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Slug Tales: Why Didn’t I Call for a Ride Sooner?

By LAURA CIRILLO

Alone. Desperate. Panic.

These are just some of the thoughts running through my mind as I watch the commuter bus drive away – the bus that I should be on right now.

I remember this feeling from the handful of times I missed the bus in my school days. Dreading going home to get a ride to school from my parents, along with a lecture about being on time. This is so much worse than that.

If only I had made the earlier Yellow line train on Metro to get to the Pentagon sooner. Instead, I had to wait 12 minutes for the next train. And when the next one finally came, I worried that I wouldn’t have enough time to make it to the bus. Arriving at the Pentagon Metro Station with only a minute to spare, I ran as fast as I could toward the bus bay only to find the bus pulling away before I could reach the doors.

“Please, stop the bus!” I called out to the bus supervisor.

But she refused. “Should have been here on time,” she said, shaking her head.

I thought of the bus having to stop at the stop sign on the way out of the Pentagon parking lot, and tried to catch it there, but to no avail. The driver wouldn’t stop since it wasn’t a designated bus stop, and the Pentagon Police can be strict about pick-up and drop-off locations.

So here I am now, standing alone in the South Parking area of the Pentagon. I’m right near the Slug lines, but won’t be able to slug for another hour. And even then, I can’t slug to the commuter lot where my car is parked. I feel helpless.

And hot. I’m drenched in sweat, and I’ve only been standing here for about 10 minutes. Thank goodness for my Android phone and mobile internet, so I can check for other options. The next bus isn’t due for almost two hours. Sigh. I decide to get back on the Metro towards Franconia-Springfield; there’s a connector bus that will bring me back to Woodbridge, but not to my car. Maybe I can call a friend to pick me up. But no one answers.

Probably because everyone is at work. It’s still early in the afternoon, which is why I’m in such a bind in the first place. I left my office early that day because I wasn’t feeling well. Now I’m feeling 100 times worse.

The Metro car is stuffy and feels like it’s moving slower than usual. As we finally arrive at the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station, I look out the window just in time to see the Metro connector bus driving away. My heart sinks. Now what?

Why did I ever leave my office? I would have been better off just waiting until the afternoon buses started running more frequently. The next bus won’t come for another 40 minutes. Why didn’t I just call for a Guaranteed Ride Home?

The Guaranteed Ride Home Program has been really helpful to me before. As a member of the program, commuters can take advantage of a free ride home in the event of an emergency, illness or unscheduled overtime up to four times a year. I used it once when my supervisor sent me home sick one morning, and was grateful to use it then.

I fumbled through my wallet for my membership card and called the number. When an operator answered, I frantically explained that I was sick, sweating and oh, halfway home from my office.

“So you’re no longer at work?” asked the operator. “That’s a big no-no… but let me see what I can do.” I’m sure she could hear the desperation in my voice.

When she came back, she explained that participants in the program are only supposed to be picked up at their work location. However, since I hadn’t used my membership in the last year, she offered to send a ride, reminding me not to leave my office if I needed a guaranteed ride home again in the future.

Incredibly thankful, I went outside and waited for the car to arrive. About 20 minutes later, I was in an air-conditioned cab, finally heading home. Well, to the commuter lot. Good enough.

I was so relieved to get into my car and drive home that afternoon. Not to mention I was in bed before dinner that evening, exhausted after the entire experience.

Looking back, I know better than to depend on public transit to get me anywhere quickly when I’m in a hurry. Getting anywhere on time via public transportation means planning, and arriving earlier than it seems necessary.

And if I’m ever sick at work again, I won’t waste any time calling for a Guaranteed Ride Home. What a lifesaver!

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Slug Tales: I Slug, Therefore I’m Fast

For most people, living close to work means a shorter commute. Unless, that is, you live anywhere in the National Capital Region.

When I purchased my first home earlier this summer, I considered the distance between home and work. Initially, I had been looking for homes outside of Prince William County, further north along Interstate 95, where I could ride the Metro to work every day. However, considering my utter hatred for the Metro system, it’s probably best that I’m not stuck riding the train every day.

And my friends and colleagues who drive into Washington aren’t necessarily getting to work much quicker than I am from Dumfries, anyway. I’ve heard people complain about commutes less than 10 miles taking close to an hour. By slugging, I can usually get from my front door to my desk in that same amount of time! Plus, I save a ton of gas by only driving to nearby commuter lots. If that’s not a win-win situation, then I don’t know what is.

Radio personality Rocky Parrish, of 106.7 The Fan’s Kevin and Rock Show, fondly remembers his time spent slugging, recently recounting his days of meeting clients in Arlington and Washington. On mornings where he had to drive from his home in Alexandria into Washington or Arlington, he says he preferred to stay the night before at a friend’s place in Woodbridge, just so that he could pick up Slugs to access the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes, getting him into the city faster.

