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Slug Tales

Close Call a Reminder to Drive Safely

Slug Tales

The sound of screeching tires. The smell of burning rubber. The sight of an oversized pick-up veering directly toward my car window.

None of these were things I wanted to experience during a slug ride last week.

There I sat in the front passenger’s seat while slugging home one afternoon, looking down at my phone, having a light-hearted conversation with my best friend over text messages. It had been a rough day for both of us at work, and we were joking to make each other feel better.

Little did I know at the time how much worse things could possibly become.

Suddenly, I heard the driver gasp, and felt the car jerk towards the left shoulder. As I looked up in surprise, I cringed, expecting to collide with the pick-up truck coming over from the right lane.

Luckily, we didn’t.

Thanks to the quick reaction of the driver, we narrowly avoided the accident by the skin of our teeth. She blew the horn at the reckless driver of the truck, who seemed completely oblivious to his wrongdoing.

“He wouldn’t have even stopped if he did hit us!” exclaimed the driver, obviously shaken up and trying to regain her bearings.

I shook my head in agreement, unable to form a response. The driver continued down the HOV lanes silently for the next few minutes, steering clear of the careless driver. We were both somewhat in shock.

“That was close,” she finally mumbled.

As glad I was to have made it through the ride unscathed, it was a terrible feeling that I had in the pit of my stomach.

What if we had gotten into an accident that day? What if the driver hadn’t noticed the truck coming into our lane in time? What if….

I had to stop thinking about what could have happened – instead, I was thankful that it hadn’t. The slug driver was kind enough to drop me off right at my car, with a reminder to get home safely.

“You, too!” I replied, thanking her again.

Of course, accidents happen. They can happen to anyone at any time, as a passenger or as a driver, whether you or someone else is at fault. I’d like to think that all slug drivers, or drivers in general, will exercise caution while on the road, but of course that’s never guaranteed.

So, here’s a Public Service Announcement for all of my fellow commuters and drivers this week: Drive carefully! Remember, it’s not only your safety at stake, but also the safety of your passengers and thousands of other drivers on the Northern Virginia roadways.

Summer Slug Season Ends with Longer Lines, Fewer Drivers

Slug Tales

Well, it’s finally over – summer, that is. Sadly, my favorite season officially ends this weekend.

As this summer comes to a close, children will go back to school this week, which means the school buses will be back on the road. Family vacations will wrap up, which means parents will go back to work and their cars will return once again to the commuter lots. And I don’t know about you, but I’ll certainly miss the light summer traffic every morning and the open parking spaces at my favorite commuter lot.

Sigh…

I’ll be honest though, summer hasn’t been all rainbows and butterflies this year. Sure, parking was easier, but the slug lines were longer and moved way more slowly than usual. There were days, like this morning, where I saw the long slug line at the Horner Road commuter lot, and promptly turned around and drove to the Route 123 lot to catch the bus.

Sometimes, I just don’t have the patience to wait in a long slug line.

Although traffic has seemed exponentially better than usual almost every morning for the last month, my commute time has actually increased due to the wait in line. My least favorite element of slugging is probably the unpredictability of it – you never know how long it will take to get a ride. I’ve had days where there were 10 people ahead of me, yet I spent only five or 10 minutes waiting for a ride. On the flip side, I’ve also been first or second in line and had to wait double that amount of time on really slow days.

On Tuesday, I had an event to attend that kept me at work later than planned that afternoon. As I hurried to the slug line, I was relieved to see a couple of cars waiting, and no slugs in line. I rushed over to the first car, and hopped into the backseat. The driver told me she had been waiting for quite a while. She hoped we could get another passenger soon, so that we could get onto the HOV lanes before they opened to all traffic at 6 p.m.

Tick, tock, went the clock… I watched as the minutes ticked by, and there were no slugs in sight. By 5:58 p.m., 20 minutes later, we still didn’t have another passenger, so the driver decided to make her way to the highway. Apparently, we both had places to be that evening, and that time wasted put a big wrench in our plans. She had no choice but to cancel her appointment, while I was over an hour late for mine. Had we been able to access the HOV lanes earlier, we would have missed the horrible backup near Springfield and probably would have made it home on time.

Those are the days that push me back to the commuter bus… Sometimes, I just need to know what time my ride will arrive, even if it’s only an approximation.

What I look forward to most about the change in seasons is that, while traffic will increase with more cars on the road again, I’m almost certain there will also be more slug drivers picking up. Believe it or not, I even look forward to seeing more slugs in line, because the system needs both riders and drivers to work efficiently.

As the 2013 summer season ends, I hope all of my fellow commuters have had a chance to get away for some much-needed R&R. This year, I’m actually looking forward to a nice, long fall vacation, as I prepare for my upcoming wedding and honeymoon in October!

Slug Takes Boss on Commute, Is Promised More Telework Options

Slug Tales 

If you ask me, the best way to commute from communities in Northern Virginia to Washington is by slugging. Hands down. It’s convenient, fast, and even better, slugging is free – no SmarTrip card or cash required.

There’s only one way to get to work that tops slugging, and that’s telecommuting.

OK, so it’s not the same as actually traveling to work… it’s not like you can teleport from home to your office (although, wouldn’t it be nice if you could?). Telework is a fantastic alternative to spending the time commuting back and forth.

I’ve noticed that many agencies and offices are starting to promote telework, as well as Alternative Work Schedules (AWS), which include both flexible and compressed work schedules. In fact, many people that I know in both the public and private sectors are being given the option to work from home at least one or two days a week.

In my office, the policy on telework still seems a bit unclear, and not all of the Directors share the same openness in allowing their staff to work offsite. Luckily, my Director is willing to let our team telework occasionally, when there are no meetings or other events where we need to be present in the office.

