can be one of the most memorable events of the day. In April we’ll pick our favorite submitted Slug Tale and award the submitter with a $50 gas card. Please be sure to include your full name, address, email and telephone number with your submission. Good luck.

News
Slug Tales: Slugging Can Bring Out ‘Talkers’

Editor’s note: This is the first is a series of columns that aims to share the lighter side of Slugging – the popular commuting method used on Interstate 95 / 395’s High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes. Read on to find out how you can win $50 in gas.

By Laura Cirillo

For Slugs who commute from Virginia to Washington, D.C., there’s a reason why a “no talking rule” is in place.

One day while carpooling home from work, this particular lady and I ended up in the same car.

She and I both are Slugs — no, not a slimy gastropod mollusk without a shell – but commuters who use an informal carpooling system to travel between our homes in Northern Virginia to jobs in and around Washington, D.C.

To Slug, vehicles must have three or more occupants inside to use the highway’s commuter lanes, or High Occupancy Vehicle lanes. It’s customary to stand in lines of fellow Slugs who are all waiting for rides home.

While at the Pentagon one afternoon, a car pulled with a couple that was riding home together. The couple invited us to ride, and another Slug standing next to me – a woman whom I didn’t know, as is usually the case with Slugging – and I both slid into the backseat.

While I normally nap on the ride home, I couldn’t on this afternoon because the Slug sitting next to me was a “talker.” She was going on about how her son had just been accepted to an out-of-state university on a full athletic scholarship.

She was a proud mother, and I couldn’t blame her. He was even being featured in a magazine article. The driver of the car and his wife, both in the front seats congratulated her, noting how thrilled she must be.

Then the proud momma went into how her star athlete had served three years in jail for armed robbery and was now trying to turn his life around. Good for him, but this was probably more than we needed to know from a complete stranger at 5 p.m. on a Wednesday.

She continued with more details, about how they cried together when she visited him in jail, and how his father had never really been around. Considering the ride from the Pentagon to the commuter lot near my home is normally 30 minutes or less, this one-sided conversation was getting pretty heavy.

Finally, she stopped and asked if she could make a phone call. Our ride culminated with momma calling the magazine to order as many copies as possible of the issue her son was featured in.

At the end of our trip, she was dropped off first. Later I got to hear the couples’ reactions to their passenger’s stories. The wife admitted that she had to close her eyes and stop listening after a while, and the husband agreed that he was only trying to humor her. He understood her excitement at first, but then it started to get, well, a little uncomfortable.

This is a prime example of why the “no talking” rule is in place. We may share rides with our fellow slugs, but none of them need to know our life stories!

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.

Share with us!
Share with Slug Tales your best Slug story, from the funny to the irreverent, sometimes just Slugging to or from work can be one of the most memorable events of the day. In April we’ll pick our favorite submitted Slug Tale and award the submitter with a $50 gas card. Please be sure to include your full name, address, email and telephone number with your submission. Good luck.

News
The Desk: No Shopping Rush for Us This Year

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

After the turkey leftovers are put away for sandwiches and last licks are taken from the dessert bowls, what’s next on this annual day set aside to give thanks? If you’re a retail employee you’re probably headed straight to bed to get a few hours of sleep before your shift begins at midnight.

Stores in the Potomac Communities are opening earlier than ever this Black Friday – the one shopping day each year when retailers slash prices on electronics, home goods and just about everything else — to entice shoppers to rush their stores, open their wallets and take them out of the red and put them back in black.

K-Mart remains open on Thanksgiving, but other big box stores like Walmart and Best Buy that have traditionally waited until 4 or 5 a.m. to open Black Friday have now decided to join the ranks of shopping malls, like Potomac Mills, which has opened at midnight, and has remained open for nearly 24 hours, on Black Friday since 2009.

For years I have covered Black Friday madness, talking with shoppers who have literally made battle plans with friends, family members, and neighbors, who have all worked ahead of time plotting out who will make the mad dash for their most coveted items.

At midnight last Thanksgiving night at Potomac Mills mall, a fight broke out at the gate of Foot Action shoe store for no other reason that the store’s metal gate had not opened soon enough to appease the hordes of shoppers. Is fighting to get into a shoe store really worth the late night rush to the mall?

Employees working the sale counters at midnight, at first, usually tell me how funny it is to see so many customers at such an early hour. Later, into the early morning hours, they begin their own fight with fatigue.

And why shouldn’t they be tired? Sure, they had Thanksgiving Day off of work to be with family, friends, or to catch up on sleep. But, unlike us, they had to cut short their holiday or go without sleep to make to work so shoppers can feed their shopping need. Moreover, many shoppers each year simply venture out from their homes to be a part of the early shopping buzz.