Parrish laughs as he recalls pulling up to the slug lines in his SUV later during the morning commute at the Horner Road commuter lot, or in the evening at the Pentagon, and seeing the excited looks on the slugs’ faces, knowing there would be room in his vehicle for everyone waiting. I know exactly how that feels!

Experienced slugs or drivers like Parrish have seen just how quickly you can drive from the commuter lots in Prince William County to areas in and around Washington, but some people don’t seem to believe it. When I tell people where I live and where I commute every day, they ask me how I do it and why I haven’t moved closer to my office. In fact, if I could afford to live comfortably in Arlington and have the same amount of space that I have now, maybe I would – but hey, that’s another story.

The fact of the matter is, although I certainly don’t live very close to where I work, my commute really isn’t so bad when things go smoothly. Of course, there is the occasional major traffic incident that backs everything up from here to Timbuktu.

But luckily, those incidents are typically few and far between (knock on wood!), and with social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter, slugs can easily check out the current traffic situation and any potential obstacles in the commute before ever leaving home.

It may seem unbelievable to think that my 30-mile commute from Prince William County could take the same amount of time or less than commutes from areas further north in Virginia, but I’d say that’s a true testament to the slugging system and a big part of the reason it tends to work so well.

And it’s a good thing the system is working so well for me, because now that I’m a homeowner, I’m not going anywhere anytime soon!

 

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Slug Tales: Driver in Tears Causes Concern

Slugging is typically not a very emotional experience.

Sure, a driver might get angry with another driver. A Slug might be afraid when a driver isn’t driving safely, or they might be upset by the driver’s choice of radio station. A Slug might even be annoyed when the driver is driving too slowly.

But usually, those types of feelings occur in extraordinary circumstances, which are few and far between. Generally speaking, Slugs and drivers meet at the Slug lines, ride together to work or back to the commuter lot and part ways without any feelings between them at all.

That’s why it seemed so strange when I noticed the driver I was recently riding with was crying throughout the entire ride.

Let me back up for a moment. That morning was not unlike any other morning, where I desperately searched for parking and hurried to the Slug line to make sure I was able to get a ride. A lady had been waiting as another Slug and I approached her car, and I got into the back seat. We all said good morning and confirmed that we were going to L’Enfant Plaza, and we took off onto the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes – it was all just like any other morning.

The music was turned down fairly low, but I could hear that it was a gospel music station playing on the radio. Although that station isn’t something that I would normally choose, I find that the music can be pretty catchy and don’t mind it at all. That is, until I began to notice the driver had a case of the sniffles.

At first, I thought maybe she suffered from allergies, like me. I took a deep breath in through my nose – nope, I was breathing just fine this morning, not stuffy at all. But her sniffles continued. And when I took a closer look, peering through the top of my dark sunglasses, I noticed a tear dripping from the bottom of her cheek.

I watched, not knowing what to do, as the driver wiped tears away from her eyes and continued driving. She didn’t say a word, but it was clear she was upset as she went on, quietly crying.

I wondered if the passenger in the front seat had noticed. And I wondered what could possibly be making her so sad. Was there any chance she was just having an emotional reaction to the song on the radio? That has happened to me before, although usually only when I’m alone.

I pondered other possibilities as well. Maybe today was her last day at work, and she was sad to say goodbye to colleagues who had become good friends? Could it be a fight with her husband? A lost family member? I couldn’t help but hope it was nothing so serious.

Then I realized that maybe she needed someone to notice. Maybe she needed help. I remembered the small pouch of Kleenex in my purse, and pulled out a single tissue. Normally, Slugs are expected not to speak to the driver unless the driver initiates conversation, but I decided it was best in this case not to ignore our troubled driver.

Offering her a tissue, I asked if she was alright. Giving a small, slightly embarrassed laugh, she insisted that she was fine, and quickly wiped her tears away. She made a couple of comments about the weather, about how hot it had been and how glad she was that it had stopped raining, but once she was quiet, I noticed the crying again. I wasn’t sure what else to do.

I got out of the car that day and thanked her for the ride as I always do, but never had I ever meant it more when I told someone to “have a good day.” All day, I thought about our Slug driver, and hoped that she would find some relief from whatever was upsetting her that morning. Maybe it sounds silly, but I hoped that my small offer in the car was a reminder that she wasn’t alone, and that there are people around who care. Maybe it didn’t help at all or wasn’t enough, and then again, maybe it was just what she needed.

I suppose I’ll never know what made our driver so emotional that day, but that’s just how the Slugging system works – Slugs and drivers rarely ever speak or get to know each other because they may or may not ever see each other again. And maybe it’s for the best that way. Either way, I hope that lady has seen better days since our last encounter.

 

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Slug Tales: Stopped by a Cop

Never will I ever risk getting a ticket on Northern Virginia’s High Occupancy Vehicle Lanes.