Sometimes I believe this may have something to do with the fact that my boss was able to personally witness my commute once. He just happens to live in DC, a couple of Metro stops or a 10 minute walk away from our office, but one afternoon, he needed to meet someone in Dumfries after work.

“Can you teach me how to slug?” he asked.

Of course, I jumped at the opportunity. I’m always willing to show someone new how the slugging system works!

So that day, we picked up his car and I showed him to the Horner Road slug line, located across from L’Enfant Plaza.

“How do they know where we’re going?” he asked as we approached the line, and I rolled down the window to call out, “Horner!”

“That’s how,” I explained. “These people are all waiting in this line for the Horner Road commuter lot, but it’s usually a good idea to confirm the destination before they get in the car.”

Once we had our slug in tow, we were on our way down south in the HOV lanes.

“Are we allowed to talk?” he asked quietly.

“You can talk, pick your own radio station, and adjust the temperature however you want, as long as you get us to the commuter lot safely!” I laughed.

We finally arrived back at the commuter lot, dropped off our slug, and then he dropped me off at my car. VIP service! It was nice not having to walk back in the humid weather, and my boss continued on to Dumfries.

The next day, I asked my supervisor what he thought about slugging.

“It was an interesting experience,” he said, “but I don’t know how you do that every day! I would have quit by now, if I were you!”

I assured him that it wasn’t always that bad, although it wasn’t completely out of the ordinary, either. Then, he admitted that one thing was for sure – his slugging experience had opened his eyes to what we go through every day.

“There are definitely going to be more telework days in your future!” he promised.

While I’d certainly like to telework more often than I do, I actually don’t mind coming to the office regularly. I appreciate the contact with my colleagues, and think working from home every day could become a bit mundane if I were to do it every day.

However, having the option to telework here and there has been wonderful, and I’m thankful to be able to work from home when I can.

 

A Cure for the Car-Sick Slug

Slug Tales 

As much as I love slugging, there’s one little thing that can make the ride a bit less enjoyable for me – I get car sick.

It’s not something that bothers me all the time, but if I even attempt to read, scroll through Facebook, or simply look out the window sometimes, then forget it. It’s the worst feeling, and when you’re riding in someone else’s car, can make you feel trapped.

When I get car sick, everything feels like torture. A slight tap on the brakes, loud music, a stuffy car… just thinking about it is nauseating.

It’s not just riding in the car that gives me motion sickness, either. The Metro, or sometimes even a bad bus ride can leave me feeling queasy.

A few weeks ago, I took the Metro from Franconia Springfield, at end of the Blue Line, all the way to the L’Enfant Plaza stop, which takes close to an hour. About halfway through the ride, I was starting to sweat and feel a bit green under the gills, when I noticed other passengers were also fanning themselves and complaining about the heat.

I realized at that point that we had probably chosen a car without AC, and though I considered moving to the next car, I worried that I wouldn’t be able to do so before the doors closed.

“We’re almost there… just a few more stops,” I told myself, as I suffered through the rest of the ride. It was miserable!

I’ve been a little under the weather for the last week or so, and that certainly hasn’t helped my general issue with motion sickness. One morning last week, I rode into work with a nice lady that I often run into in the Slug Line. She’s always so nice and so friendly, but I was feeling pretty blah that day, and her peppiness only made me feel worse.

I felt terrible for not being more talkative that day, but on the inside, I longed for a driver who didn’t know me and didn’t insist on carrying on a conversation. Despite wanting to close my eyes and shut out the world, I didn’t want to seem impolite, so I continued talking. When we hit traffic just past the Pentagon, I didn’t think I was going to make it.

For a moment, I envisioned what a disgrace it would be to get physically ill in a Slug Driver’s car – then I quickly put it out of my mind, before it actually happened.

Normally, I like to take a nap while riding up and down the Interstate 95 HOV lanes, and I think this is partly to avoid that horrible feeling of car sickness. I’ve known other people who suffer from the same problem, so surely I’m not the only slug who feels this way from time to time.

Luckily, the typical slug ride from the commuter lot to my office, or vice versa, is only around a half hour – so when I do feel car sick, and don’t have a chatty driver, a power nap is usually the perfect cure.

Friends Help Friends Learn the Ropes of Slugging

Slug Tales

I love meeting newbies in the slug lines.

It’s the best, really. You can almost always pick them out, some looking lost, nervous, or asking where other people are headed. They make conversation in line, which is perfectly fine – until they get into a car and continue to talk. You can’t really get mad at them though; after all, they have yet to learn the rules of the road, so to speak.

If you ask me, seeing newcomers in line goes to show the impact of slugging in our area. Maybe these new slugs have tried other methods of transportation to get to work and, at the suggestion of colleagues or friends, have decided to give the slug line a try. Or maybe they’re starting a new job, and haven’t quite figured out which option of commuting will work best for them just yet.

When I began working in Washington a few years ago, I was more nervous about the commute than I was about actually starting a new job. I remember people asking me how I planned to travel from Woodbridge to Washington every day, and I would tell them I planned to take the Metro from Springfield – I hadn’t realized that would mean sitting in traffic just to drive to Springfield, paying almost $5 for parking each day, and then sitting in even worse traffic to get home at night. I just wasn’t aware of any other options back then.

Our next door neighbor, who had been commuting to the Pentagon for years, told me to look into OmniRide, the local commuter bus. She let me know where some of the bus stops were, and I went to the website to determine which route would work best for me. She also mentioned slugging, but the idea of getting into cars with strangers was completely overwhelming to me at the time, and I swore I’d never do it.