I appreciate all the invites we’ve gotten from stores and malls asking us to come and write stories about the mob of holiday shoppers who rush their doors at midnight. This year, however, we won’t be there.

Thanksgiving is a time to be with family, friends, or the ones you care about no matter what your religion or creed. It’s a national holiday, and should be more than just some day wedged between Halloween and Christmas where we fat out on delicious fixings and then dream of the deals on computer gaming systems, enticing people to leave their homes on Thanksgiving out of curiosity to be apart of Black Friday.

Some argue retail workers must accept, given the state of the current job market, early Black Friday hours as part of the job, and the companies are just responding to shoppers’ demands. They’re right responding to demand, but retailers have also had help over the years creating the Black Friday craze with the help of advertising and media that put so much focus on the event.

Maybe the big box stores are opening earlier will alleviate mob scenes where some people in past years have been trampled to death. Maybe we’re seeing the evolution Black Friday, or maybe we’re just standing by to watch the continued erosion of the Thanksgiving holiday.

One thing is sure: the deals will still be around even if you’re not at the stores at midnight.

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The Desk: Taking Pause for Married Life

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

Calling it one of the greatest days of my life is certainly an understatement. When asked what my favorite part of the whole thing was, my answer is simple: seeing my bride looking as beautiful as ever while walking down the aisle.

I was married this weekend to the woman whom I’ve shared everything with for the past five years. Married on Saturday in what felt like weather more indicative of November than October, it was a beautiful occasion filled with family and friends – all of whom we could never thank enough for helping to make our special day possible.

As we both look at building our lives together, I appreciate all of the kind words you have sent us over the past few days. Your thoughtful advice has given me pause and made me reflect on what successful relationships are and what they could be.

And, while there never can be too much pause in the news business, I will take a brief time away from managing the daily operations of our growing website. It will continue to be updated daily by our dedicated staff members who have always been an engrained part of the communities we serve.

Looking forward to the next few months and into the holidays, PotomacLocal.com will undergo small changes to improve the user experience, showcase new local advertisers know where to shop to support neighborhood businesses, and we will continue to bring you news and events that affect your lives.

News
The Desk: A Tough Week, But Worth It

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

This past week certainly put our resources and skills to the test.

PotomacLocal.com first pulled our resources to cover a Primary Election, then shifted gears on the same day to cover an earthquake, and by the end of the week we were bringing you details about a hurricane brushing the Potomac Communities.

The truth is we couldn’t have made it through this week without the help of some great folks.

Our readers

As an independent community news organization we are only as strong as the readers who support us. This week, we received great tips on stories about the upcoming elections, they told us what they saw during the earthquake, and told us how Hurricane Irene was affecting them where they live. Please keep the comments, emails, and messages on Facebook and Twitter coming.

Our editorial staff

Our writers and photographers work hard to cover their communities and bring you the most current information to our readers, telling the impactful stories that other local news organizations miss. This week, they worked overtime to cover the community and demonstrated what great, independent media is all about.

Our advertisers

Without the great local businesses that sponsor PotomacLocal.com, we would not be able to bring you the coverage and perspective highlighting the Potomac Communities. Our advertisers understand the local exposure and value we bring to their business and we certainly value them.

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The Desk: Clarifying Statements from Royse, Principi

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

Marilyn Duval probably wanted to ask her question to Woodbridge Supervisor Frank Principi herself, but something happened to her phone connection and we never heard her voice during Principi’s telephone town hall conference Wednesday night.

So, Principi asked it for her:

“Why does Route 1 look so run down and bad, it looks like we’re in a ghetto, and what improvements are you trying to make to improve that situation?”

Principi, a Democrat, this fall will try to keep his seat on the Prince William County Board of Supervisors. Following the conference, Principi’s Republican opponent, Chris Royse, slightly distorted Principi’s answer and posted it on his Facebook page.

First, Principi’s answer to Marilyn Duval:

“That is an excellent question and, quite frankly, it is the heart and soul of my four years in office, and clearly I’m not doing a good enough job if Marilyn thinks it still looks rundown.”

Now, what appeared on Royse’s Facebook site:

“During my opponent’s “telephone town hall” meeting last night, when questioned about the deteriorating state of the Rte. 1 Corridor, he stated “I’m not doing a good enough job in the District.” I agree. It is time for new leadership in Woodbridge; it is time to elect Chris Royse as Woodbridge Supervisor.”

It’s no secret U.S. 1 is filled with old strip centers, with many of them lacking anchor stores. There are a lot of places along the corridor, known as brown spots, to redevelop. Perhaps letting some of them go in lieu of new green spaces wouldn’t be such a bad idea either.

Anyone running for the job of supervisor in Woodbridge also knows that corridor is a traffic sore spot with both residents who commute and travelers who are passing through.