By not having a minimum number of passengers during the restricted hours, Monday through Friday from 6 a.m. to 9 a.m. northbound and 3:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. southbound, drivers take the chance of being ticketed, and those fines are not cheap. According to the Virginia Department of Transportation, the HOV lane fines in Northern Virginia range from $125 for the first offense to a maximum of $1,000 plus 3 points on your driving record for subsequent offenses.

Unless you’re driving a motorcycle or a hybrid with clean special fuel license plates, you’d better have passengers in your vehicle when the restriction begins, or money to burn if you get caught violating.

Not that I drive to work often, since I prefer to Slug or take the PRTC OmniRide bus, but you can bet your bottom dollar that I will pick up Slugs whenever I do end up driving. I’ve even picked up desperate Slugs I’ve passed at the Pentagon, left waiting after the restrictions are lifted at 6 p.m. As if speeding tickets aren’t bad enough, I would much rather follow the rules and avoid an expensive ticket, while helping my fellow commuters to get home at the same time. It just wouldn’t be worth it to me to drive solo and chance getting pulled over. That would really ruin my day!

Once, I drove in to my office in Washington, DC so that I could leave early for an appointment that afternoon. Although I had planned to leave by 2:30 p.m. to ensure that I was off of the HOV lanes when the restrictions began, things came up and I wasn’t able to leave until after 3 p.m., leaving me only 15-20 minutes to drive as far as I could southbound on HOV.

I started to panic when I encountered traffic after passing the exit for Springfield, as the clock ticked closer and closer to 3:30 p.m. My heart raced as I scanned the shoulder of the highway for strategically placed Virginia State Troopers, just waiting for violators as a lion stalks its prey. I barely made it to the highway exit at Lorton, narrowly avoiding a ticket (and a total panic attack).

Last week, while waiting in the morning Slug line for a ride at the Horner Road Commuter lot, another lady decided to leave the line and get her car to drive the gentleman at the front of the Slug line and myself. She said she hadn’t planned on driving and needed gas in her car, but it was past 8:30 a.m. and we didn’t know if there would be anymore drivers picking up so late. We were grateful when she pulled up to the line and picked us up that morning, and thanked her for offering to drive.

As we cruised north on the HOV lanes, I noticed a car come speeding up next to us from the passenger side mirror. The driver, who I did not realize was a Virginia State trooper, looked at us and then changed lanes to get behind our car, flashing his lights. Realizing she was being pulled over, our driver mumbled that she must have been speeding, and promptly pulled onto the shoulder.

I felt badly for her, considering she wasn’t even planning to drive that morning, and I really didn’t feel like she was speeding. I wish I had noticed that the car next to us was a police officer, so that maybe I could have given her some warning. Oh well.

The driver rolled down her window as the officer approached, and went to hand him her driver’s license, but the officer seemed uninterested.

“Do you have anyone in the backseat?” he demanded, peaking into the front driver’s side window.

The driver rolled down her window to show the backseat passenger, which satisfied the officer. However, he informed the driver that the tints on her window were too dark – he must have not been able to see into the vehicle beforehand, and thought she was trying to get away with violating the HOV rules.

In the end, the officer let the driver go with a warning that her window tint was illegal in Virginia, though he didn’t actually measure the tint after pulling her over. The three of us agreed that it most likely wasn’t the tint that was an issue; he probably just wanted to catch an HOV violator to write a ticket.

And I’m glad that the officers are on the lookout for HOV cheaters. Too often, I see single drivers cruising up and down the HOV lanes during restricted hours, enjoying all of the benefits of the HOV lanes without taking any passengers off of the road. This only contributes to traffic, and isn’t fair to those of us who obediently follow the rules.

One thing I can promise is that I will never be one of those HOV violators. No sir, not me. I was upset about a $35 parking ticket – there’s no way I’d risk getting fined $125 or more for an HOV violation! I just wish others would feel the same. And what’s the point in cheating, when you can always pick up Slugs?

Look for Slug Tales on Twitter @SlugTales, follow me and tweet me your commuting news, tips and stories.

 

 

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Tweet, Connect, and Share Your Commute

Well, I finally did it. I broke down and joined the Twitterverse.

Never ever in a million years did I think it would happen, Sure, there are millions of people taking part in the worldwide phenomenon known as Twitter, but I never really saw the purpose. After all, what’s the point in tweeting, when I have Facebook? What could I possibly have to say that my “followers” would really care about? Who would even follow me?

And then, it hit me. There are tons of people using Twitter! And call me crazy, but I’d be willing to bet that some of the people out there tweeting are also commuters in Northern Virginia. Commuters who, like me, want to know when there’s parking available at their favorite commuter lot, or when there’s an accident blocking traffic somewhere along their commute. Wouldn’t life be so much easier if we could communicate this to each other every day? Enter Twitter.