Never say never, right?

A good friend of mine, who happened to work in the same office where I’d spend my first couple of days in training, said I should try slugging with her. She even offered to go into work a little later on my first day, so that she could show me how it was done. Although the idea of it still made me nervous, I felt more at ease knowing that someone was willing to show me the ropes.

After only a couple of days, I still didn’t feel very confident about slugging on my own, so I went back to the bus. Then, I found out another friend of mine worked in my office building, and he convinced me to rejoin the slug line. He showed me where to stand, and explained some of the rules that I hadn’t already known.

Once I started to get the hang of it, I found slugging to be quite painless! Rather than taking the Metro to the Pentagon and waiting for the bus, I could just get in the slug line and get home much faster. On top of that, I liked that slugging was free – I didn’t have to worry about paying for parking at the Metro station or paying fare for the Metro and the bus, which gets pricey. Now that I was no longer intimidated by it, I preferred to slug back and forth to work.

I’ve talked to many people who say that they would “never” slug, that it “sounds crazy,” and ask if I’m ever scared to get into a car. What I’ve noticed is that most of those people either don’t have the option to slug from wherever they live, or they have no need to slug (side note: I’m sometimes very jealous of these people, as they usually tend to have a very short commute!). I recall saying the same thing once upon a time, and look at me now…

Now that I’m an experienced slug, whenever I see new people in the slug line, I remember being new myself. I try to help them along, just as my friends did, and hopefully, make the experience a little less daunting.

Slug Tales Poll: Has Sequestration Changed Your Commute?

Slug Tales

I used to look forward to summer.

As a slug, summer was always the easiest time of year to commute – with no school buses on the road and more people taking leave for summer vacations, which always meant less traffic and more parking available at the local commuter lots.

Not these days.

Although my short trip up I-95 north has been much quicker lately, the trek from the commuter lot to my office in Downtown D.C. has been just as long as any other season, and the parking situation has hardly changed at all. Even worse, the Slug Lines have seemed much longer than usual, and move at, well, a snail’s pace.

So what gives? I have a theory.

None of us have been able to avoid it, the dreaded “S” word: Sequestration. It has hit us all in one way or another, whether that means furloughs, hiring freezes, or just overall budget cuts. And, I don’t know – is it far-fetched to think those cutbacks aren’t affecting the slug lines as well?

Allow me to explain how I arrived at this conclusion.

Recently, I decided to start getting to the slug line earlier. I thought, the sooner I get in line, the better my chances of getting a ride, right? I’m typically one of the later slugs, and after being left waiting past 9 a.m. a few times, I realized that something would have to change.

So today, for example, I left my house at 8 a.m., only to sit in about 20 minutes of traffic on my way to the commuter lot. Slight setback, I thought, but it shouldn’t be a problem. I even lucked out and found a parking space at the Horner Road lot, which tends to fill up early. Woo hoo! But once I could see the slug line on the horizon, my little heart sank.

Eight people in line ahead of me, and it was 8:25 a.m. Not a good sign, I sighed. After about 15 minutes, one gentleman finally bowed out of the line to get his car and drive to work, taking a few slugs from the line with him. Even with four down, there were still four ahead of me, and that clock was ticking closer and closer to 9:00 AM.

Now there were four people waiting behind me as well, and not one other driver had stopped to pick up slugs. There were so many people waiting for rides, but where were all of the drivers?

And this has become more and more common, almost a daily occurrence, in fact. This morning, I ended up waiting a total of one hour, standing in line at the commuter lot. At that point, I wished I could just turn around and go back home. Sadly, I don’t really have that option.

I haven’t attempted to confirm the validity of this theory yet, but I have run it by some of my friends in the slug line. They seem to think it’s entirely possible, though perhaps they’re just trying to humor me. It just seems as though there have been a lot more people looking for rides than there are drivers looking for riders, and maybe – just maybe – there’s a reason for that.

Maybe some of the slugs who now wait in line used to be regular drivers, who had to cut out the expense of driving to work every day. Maybe they’re just driving less often. Maybe more people are teleworking, whether simply by choice or at the direction of their agency or company in order to cut back on office space. Maybe more folks are choosing to slug, as opposed to paying for alternate methods of public transit?

I can’t help but wonder if this recent hit to our pocketbooks has changed our commuting habits, so now I ask you, my fellow commuters – have you had to make changes to your daily commute? I want your feedback!

Help me prove (or disprove!) my theory.

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Please share your feedback in the comments below, or tweet @SlugTales on Twitter!

 

Will Decades-Old Slug System on I-95 Remain after Express Lanes Open?

Slug Tales

I don’t know about you, but I’m not sure how I feel about the 95 Express lanes.

The $925 million project is a joint venture between Transurban DRIVe and Fluor Enterprises, Inc, which will eventually expand the two existing HOV lanes on I-95 down to Garrisonville Road in Stafford County, and add a third lane between Prince William Parkway and Edsall Road on I-395.

North of Edsall Road, the HOV lanes will remain as they are.

Scheduled to open in late 2014, the finished project will result in 29 miles of express lanes which vehicles can access for free by having three or more occupants, or by choosing to pay a toll. This means that drivers can opt to drive the 95 Express Lanes solo, by shelling out a few bucks to avoid the traffic in the regular lanes.

Drivers wouldn’t have to pick up slugs.

So then, what would become of the slug system as it exists now? Would drivers still be willing to pick up slugs, for toll-free access to the Express Lanes?