Principi during his last four years in office has seen the County Board approve the widening of U.S. 1 between Mary’s Way and the Occoquan River, as well as the designation of an area near the Woodbridge Virginia Railway Express station as a mixed-use, urban redevelopment area.

Royse has long called Principi’s vision for a redeveloped Woodbridge just that, a vision, and says involvement of more business owners is needed to make Woodbridge newer and better, and is trying to lure at least one government entity to the district.

Voters will go to the polls Nov. 8 to decide which candidate they want to represent their neighborhoods.

News
The Desk: Familiar Signs, Familiar Neighborhoods

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

Have you ever taken a drive down U.S. 1 in the Potomac Communities only to notice signs you may have seen in movies or on your bottle of salad dressing?

At two mobile home parks in North Stafford, the signs that mark the neighborhoods remind me of an eerie place in a horror movie franchise and the other with ranch dressing I’ve seen put on salads.

The two mobile home parks, Crystal Lake and Hidden Valley, are less than a mile away from each other on U.S. 1.

Compare the sign at Hidden Valley to the logo on a bottle of dressing that bears the same name and you’re bound to notice a similarity.

The sign outside Crystal Lake is similar to birthplace of Jason Vorhees, the killer in the Friday the 13th horror movies.

While the sign may be similar, luckily for us in the Potomac Communities, it’s not the same Crystal Lake that spawned so many bad horror movie sequels.

Get more from The Desk and discuss it on our Facebook page.

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The Desk: Jukebox Would Make Sandwich Better

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

I, like many others who have followed the story of local restaurant County Fare, watched with anticipation Wednesday night when the eatery was featured on Food Network’s “Restaurant Impossible.”

The show came to Stafford in April and provided restaurant owner Eric Green a much-needed makeover for an eatery has seen hard times.

I had lunch at County Fare on Saturday, which is now being billed as “a great American diner.”

Having spent a few years working in corporate chain restaurants, even managing one of them, I appreciate County Fare’s new local diner feel.

My lunch, the “sort of Philadelphia Cheese steak” was piled high sliced beef, mozzarella cheese, mushrooms (I ordered green peppers on the sandwich, too, but they never showed up) and the all-important fresh cut home fries. The food tasted much better than when I visited County Fare prior to their makeover.

The menu, however, is riddled with times and dates when food is served are served. The great thing about a diner, especially the 24 hour ones (which County Fare is not) is that breakfast, lunch and dinner are served all day, never leaving me wondering if French Toast or a Patty Melt is available after 2 p.m. on a Tuesday.

Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. weekdays, and some items aren’t available until 4 p.m. Making things even more confusing, we were given a “weekend menu” and in the end ordered something that wasn’t even listed on it.

The new, baby blue décor of the restaurant gives the diner a modern feel while displaying items and photos from Green’s proud time in the Marine Corps.

But any diner goer knows music – tunes that are easy to sing along with – are paramount to the diner experience. For most of visit Saturday, music was missing.

All diners need a great jukebox that lets customers select which song they want to hear. Hopefully someone with an old jukebox sitting in their basement will donate it to County Fare. We also hope Green will accept it, as he has many other bright and positive changes to his restaurant.

News
The Desk: Share Your 9/11 Stories

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

We’re approaching the 10th anniversary of the September 11 terrorist attacks, and though it was one of the darkest days in our nation’s history it’s important that we remember the events that affected us on that day and how our lives were forever changed in the days, weeks and years following the attacks.

PotomacLocal.com invites you to share your stories about 9/11: Stories about where you were during the attacks, where you went in the days after, those you might have helped to deal with the tragedy, and how you helped you and others to overcome, remember the victims and move on.

Please send your stories and we’ll be in touch with you so we can feature who helped to make a difference in our community. 

News
The Desk: Hello, Summer!

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

Ah, the first day of summer. For some (like me) it’s the most wonderful time of the year.

There is something welcoming about knowing I won’t have to put on layer upon layer of clothing if I need to run outside to my car to get something, or take our small dog for a walk.

While summers in the Potomac Communities are always humid and sticky, you can always take a dip in one of the many swimming pools, lakes and rivers, or you can choose to take a short ride to one of several beaches on the Maryland, North Carolina and Virginia seashores.

But while our most celebrated season of the year (undoubtedly tied with the December holidays) kicks off, bringing with it family vacations, and a lighter volume traffic on local highways, keep in mind it’s the shortest season of the year.

In less than three months, on September 3, we will inevitably greet the fall with all of its bright leaves and colors.

For now, I’ll just think about the colors of summer, preferably with a cold drink in my hand with, maybe, a piece of colorful fruit garnishing the rim of the glass.

News
The Desk: When Are Shorts OK in the Office?