CLICK HERE TO FOLLOW SLUG TALES ON TWITTER

The day I opened the Peep app on my Android Smartphone for the first time, I thought, this could really make a difference. From my conversations with other commuters, it’s clear that there is a need for better communication among us – not necessarily once we’re riding in a car, but before we even get to that point.

Slugs have been searching for a tool to communicate about the length of the Slug lines, the availability of rides in certain locations and other factors that affect our daily commute. Twitter can be that tool. And commuters can feel comfortable using it, while keeping their identities protected. To create an account, users can choose any nickname or “handle” to start tweeting, so there’s no need to use your real first and last name.

But what about commuters who use other methods of transportation, besides the Slug lines? No problem! PRTC OmniRide bus riders can tweet when buses are running late or when they have “standing room only.” Commuters who use the VRE train or the Metro can tweet when the train is delayed for whatever reason. As any of us who commutes knows there are often complications that we come across when traveling to and from our jobs. If we started to notify each other about these obstructions, giving other commuters a heads up before running into the same problem, maybe it really would make a difference. Maybe it would even help facilitate a quicker ride home and less traffic jams. Who knows?

Even when there seems to be no news to report, commuters can connect via Twitter to start new Slug lines – in Manassas, Stafford, or Fredericksburg, for example – or to share stories about a funny or unusual commuting experience. But for my new Twitter account to be a success, I need YOU!

Look Slug Tales on Twitter @SlugTales, follow me and tweet me your commuting news, tips and stories.

Let’s make this whole Twitter thing worthwhile. See you in the Twitterverse!

 

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Slug Tales: Slugs Don’t Forget Cutters

Just like it was in elementary school, cutting in line is one of the greatest offenses a Slug can commit.

When a Slug cuts in line, or takes a ride out of turn, things are sure to get ugly. Not only will the other Slugs left behind talk negatively about that person and maybe even yell at them directly for cutting, but the offender will have made a name for themselves as the most hated in the Slug line.

I’ve heard Slugs in the line talking about people who have taken rides out of turn, either by just casually walking up to a car and getting in while a line of Slugs wait patiently, or by “pretending” to be friends with the driver. The “will call” rule applies when a driver knows a Slug somewhere in line and calls out for them to get in, even if they are not first in line. I don’t see it happen particularly often, but it does happen, and although Slugs might grumble about it when the line is long, they typically just accept the driver’s choice.

When I’ve planned to meet with friends for a ride in the past, I’ve made sure to arrange for them to meet me somewhere away from the Slug line, so that it doesn’t appear that I’m jumping in line or stealing a ride. I would hate to make myself unpopular amongst my fellow commuters!

And Slugs don’t forget cutters. I know that I’ll never forget the habitual cutter I used to run into in the bus line at the Pentagon. When I would leave work too late to Slug home in the evenings, I used to make my way over to the Pentagon to catch the bus. Sometimes when there are several OmniRide buses loading at the same time, the lines will be moved around slightly to accommodate each of the buses in the bus bays. After catching the bus regularly for a while, I began to notice that one lady in particular was taking advantage of the bit of chaos created by lines being moved, and would jump from her spot in the middle of the line, somehow ending up at the front of the line to board the bus.

For weeks, I watched this happen and wondered why no one was speaking up. Other people in line would even comment to each other, clearly taking note of her cutting in line, and every day, it made me more and more angry. Why was she getting away with this? Why isn’t anyone saying anything to her? When I’d see her each evening, I would think of her as “The Cutter” and I’d wait for her to make her move to the front of the line. She never failed.

One night, I decided that I’d had enough. I must have had a bad day, or maybe I was just tired of seeing this happen without any repercussion. A couple of times before then, I had told myself that the next time The Cutter cut in line I was going to say something to her, but didn’t. I’m just not a confrontational person. But I wasn’t taking it anymore. There is a line, and it was time she started respecting it!

The bus pulled up behind its usual spot in the bus bay, and sure enough, The Cutter “inconspicuously” made her way to the front. This time, however, it was me at the front of the line. As she approached, clearly thinking she was going to jump in front of me, I stopped her in her tracks.

“I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s a line going here, and I’m pretty sure you just came from back there,” I said, fed up.

Another gentleman standing behind me backed me up and told her she could not cut. The Cutter mumbled something back about how the line was being moved and she was just following everyone, but she wasn’t fooling us. No way – I know your game, lady. Back to your spot you go!

Well, not quite. She didn’t exactly go back to where she came from in the line, but she certainly didn’t get in front of me.

Proud of myself for finally standing up to her and her cutting ways, I wondered if I had taught her a lesson. Her cutting was not going unnoticed, and she wasn’t going to get away with it anymore — at least not as long as I was standing in the line.

While I’ve never seen that lady again since that day, I’ve wondered if I stopped her from breaking the rules. One thing’s for sure though – if I ever did see her again, I’d always remember her as the lady who cuts in line! And as a commuter, cutting in line is one offense that you definitely do not want to be known for.