Here’s another detail – the HOV restriction hours will completely change as well, and the Express Lanes restrictions will be in effect 24 hours a day, seven days a week. Unlike the current HOV lanes, which are open only to high occupancy vehicles (HOV-3+) between 6:30 and 9 a.m., and from 3:30 until 6 p.m., there will be no time restrictions. At all times, drivers with fewer than three occupants will pay a toll to use the lanes.

Many slugs are concerned about the changes the 95 Express Lanes will bring. Will drivers remain faithful to the system, or will they turn their backs on slugs with the option to pay for Express Lane access? Although the cost per trip is estimated to be around $5-6 each way, perhaps the added expense on top of paying for gas, parking, and even wear-and-tear to your vehicle is a reason to continue slugging.

And when the restricted hours are no more, will drivers continue to look for slugs in the commuter lots after 9 a.m., or in Downtown Washington or Arlington after 6 p.m.?

I’ve had conversations while slugging with others who share these concerns, but of course, no one can answer these questions until the lanes open next year. As history tells it, slugging in Northern Virginia can be traced back to the 1970s, and it has stood the test of time thus far. But who knows whether it can survive the Express Lanes?

Sure, it sounds like the 95 Express Lanes project will have some great benefits. Some of these include new access points to the Express Lanes, new or expanded commuter lots (including a 1,000 space garage at the new Potomac Nationals Stadium at Stonebridge in Prince William County), and the extension of the lanes to Stafford County. I don’t think anyone would argue that those changes will be beneficial. How long have we all been saying that we need more parking, and that we need to build up and not out? A garage could be great. More lanes; great. More direct access to HOV. Great.

But what sacrifices will come with these changes? Will any commuters be harmed in the opening of the 95 Express Lanes? Only time will tell. For now, only one thing is certain: Express Lane construction sure isn’t helping rush hour traffic!

Animosity Builds After Slug Jumps Line

SLUG TALES

I have an enemy in the slug line. And the thing is, he doesn’t even know it.

Or maybe he does.

You see, he wasn’t always my enemy. In fact, we used to be quite friendly to each other. I don’t even know my enemy’s name, as is generally the case with my people I “know” from the slug line.

Since I’m usually there in line around the same time every day, I tend to see a lot of the same faces. We end up talking in the line and sometimes making conversation in the car, too, depending on how talkative the driver might be.

My enemy and I run into each other a lot. He always says good morning, and has always made small talk. He knows that my dad sells cars at Karen Radley in Woodbridge, and said that he was going to see him about buying a Volkswagen. Since I never learned his name, I’m not sure if he ever did.

Once, I ran into him and his little boys in Costco. I may not know his name, but he was my buddy.

One day, that all changed.

We were standing in line at the Horner Road commuter lot and it was a rough day for us slugs. I had been standing for quite a while, waiting patiently for a ride that never seemed to be coming. As it got dangerously close to 9 a.m., when the HOV restrictions are lifted and picking up slugs no longer benefits drivers, I started to worry.

Then, my buddy arrived. I complained to him that I had been waiting for so long, and no one had been stopping to pick up slugs that day. He told me not to worry, someone would stop. I wasn’t so sure. There was a slug or two ahead of me, so we weren’t even next in line. It didn’t look good.

Soon enough, a car pulled up, and its driver rolled down the window to ask where we were headed.

“L’Enfant,” we told him, our voices hopeful.

“Hmmm, I can drop off in Crystal City,” he offered.

The two slugs ahead of me decided to accept the ride, and got into the front and back seat. At the same time, my buddy called out to ask if the driver would take a third rider.

How nice it was for him to look out for me, I thought. Sure, we could have waited for another driver to come along, but he wanted to make sure I wasn’t left standing. What a good friend!

But to my surprise, when the driver agreed to take another rider, my “friend” jumped in! I was ahead of him in line – I had been waiting much longer, and it was my turn! If the driver was willing to take a third passenger, it should have been me! Before I could object, he was in the car, and they were off. And all I could do was stand there, dumbfounded.

I had been betrayed.

Eventually, I think I ended up taking the bus or driving myself to work – either way, a huge inconvenience, and I couldn’t help but blame my friend. No, he wasn’t my friend at all. He was only out for himself. I was shocked and bitter.

Since then, I haven’t been as friendly when I see him in the slug line. I see him differently now, and although I’m still civil and say hello back, I can’t help but hold a grudge on the inside. Since then, the cheerful chatter has ceased to exist between us. My friend has now become my enemy.

For a while, I thought, maybe that’s just the nature of the beast – every slug for him or herself out there. It’s a slug eat slug world… Or something like that.

But really, it’s not. I’ve looked out for fellow slugs, picking up desperate people left waiting after the HOV restrictions are lifted, because I’ve been in that very situation myself. Likewise, my late morning slug friends have offered rides when they see me walking to or standing in line – they never leave me hanging. I like to think we all look out for each other, at least for the most part. What goes around comes around, right?

I’ve never had the guts to come out and tell this guy how upset he made me that day, and really, I don’t know whether or not he’d care. Probably not… So until I get the nerve to tell him he shouldn’t have jumped ahead of me in line, I guess I have an enemy in the slug line.

Oh, well. At least I have plenty of other friends who do look out for me. I even know some of their names!

In a Rush, Even After Work Events Require Commuter Planning

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

A long commute can pose quite a challenge when it comes to having a social life.

Not that it’s altogether impossible to balance social activities, but as a commuter, it requires a bit of extra planning.

Some days I really miss having the option of getting in my car, driving to work, parking right in front of my office without any extra cost, coming and going as I please… life was much simpler back then.

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Now, leaving early when I have any sort of an appointment means having to carefully plan where I will park and how I will get back to my car at the local commuter lot. Missing the bus I need to catch or the Metro train I need to get to the bus stop can completely throw everything off.