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

Remember last week? Stifling hot temperatures, heat warnings and air that was so humid it was almost impossible to step outside for more than a few minutes.

 

While all of that changed on Monday with cooler temperatures, you know it’s going to get hot again as summer is just beginning.

With that said, I’d like to know when it is OK to wear shorts to the office. Many of you whom have workplace dress polices last week probably threw caution to the wind and donned a pair of summertime shorts.

Should employees be allowed to wear shorts only when the temp rises above 90 or 95 degrees? How about allowing shorts every year beginning June 1?

Should there be a length requirement for those shorts? There are some guys who like to wear their shorts long, resembling a pair of pants. And some girls who like to wear their shorts, well, too short.

Are you already allowed to wear shorts in your office or have they been banned altogether?

Let us know what you think by commenting below during our summer shorts questionnaire.

News
The Desk: A Helping Hand for Hemorrhoids

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

Got Hemorrhoids? We can help.

No, that’s not a cheap ploy from a journalist to lure you in to reading his latest blog –– it’s an actual banner than hangs outside a doctor’s office in Woodbridge.

Associates in Gastroenterology hung the banner on their Smoketown Road office just across from busy Potomac Mills mall.

I certainly did a double take when I drove by the building, which was the old newspaper office where I once worked.

“That’s exactly the kind of reaction we wanted when we hung the banner up,” explained Associates in Gastroenterology spokeswoman Sheri Styles. “A lot of people have commented on the banner, those comments ranging from ‘we love the banner’ to ‘are you serious?’”

This is the third banner to grace the façade of the doctor’s office.

Previous banners have been about making people aware of the dangers of colon cancer and prevalence of Celiac disease, which damages the small intestine.

Hemorrhoids, too, are no laughing matter, said Styles. The banner just draws attention to a problem many people suffer from, albeit in an unusual way.

Its marketing materials like these that take gumption to use, helping this doctors office stand out from others in the area that undoubtedly offer the same services.

Now it’s up to the bright minds at the Gastroenterology office to top the current banner.

A few creative ideas spring to mind for future banners but I won’t be the one to go there.

Uriah A. Kiser is Executive Editor and founder of PotomacLocal.com.

News
The Desk: End Days for Comcast Analog TV Service

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

By Uriah Kiser
Senior Producer

The end times didn’t come over the weekend, but for Comcast customers without a digital set top box they came Tuesday.

We’re getting word that the nation’s largest cable company, which serves Prince William and Stafford counties, has now made it mandatory for customers to have set top cable boxes on each of their TVs to continue to watch cable TV.

The message that appears on customer’s TV screens states multiple upgrades have been completed to Comcast’s network, and a set top box is required to access the upgrades and to continue receiving TV service.

Prices for Comcast’s XFINITY digital TV packages start at $68 per month, andthat’s without bundling products such as phone and internet.

We’re reaching out to Comcast to find out more about the required change.

So, while many viewers have moved on from analog television sets to high definition sets –– many of which already that require set top box to access many of the high definition features –– is it right for the cable company to force customers without digital TVs to rent special equipment just to watch TV?

With cable TV prices what they are, have you canceled your TV altogether for an online movie or video steaming service?

Or is this just a sign of the times, and should people stop griping and and just get a cable box?

News
The Desk: A Celebration of Food

Uriah Kiser

Uriah Kiser

By Uriah Kiser

There are many restaurants to choose from the Potomac Communities. They offer everything from fast food, late night diners, and some offer a salad bar and all you can eat buffets.

One restaurant that lies off of the beaten path in Occoquan, Bistro L’hermitage, is unlike any place I’ve been to in the Potomac Communities.

The setting is cozy, as the restaurant is nestled inside what feels like a classy French stone country home. We went to the eatery recently for a family celebration, but the food on our plates turned out to be a celebration of its own.

While I wish I had ordered the chicken dish my fiancé did because it looked and tasted so delicious, I ordered the Entrecote –– a New York strip steak served with mashed potatoes and baby spinach. The meat was cooked to perfection, with just a small amount of pink to satisfy my medium well temperature request. The potatoes have the dish just the right amount of starchiness and saltiness, and cooked spinach made for an all around impressive presentation.

Then it was time for desert, and while everyone else was ordered his or her favorite Crème Brulee, I ordered the Mousse au Chocolat alamode. It was a rich chocolate lava cake served with berries and just the right amount of ice cream.

It was enough to make me pull out my cell phone and snap a photo of the colorful dish.

After coffee, we managed to pull ourselves away from this wonderful fine dining experience. Eating here was enough to make you want to make every dining experience a special occasion and give up the frequent visits to the late night, fast food all you can eat places.

Uriah Kiser is the Senior Producer of PotomacLocal.com.

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