 

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Slug Tales: Radio Stations Offend Some

If there’s one thing that I enjoy more than sharing my own Slug Tales, it’s hearing the tales from others who also Slug.

Whether you are a commuter or not, the stories are usually pretty entertaining – and especially as a commuter, I can relate to some of the experiences my fellow Slugs have shared. Often times I’ll check my Facebook account during the morning commute, and every now and then I’ll run across a friend’s post, either complaining about a slow driver or dirty car, or enjoying the driver’s chosen radio station.

As far as radio stations go, I honestly don’t mind what a driver chooses, as long as they don’t leave the radio off completely. Although I’d never complain directly to the driver, I just don’t like the awkward silence. Some noise is better than nothing at all. And I’ve ridden in cars with all types of music playing – typically the news on WTOP-FM, but some drivers prefer country stations, hip-hop stations, Christian rock, and so on. One of my personal favorites is The Kane Show on 99.5, which is pretty funny. The host, Kane, airs prank calls, which tend to get the whole car laughing out loud.

While I’d say I’m pretty easy going when it comes to the radio station, I do recognize that not every Slug feels the same way. I’ve heard complaints from Slugs about music being too loud, or too vulgar for their taste, or perhaps they don’t like listening to stations with a religious or spiritual theme. Personally, I think people tend to be too easily offended these days, but that’s just my opinion. The few times that I have picked up Slugs, I’ve purposely chosen a generic pop or news station and make sure to keep it at a reasonable volume, so that everyone is comfortable.

Last week I overheard two ladies in the Slug line talking about a driver one of them had ridden with recently, who listened to loud rap music on the drive in one morning, and then called into the radio station to win a contest. I laughed on the inside as the lady described the driver going as far as grabbing a pen and paper to write something down before calling in, while speeding on the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95. Her friend shook her head and told her what she would have done in her situation, but the lady explained that she didn’t feel comfortable complaining or asking the driver to stop and focus on driving safely.

One of my Facebook friends recently posted that she was riding with the “slowest Slug driver ever,” which also made me laugh because I could relate. I think all Slugs probably feel that way at some point during our travels. And it always seems to happen to me on the day that I’m in a hurry to get to work, too. But again in that situation, complaining to the driver or asking them to “speed it up” is not really an option, as much as I’ve wanted to do just that.

It’s true that Slugs are somewhat at the mercy of their drivers for a safe and comfortable ride, and the way each Slug chooses to handle difficult circumstances is up to the individual. But if there’s one thing we can do to make it easier, it’s by sharing our stories and laughing about them later.

If you are a Slug and have a funny or unbelievable Slug Tale of your own, we welcome you to share it! Please follow Slug Tales on Twitter @SlugTales or post to the PotomacLocal.com Facebook wall, #SlugTales!

 

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Summertime and the Commute is Easy

 SLUG TALES 

Except for the time I spent going through the public school system, I have never been so excited for summer vacation to begin.

In addition to the busy summer we have planned this year – lots of weddings and other events to attend, with beach trips and weekend getaways packed in between – I have been looking forward to school getting out just as much as any elementary, middle or high-school student. And yet, I don’t yet have children of my own and I’m not a teacher; I don’t even work for the school system.

So what does summer break mean to me, you ask? It’s very simple: no more school buses on the road and more parents working from home or taking leave for vacation, both of which usually indicate there will be less traffic and more parking available. I love summer!

When I started my job in Washington two years ago this month, school was already out for the summer and I generally had very little trouble finding commuter lots with plenty of parking. Granted, this was also before Potomac Mills drastically reduced commuter parking in February 2011. Once I started commuting, I would tell friends how easy it was to commute, especially as a Slug. My daily routine consisted of driving 10 minutes to the mall, parking and hopping in a car directly to L’Enfant Plaza. In the afternoon, I would head back to the Pentagon to catch a ride home. Simple enough.

But I was spoiled by the light rush hour traffic during the summer, and unaware of how much that would change once those pencils and books were back in action, come September. By then, I had noticed a major increase in traffic, especially on local roads, and again when crossing the 14th Street Bridge into the District.

And then parking became even more difficult following the reduction at Potomac Mills, and I became a sort of Slugging nomad. It took some time to find a commuter lot that both fit my commuting needs and had space to park. I tried various locations, methods and combinations of transportation, and then had to figure it out all over again after moving twice.

Nonetheless, all year I have been counting down the months, weeks and days to June 15, or better yet, June 18, the first day of the expectantly easier summer commute.

Last summer, I was able to park at the ever popular Horner Road commuter lot in Woodbridge almost every day of the week; whereas, during the school year, it’s generally only possible to park there on Fridays. I love the Horner Road lot because I can Slug directly to my office and back, without having to use the bus or Metro. And with the news this week that police are targeting parking violators at the Horner lot, my fingers and toes will be crossed that the parking situation this summer will look as good as last year.