Working late or attending any sort of event after hours is even more complicated. Since I almost always slug to my office, driving home whenever I’m ready just isn’t an option. Leaving D.C. after 6 p.m. when the restrictions are lifted in the HOV lanes means that I’m not able to slug back home. Unless I’ve planned in advance to park at the nearest Metro station in Springfield, my only option would be to take the bus home. And while reliable, the later it gets, the less frequently the buses run – the last PRTC OmniRide bus leaves the Pentagon at 8 p.m.

As a last resort, there is a Metro Direct bus that travels between the Horner and Telegraph Road Commuter lots and the Franconia-Springfield Metro Station until around 11 p.m. That was the bus I’d planned to take back to my car one night a couple of weeks ago, when I had to stay after hours for a special event. I told my boss I’d have to leave no later than 9 p.m., figuring that would be more than enough time to catch the 10:40 p.m. bus.

I hurried along from the event back to the nearest Metro station, figuring it was better to arrive early and have to wait than to risk missing a transfer on the way. Then I realized I still needed to stop by my office again – shoot! That might put me a bit behind schedule, so I’d have to be quick.

Getting off of the Metro by my office, I ran up through the doors that remain open after hours, and into an elevator. I grabbed my things from my office, and rushed back down to the Metro, checking my iPhone for the next train’s arrival time. Realizing I had only a couple of minutes, I bolted down the escalator, only to catch the doors closing and the training chugging away.

I was sweating. I was tired. My bags were heavy… and the next train wouldn’t arrive for another 20 minutes. What now?! I quickly checked the Metro website to see what time the next train would arrive in Springfield, in order to catch the very last Metro Direct bus.

10:43 p.m. Three minutes after the bus was scheduled to depart.

Calling my fiancé in a panic, he told me not to worry. He was at work, but after a quick phone call, he had arranged a ride to pick me up from Springfield. Whew!

Last weekend, I attended a fundraiser in Georgetown that my colleague had helped organize, and met a few people who suggested I join them for a wing night or happy hour sometime. Of course, they live in or close to D.C., so when I explained that I’d have to plan for it, they didn’t seem to understand.

“Can’t you just take a cab home?” they asked. “How far do you live?”

When I told them how much a cab ride would cost from D.C. to Woodbridge, they couldn’t believe it.

“You need to move closer,” they informed me.

I sighed. Sometimes I think it would be nice to live closer to my job, where meeting up with friends in D.C. after work wasn’t such a hassle, but we made that sacrifice to have a little more space in an area that we could afford. It may not always be the most convenient commute, but I’m happy with what we’ve got.

So when things pop up after work, whether it’s a late night at the office or a going away party for a coworker, I just have to plan accordingly!

Ride Involving 90 mph Speeds, iPad Ends with Angry Husband, Slug

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

Whew. It took me a while to calm down after that Slug ride. Some people just have no business having a license to drive, let alone transporting passengers in their car.

This lady was one of those people.

Looking back, I should have seen the signs. There she was, sitting in her SUV with the engine running and hazards flashing, windows down and nervously looking back and forth. I wasn’t sure what or who she was looking for, but she didn’t seem to be picking up riders, and she was blocking the slug line. The other slugs seemed annoyed, and some wondered out loud what she was doing there.

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After waiting for a few minutes, I eventually stepped to the front of the line, right next to her car.

“I’ll take two!” she finally called out of the open window. She asked us both to sit in the back, so that her husband could sit up front. He was on his way.

Finally, the long-awaited husband arrived. He mentioned some sort of commotion in the Metro station, and then began talking about homes he had found online. Apparently, these two were house hunting.

I thought nothing of it until we started moving. As she merged onto the highway and then made her way from the far right lane to the far left lane to access the HOV lanes, he fumbled with his iPad, distracting her from driving.

Looking over to help him, she kept telling him what buttons to push.

“Pay attention to the road, will you?” he said, brushing her off.

“I am paying attention!” she retorted. “You don’t know what you’re doing.”

He finally figured it out, and I tried to close my eyes for a nap on the way home. It was impossible. The second my eyes shut, I’d feel the car jerk back into the other lane. She was driving like a maniac, tailgating every car in front of us. When we approached the back of a motorcycle, I cringed for its rider. Silently, I prayed for our safety and the safety of everyone around us.

The longer this went on, the worse I felt. I was a nervous wreck, wanting so badly to ask her to be more careful, yet not wanting to start a confrontation. I watched as the speedometer climbed to 85 mph, then up to 90. Her husband asked her to slow down a couple more times, but she ignored him, saying she was only trying to get home as quickly as possible.

I just wanted to get home, period.

The guy next to me was snoozing away, seemingly unaffected. I wondered if he was praying too, or if he was just that heavy a sleeper. I didn’t know how anyone could sleep through this nightmare of a ride.

I held my breath as she approached the back of a car at over 90 mph, full speed ahead. We were traveling so quickly, it almost appeared the car in front of us wasn’t even moving! As she finally hit the brakes, her husband asked her again to slow down.

“He’s not even going to speed limit!” she snapped back. I let out an exasperated sigh, and hoped that it made a point.

It didn’t.

When her husband began showing her photos of homes on the iPad, I could only stare in disbelief. Not thinking the ride could get any worse, each time he held up another photo and she looked over her shoulder, she would start veering to the right, then jerking the wheel back to the left. I just about lost my cool entirely when we almost collided with some sort of large construction vehicle.

Just a few more miles, I thought…

When she finally pulled off the highway for the Horner Road commuter lot exit, she asked where we wanted to be let out.

“First lot! Let me out as soon as possible!” I blurted out. My bags were in my lap and my hand was already on the door handle, ready to jump out.

Just when I thought it was almost over, she stopped short, nearly rear ending the guy in front of us.

“Great, thanks for not killing us all!” The words escaped my mouth before I could think it through. I was desperately trying to open the door to let myself out, but the doors were locked. “Please let me out!” I exclaimed, shaking the handle. I’d had enough at that point, and couldn’t take another second in that car.

“That’s it – get out. I’m driving,” said the husband, jumping out at the same time.

“What? Why?” I heard her ask. I didn’t wait around to hear any more – the second my feet hit the pavement, I was out of there.

It took me a while to calm down, and I wasn’t exactly sure why I had gotten so upset. I guess something about having your life flash before your eyes tends to have that effect.

I’ve said before that I don’t typically turn down slug rides, but honestly, I’d rather walk home than ever get in a car with that lady again!

Tired of Smelly Slugs, Some Start Carpools

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

I very rarely, if ever, pass on a slug ride.

That’s not to say that it never happens, but the truth is that I’m not very picky when it comes to getting a ride. I may laugh about a driver’s strange behavior, or complain about a stuffy car, but at the end of the day, I’m happy just to get back and forth to work without any major issues.

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The only time I will choose not to accept a ride is when the driver and I are headed to different locations. For instance, if I approach a vehicle and the driver says they’re going to Crystal City, I will generally pass and look for another driver who is headed to L’Enfant Plaza, or somewhere closer to my destination in Washington.

Some people will refuse rides from certain drivers after a bad experience, such as a driver who makes them feel unsafe, or even one who smokes. I know someone who stopped slugging altogether and formed her own carpool because she couldn’t stand riding with strangers who poured on the cologne or perfume – it made her nauseous!

While waiting to slug home one afternoon, I saw two gentlemen allow the people behind them in line to get into a car before them. I wondered why they hadn’t taken the ride until one of them joked, “I’m too big for that car!” They were both very tall, and apparently didn’t think that they could squeeze into the small coupe.

It reminded me of my own car, and one of the many reasons I am almost always a rider and not a driver in the slug line. When I do drive, I’m afraid my passengers will be uncomfortable in my small, two-door Honda.

Over the holidays, I drove in one day and parked at Pentagon City, where parking is a few dollars cheaper than it is in D.C. I decided to pick up slugs at the Pentagon, and ended up with two of the biggest, tallest men in the line sitting in the front and rear passenger seats. As the first one climbed into the backseat, I apologized profusely, acknowledging the lack of space. Both passengers said they’d be fine, but I still felt badly for them, and tried to make the rest of the ride as smooth as possible.

Other drivers don’t seem as concerned with their passengers’ comfort, or sometimes, even their safety. I’ve ridden with many drivers who treat the commute like a race, speeding and weaving in and out of traffic. There’s a lady I’ve ridden with to the Pentagon a few times – she’s as nice as can be, very friendly – but she drives like a maniac! When I rode with her earlier this week, we made it from the Horner Road Commuter Lot in Woodbridge to the Pentagon in about 15 minutes. She said that she was running late that morning, but the other passenger had ridden with her before as well, and we laughed that she always drives that fast.

I’m always much more careful when I drive with other people in my car; I want them to feel as safe and secure as possible. At the same time, I’ve never had the guts to speak up to a driver who isn’t driving carefully, like the hybrid driver I rode with recently. Even though that ride in particular made me nervous, if I encountered that driver in the slug line again, I’m not sure that I would pass on the ride. When the line is long and moving slowly, I’m just happy to get into a car no matter what!

That said, there have definitely been times where I’ve been relieved not to have to get into certain cars, too. One morning when I used to slug from the Tackett’s Mill Commuter Lot in Lake Ridge, I rode with a lady whose car smelled overwhelmingly like a wet dog – you know the smell. It was awful, and I couldn’t wait to get out. When I saw her car pull up to the slug line that evening, I cringed. I couldn’t handle that again! But luckily, there were two people ahead of me in line, and I was able to take the next car. Whew!

When it comes down to it, slugs and drivers both have the choice to decline a ride or a passenger, it’s just not something I do very often. However, I’ve learned after years of slugging to never say never. Each day and each ride bring different circumstances, and if I ever felt unsafe (or sick!) from a ride, I’d probably have to just wait for the next one.

 

Sitting Next to Stranger on Bus a Cozy Experience

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

You know that scenario where you’re alone in an otherwise empty movie theater, and someone comes along and plops down right next to you?

If there’s one thing I can’t stand on the bus, or even on the Metro, it’s people who think they are entitled to more than one seat. Those people who sit on the aisle looking straight ahead, pretending not to notice the people standing around them, looking for somewhere to sit down. Or the ones who sit in the window seat with their bag or briefcase taking up the seat next to them, unwilling to move it to their lap to make room for another passenger – they all drive me crazy.

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What makes them think they can have two seats, when others don’t even have one? It’s incredibly selfish and rude, if you ask me.

That being said, I think most of us probably prefer to sit by ourselves or with a friend, over sitting next to a stranger. After a long day at work, most people seem to enjoy the opportunity to stretch out a bit and relax during the ride home. That’s a little more difficult to do with someone sitting practically on top of you.

Last week, the bus was a bit of a lifesaver for me. After finding out that I needed both front and rear brakes in my car replaced, I needed to figure out an alternative commute so that I wouldn’t have to drive. The bus, which picks up and drops off right near my house, was super convenient and saved me a lot of trouble. Plus, it was nice not having to navigate through traffic back and forth to the commuter lot every day.