 

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Slug Tales: Out-of-Towners Just Don’t Understand

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!

 

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Slug Tales: Bus Commuters Share Family Bond

By LAURA CIRILLO

When it comes to commuters, you could say that we’re like a family.

A big, somewhat dysfunctional family – but a family, nonetheless.

Sometimes commuters get mad at each other and bicker, like the two passengers who argued over a noisy cell phone conversation on an OmniRide bus. Sometimes we antagonize each other as siblings do, like the driver who road-raged her way up the High Occupancy Vehicle lanes on Interstate 95.

Then again, there is a certain sense of camaraderie amongst commuters that perhaps only those of us who make the trek in and out of the city each day can completely understand.

On an OmniRide bus last week, the driver waited as a passenger fumbled through her purse, looking for spare change. She didn’t have enough cash on her SmarTrip rechargeable fare card to pay for her trip into Washington, so the bus driver allowed her to sit down to look in her wallet. Looking through her bags in the front seat, other passengers began to realize that she may need some help.

One passenger asked how much she needed, while another passed a few dollars her way.

“Is that enough?” someone asked from a couple of rows back.

When she still came up 20 cents short, the driver told her not to worry, that he would take care of it.

Grateful, the passenger took her seat and thanked everyone for their help. She hadn’t realized that the funds in her account were so low, and just didn’t have enough cash on her. The other passengers replied that they had been in her shoes before, and were happy to help.

On Monday, June 4, OmniRide’s Spring Service Change took place and some of the bus schedules were changed. This seemed to create a bit of confusion at the commuter lot located at Va. 123, where I often catch the bus. Some commuters were aware that there were changes but hadn’t checked to see if their regular bus route was affected.

It took a few extra minutes for passengers to board the bus, as several people stopped to ask our new driver if their stop had changed. The driver seemed frustrated, apparently not understanding their hesitation.

This set the bus’ departure back a couple of minutes, and the driver was clearly anxious to get moving.

“Wait!” someone called out from a window seat. “Someone is running to catch the bus!”

Our regular driver would always wait when people were rushing at the last minute. As she always said with a smile, “No rider left behind!”

This driver certainly didn’t share that theory. Exasperated, she complained that we were already leaving two minutes late, and that latecomers were not being fair to the passengers who arrived on time.

“We don’t mind waiting,” said a passenger in the second row.

“Maybe you don’t, but you can’t speak for everyone else on this bus!” the driver replied.

She ended up waiting, and then mildly scolding the late passenger, reminding her of the scheduled departure time.

Still, it was reassuring to see my fellow passengers supporting each other, yet again. If I am ever the one running late, or searching my wallet for fare money, I hope that my commuter family will be as willing to jump in and lend a hand.

Sure, commuters may have moments where they argue and don’t necessarily get along with each other, but what family doesn’t? At the end of the day, I’d like to think we all look out for each other, too.

And isn’t that what family is all about?

 

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Slug Tales: Commute Determines New House Location

By LAURA CIRILLO

House hunting has got to be one of the most exciting yet disappointing, fun yet stressful processes in the world.

As I close on the purchase of my first home this week and prepare to move, I can’t help but reflect on everything that has gone into making this huge decision.

Of course, I had to find a house that we could afford, in an area where I wanted to live – that was the tricky part. Considering the market’s currently low inventory, and the high percentage of foreclosures and short sales that we came across, it was fairly difficult to find homes that matched my list of needs and wants.

And as a commuter, one of the big, blaring items on my list was a neighborhood located adjacent to a commuter lot.

Not just any commuter lot, either – I wanted to live close to a commuter lot with Slug lines and bus routes that go back and forth near my office in Washington, where there’s actually parking available and I don’t have to leave my car in a ditch and hope that I won’t get a ticket. That was much more difficult to find than I had imagined!

In the beginning, I confined the search only to Lake Ridge, refusing to look in any other zip codes. There are several commuter lots in or around the Lake Ridge area of Woodbridge, and living there would put me much closer to them from where I currently live, just outside of Montclair. Sure, I live near a commuter lot now, but what good is it when there’s never any parking?

I mentioned this concern through my search to other Slugs, many of whom sympathized and agreed that living in Lake Ridge would definitely be an advantage. One driver told me that a friend of hers moved from Dumfries to Lake Ridge, just to ease the commute. I knew I wasn’t the only one.

Needless to say, I was thrilled to find a house we loved, right where I wanted to live. However, when our home inspection brought some major issues to light, we had no choice but to back out of the contract. Heartbreak. I thought we’d never find a better house, let alone a house that made me fall in love like that one did.

So the search continued. I realized soon after that we’d probably have to start looking outside of Lake Ridge, if we ever wanted to find a home. Limited the search to just a few neighborhoods in one zip code was proving unsuccessful and very disappointing.

And then we found “the one.” It was love at first sight and we were ready to make an offer immediately. This one may not be in Lake Ridge, in fact, it’s not far from where I’ve been living for the last year. But it’s beautiful, and totally worth the extra 10-20 minutes on Interstate 95, to drive to commuter lots in Lake Ridge. Well, that’s how I feel now. Perhaps I’ll think otherwise after living there for a few months, but we’ll see how that goes.

In any case, I’m glad we’ve found a place that we love, even though it doesn’t necessarily fulfill my commuting needs. At least I know there’s a PRTC OmniRide bus stop within walking distance, even if I can’t park at the Route 234 Commuter Lot up the street.

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Slug Tales: Parking Habit Leads to Fine

I got my first parking ticket yesterday.

Yes, I’m aware that parking is allowed in designated spaces only, and that I was partially parked on the crosswalk. I know it’s against the rules. But I was desperate. And everyone else was doing it!

Coming from Montclair, the closest commuter lot is on the corner of Va. 234 and U.S. 1 in Dumfries. Less than five minutes from my house, it’s so conveniently located, and there’s a Slug line that I can take directly to the front door of my building. Coming home, there are two bus stops adjacent to my building, so I can just hop on in the afternoon and relax until I get back to my car – no long walks or getting on Metro. Hallelujah!

With all of those benefits, there’s only one big, fat problem: parking.

To be at work at 9 a.m., I don’t need to Slug until 8 a.m., at the earliest. And don’t tell me to “just get there earlier.” Rumor has it that lot is full by six o’clock! How much earlier could I possibly get there? I don’t have the option to change my hours, as much as I would love to get home earlier than 7 p.m. every evening.

The commuter lot at Va. 234 also happens to be one of the only in the area, and with its easy access from U.S. 1 and Interstate 95, many commuters come from areas in Dumfries, Triangle, Stafford, and even Fredericksburg. With such fierce competition, I don’t stand a chance at 8 a.m.

For the longest time, I had completely ruled out the chance of ever parking at that particular lot. I tried a few times without luck, before giving up and sadly passing by a line of cars waiting to take Slugs exactly where I needed to go, only to sit in traffic on my way to another lot.

And so, I became resigned to the fact that I’d have to move further north to Lake Ridge if I ever wanted to be within a reasonable distance of a commuter lot.

That is, until one Friday, when I gave the Route 234 lot another try, and stumbled upon open parking spaces.

Score! I thought. I’ll start parking here on Fridays from now on!

Then, I became spoiled by “Route 234 Lot Parking Fridays.” I started going to the lot on Mondays, too… then Tuesdays, Wednesdays and Thursdays! Sure, I was parking illegally, in spots painted with hash marks. But there were cars parked literally anywhere there was room – on the sidewalk, in the grass, on the curb. It just goes to show that commuters around these parts are THAT desperate for parking.

Every day, I worried that I’d come home to a parking ticket, but for weeks, I reveled in not being ticketed. I even found a regular illegal parking spot, and was occasionally annoyed when some jerk parked in it before I got there. I was saving so much in gas, getting on the road earlier, getting home so much easier – life was good.

Until now. Yesterday morning, I parked a bit further from my usual spot, dangerously over the line of the crosswalk. When I returned yesterday afternoon, my heart sank to find a little white envelope stashed under my windshield wiper. My luck had finally run out.

Of course, I plan to pay the $35 ticket. I broke the rules, and I acknowledge that. But I won’t go out without a fight – at my earliest opportunity, I will visit the police station to contest the ticket, as the reverse side of the ticket allows. It may not do any good for my wallet, but I feel compelled to voice my concerns about the lack of parking in our area to whomever it may concern. Commuters aren’t being flagrant of the law by parking illegally – we are just desperate for parking. I simply cannot pay this ticket without explaining myself… and perhaps pleading for a little mercy. I’ll let you know how it goes.

In the meantime, you can find me in traffic on I-95, going back and forth to the Route 123 commuter lot.

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Slug Tales: ‘Can you hear me now? Yes, WE CAN’

By LAURA CIRILLO

The sign posted front and center in each PRTC OmniRide bus is quite clear, asking passengers to use cell phones briefly and only when necessary.

Yet from time to time, I have to wonder if that sign is either blatantly ignored, or if some riders are just completely unaware of its existence. And it just so happens that those same riders who disregard the sign also seem to be the ones lacking in the common sense department. I would assume that boarding a quiet bus full of sleepy commuters would be an indicator that noisy cell phone conversations are not appropriate. But we all know what happens when we assume.

I’ll be the first to admit that I’m not above turning around and giving the cell phone offender a dirty look, which is usually no problem, considering they’re almost always sitting directly behind me. Yesterday, I had to shoot the stink eye at a lady in a particularly loud conversation with her realtor. Yes, I’m sure the conversation was super important, but I’m guessing it probably could have waiting another 45 minutes for her to get off the bus.