When I got on the bus to go home Tuesday afternoon, I was pleased to see how empty it was. There’s nothing worse than hearing the bus driver shout, “standing room only!” as you’re boarding, and I could see that wouldn’t be an issue, especially getting a seat at the second to last stop before hitting the highway.

Finding the perfect window seat, I settled in and got comfortable. My allergies have just been awful lately, and the medicine I’ve been taking just makes me feel so tired. It felt so good to finally close my eyes.

At the Pentagon, the line for our bus was pretty short. Considering there were plenty of open seats, I looked forward to having a little space during the ride home. But to my chagrin, I opened my eyes just in time to see another passenger setting his bags down in the aisle seat next to me.

It was not just any passenger sitting down, either – he was a quite burly gentleman, let’s just say, and he had a lot of baggage. Literally. A backpack and a briefcase. Why did he even need to carry both? Well, it didn’t really matter. All I knew was that it would be a very cozy ride!

On a positive note, I had been feeling a little chilly before he sat down. Now being squished between my seat buddy and the window, I didn’t have to worry about being cold at all. By the end of the ride, I was actually ready for some air.

I tried to close my eyes and get back to my nap, but couldn’t get comfortable again. Not to mention how awkward I felt when I realized his leg had been pushed against mine for half of the ride. At less than five feet tall, I’d say I’m pretty compact, but I had no room to move around where we wouldn’t be touching. It was making me feel claustrophobic, as I tried not to think about how close we were sitting.

It was such a relief to get off the bus that day, and luckily, the rest of the week wasn’t so bad. Though I shared a seat next to someone each day, it was nice to finally have a seat to myself on Friday afternoon. Plus, I got to sleep through the horrible Friday evening southbound traffic, instead of driving through it myself. And what could be better than that? Maybe I should take the bus more often!

Crash Doesn’t Deter Slug

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

I’d like to think that I’m not risking my life every time I slug back and forth to work.

But the more I think about it, I suppose that’s exactly what I’m doing.

Growing up, didn’t our parents always tell us not to get into cars with strangers? And yet we do it every day. We trust these strangers to drive us from Point A to Point B without getting into an accident. We trust them to pay attention to the road, to drive defensively, to arrive safely. We get into the car and we hope for the best.

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I guess anytime we get on the road, whether we’re riding or driving, we take the risk of getting into an accident. Even the buses, with drivers who are specially trained and licensed, could be hit by another vehicle. It’s a scary thought!

This is and has always been a reality, of course, but it is one that I was reminded of last week. While riding into work one morning, we hit very heavy traffic on the High Occupancy Vehicle (HOV) lanes near the exit for Edsall Road. It was unusual for traffic to get backed up in this area, so I immediately began to wonder what was going on.

Whipping out my cell phone, I checked my Twitter (@SlugTales) feed for any news on what could have caused the delay. As I scrolled through the page, the driver’s cell phone began to ring. She answered the call, and complained to her mother about the commute.

“Ugh, this construction is really messing up the road!” she said.

Just then, we approached the real problem – a bad accident, completely blocking the left lane. It looked as though one car had rear-ended the other, but was difficult to tell since they were surrounded by emergency vehicles. The occupants of both cars appeared to be alright, despite being startled and probably late to work. At least no one seemed to be badly hurt.

“That is my worst fear!” exclaimed the passenger in the front seat. ” I’m terrified of getting into an accident on HOV, especially when I’m driving!”

The driver, quickly ending the call with her mother, agreed. “Hope they’re all okay,” she replied.

For some reason, that sight stayed on my mind for most of the day. It’s not as if I’d never seen an accident before, but I couldn’t seem to shake the thought of something like that happening to me. What if…

No, I can’t worry about things like that, I told myself. Then, while waiting my turn in the slug line that afternoon, I overheard a conversation going on between two people behind me.

“… And it took me a while to start slugging again after that. My wife was so worried about me getting into another accident!”

The woman listening to the story shook her head. “I’ve been slugging for 11 years and thank goodness that’s never happened to me. I can’t believe that happened to you the first time! What terrible luck.”

They continued talking about all the different ways to commute, and he explained how he’d pretty much tried it all. He used to drive in every day, until that got too expensive. He stopped taking the Metro when his friend told him about the train. He stopped taking the Virginia Railway Express when he stopped receiving transit benefits, as he could no longer afford it. He started slugging again when his coworker convinced him to give it another try.

“I’m glad she changed my mind,” he admitted. “I’ve been slugging for years now and have never had any other problems, really.”

Well, I was glad to hear that. In the few years that I’ve been slugging, I’ve never been in an accident either. Fingers crossed, my good luck will continue.

In the meantime, I’ll be sure to buckle up and hope that everyone out there will be careful on the road. Drive safely, slugs! Our lives all depend on it.

Long Lines Make for Tough Monday Commute

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

Doesn’t everything seem more difficult when you’re tired?

This Monday was particularly rough for that very reason: I was exhausted. Sunday night had been one of those nights, the kind where every time you look at the clock, it’s yet another hour later and you still aren’t asleep.

And next thing you know, there’s the sound of your alarm clock blaring. Time to get up!

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I had a case of the Mondays, and I had it bad. As I dragged through my morning routine, I wondered how busy the day ahead would be. Maybe if it wasn’t too hectic, my boss would let me leave a bit early. The thought of being at work all day was almost painful.

Managing to leave just a few minutes later than usual, I used an app on my iPhone to check the traffic heading toward the Horner Road Commuter lot in Woodbridge and was relieved to see that it was pretty clear. Arriving in almost record time, I pulled into the lot and scoped the scene for a parking spot. Finding none, I continued toward back to the third lot, but was stunned at what I saw ahead: a long slug line going to L’Enfant Plaza!