One morning, I ended up taking the last OmniRide bus from the Route 123 Commuter Lot in Lake Ridge, as I was running a bit later than usual. The driver waited as a man, running even later than I was, hurried to catch the bus. He politely thanked the bus driver for waiting, but I noticed as he made his way back to a seat that he was holding a cell phone to his ear.

Oh great, I thought. So glad we waited for this guy!

I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who hoped he’d quickly end the conversation, now that he was on the crowded bus, but to our dismay, the casual conversation continued.

He chatted on and on until we were nearing the Pentagon, when suddenly a female passenger expressed her agitation and abruptly asked cell phone guy to cut it out. They bickered back and forth, until the female passenger called out to the bus driver to reiterate the cell phone policy. Keeping her cool, the bus driver used the intercom to remind all passengers that cell phones were to be used only in case of emergency, and that calls should be kept to a minimum.

But cell phone guy wasn’t going out without a fight. He refused to hang up, claiming he had a family emergency, and shot back by saying the other passenger was harassing him. I wondered if the bus driver felt like she was breaking up an argument between children, as she calmly asked him again to finish his conversation as quickly as possible.

Luckily, the argument didn’t last much longer, since we arrived at the Pentagon bus stop soon after. What impressed me, however, was how the bus driver dealt with the altercation between the two passengers. I’m sure she is used to grumpy people who aren’t exactly thrilled to be going to work every morning, but she remained unruffled and diplomatic in handling the situation. It certainly didn’t stop the rude passenger from being obnoxious, but at least the driver kept things from getting too out of hand.

Hopefully, her announcement was a good reminder of the cell phone policy to other passengers.

And if that fails, one thing is for sure – any passengers who insist on using their cell phone will get the stink eye.

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Slug Tales: Driver Hates Sleepers

By LAURA CIRILLO

When it comes to the rules of slugging, it really depends on who’s in the driver’s seat.

While some Slug drivers prefer to drive in complete silence – sometimes without even turning on the radio – others would rather engage with their passengers, asking where they work and how their day is going. Some drivers encourage their slugs to use the visor to block the afternoon sun, while others would be appalled if a slug were to make any adjustments in the passenger seat.

Personally, I’m pretty easy to please when it comes to slugging. Once I get in the car it’s lights out for me until we arrive at my commuter lot. In fact, I very much look forward to my afternoon power naps during the drive home so I happen to prefer a nice, quiet ride. I’ve come to depend on these naps so much that missing one makes me feel like a cranky toddler by the time I get back to my car. Some days, a good nap is what helps get me through the rest of my evening, giving me enough energy to go to the gym, make dinner, and do whatever I need to do before crashing for the night.

One afternoon, a coworker and I waited in the Slug line destined for the Horner Road commuter lot in Woodbridge, and an older gentleman picked us up. I should have known from the moment I got into the backseat that my power nap was not going to happen that day.

This driver was definitely a talker. He immediately began a pretty friendly conversation with us, asking the usual questions about what we do, how long we’ve been commuting and so on. He had been driving Slugs for years, although he actually worked somewhere in Maryland – he would pick up and drop off Slugs, in order to access Interstate 95’s High Occupancy Vehicle lanes each day. And then we discovered that this was no ordinary Slug driver. This man was very, particular, shall we say, about his “rules.”

Just as I started to get comfortable, with my sunglasses covering my closed eyes, the driver informed us, “One thing I hate is for slugs to be sleeping in my car.”

My eyes opened and I responded immediately, hoping not to look guilty of this clearly inexcusable offense.

As the conversation continued, the driver explained that he didn’t think it was fair he should have to stay awake to drive home, while his passengers were sleeping soundly.

He added, “If I gotta stay awake all the way home, so do you!”

I hoped he couldn’t see me rolling my eyes behind him. I mean, really, weren’t we both doing each other a favor? Isn’t that the point of slugging? Without the two of us in his car, he wouldn’t even be able to drive the HOV lanes to get home so quickly, at least not without a ticket. As long as we weren’t bothering or distracting him from driving, why should it matter what we were doing?

Throughout the ride home, my friend and I texted each other back and forth.

“Y do we always get the crazy ones?” she asked.

“LOL… IDK! Just lucky I guess,” I replied.

Besides not letting us sleep, our driver was fairly pleasant, and of course we appreciated the ride. But ever since then, I have always wondered if I’m offending the person I’m riding with by sleeping along the way.

Hopefully, most slug drivers don’t notice my shut eyes behind my dark sunglasses, but if they do, I hope they don’t mind. I certainly don’t mean to be rude; I just need my power nap.

It could always be worse – at least I don’t snore.

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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.

 

News
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.

 

 

News
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.

News
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.

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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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