The closer it gets to 9 a.m. when the restrictions are lifted in the HOV lanes, the lesser the chances are of getting a ride, and there were more than a few slugs waiting. I couldn’t believe it!

Pressed for time, I hurried over to the new lot on Telegraph Road. Maybe I’d find cars waiting over there, I thought.

No such luck. Disappointed, I made the trek back to Horner and got in the slug line, which hadn’t moved an inch since I had driven by minutes ago.

We all waited, with our fingers crossed each time we saw a car slowing down before the slug line, but to no avail. What was going on this morning?! One by one, slugs began to drop out of the line. One went to check the line for the Pentagon, further up the lot. A couple left without a word, and one more gave up and went to wait for the Metro Direct bus. With only a few minutes left until 9 a.m., there were still a few of us left.

Finally, a gentleman stopped by the line and rolled his window, saying that he could drop off at the Woodley Park Metro Station. Most likely picturing Woodley Park along the red line, and counting the number of stops and the hassle of switching stations, the slugs ahead of me reluctantly took him up on the ride. Meanwhile, I wondered if anyone else would stop.

By 9:15 a.m., the OmniRide Metro Direct arrived, and I wondered if we should cut our losses and take the bus.

“That’s a long Metro ride though,” said the other guy waiting with me. “Don’t worry, I’ve gotten picked up later than this,” he assured me.

By 9:30 a.m., I was worried, and apparently, so was he. I wondered if not getting on that bus was a mistake. That’s when another car stopped, and the driver asked where we were going. He agreed to take us to Pentagon City, and that was good enough for us. I was late, but at least I had a ride.

When the clock struck five that afternoon, I couldn’t believe I had lasted all day. I wrapped up my work and was walking out the door a few minutes later, but was shocked at the sight ahead of me – the slug line going back to Horner was longer than I’d ever seen before!

Quickly, I rushed to the back of the line. As more slugs filed behind me, I could hear the anxious chatter about the length of the slow-moving line, and whether or not we’d get a ride. As the clock ticked closer to 6 p.m., when the HOV restrictions are lifted for the evening, I couldn’t believe I might end up in the same predicament I’d been in that morning. Meanwhile, the slug line moved forward at a snail’s pace.

Finally, I was next in line and another driver arrived, even taking three of us into his car. With only a few minutes to spare until 6 p.m., I was relieved, even though it meant sitting in quite a bit of traffic. Oh, well – the long ride just meant more time for my power nap!

Monday was definitely tough, but luckily, I made it through. With such a difficult start to my week, I could have looked at it as a bad sign. Instead, I told myself, it could only get better from here!

Hybrid Driver Aims to Change Slow Reputation

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

Uuuuuggghhhhh…

You’ll have to excuse me, as I’m still a bit carsick from my slug rides today.

Unfortunately, I have a tendency to get motion sickness unless I’m driving, which I rarely do since my building does not offer parking for most employees. However, I slug back and forth to work all the time and can generally handle it without any problems.

But not today.

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This morning, I almost didn’t think I’d make it to my office without getting sick. The driver we rode with, a lady who used her rental car as an excuse for her horrible driving, was all over the road. Distracted by all of the unfamiliar buttons and adjusting the mirrors every few miles, she would find herself drifting off into the other lane before jerking the wheel back to her own lane.

“Wow, I’m telling you, there’s nothing like driving your own car!” she laughed.

Here’s an idea, I thought. Why don’t you just pay attention to where you’re going and stop playing with all of the shiny buttons? I managed a disingenuous laugh instead.

Despite barely driving the speed limit, which is 65 mph in the HOV lanes, our driver couldn’t seem to gently tap the brakes when necessary. Instead, she’d almost slam the brake pedal, sending us forward in our seats each time.

I closed my eyes and attempted to escape to my happy place, but it was too much. The swerving back and forth, the crawling pace, even the sun beaming hard through the window – I couldn’t handle anymore. By the time we got off of the exit and ended up at a traffic light, I quickly took the opportunity to jump out and walk the rest of the way to my office.

I needed fresh air.

By the afternoon, I had all but forgotten about the bumpy ride to work. When I hopped into the backseat of a car, all I wanted to do was close my eyes and wake up back at the commuter lot. I was so exhausted! But when the driver peeled away from the slug line like Speed Racer, I quickly realized that this ride would be anything but relaxing.

Hybrid drivers, who don’t necessarily need to pick up slugs in order to access the HOV lanes, have a reputation for being some of the slowest on the road. I’m not sure why, but I’ve found the stereotype to be fairly accurate in my experience. This driver was certainly out to disprove that. I watched as his speedometer climbed to 75, 80, 85 mph He was driving pretty fast at times, but it wasn’t the speed that bothered me so much. It was the tailgating, the weaving in and out of traffic, slamming his brakes when the cars ahead of him weren’t traveling at lightning speed. It was borderline terrifying!

Keeping my eyes closed, I said a quick prayer. Then I contemplated typing up a quick will on my iPhone. You know… just in case.

I never said a word, never asked him to slow down or to drive more cautiously. Perhaps I should have, but I’ve never felt comfortable speaking up when someone I don’t know is driving erratically. After all, slugs are supposed to be seen and not heard – and what if a seemingly simple request to drive safely escalated into an argument? I’m not a confrontational person, and the very thought of such a thing gives me anxiety.

Thank goodness he was driving so fast; at least we arrived back at the commuter lot quickly, instead of dragging out the ride as we did this morning.

I jumped out the car at the first stop at Horner Road, wished the driver a good evening and walked back to my car. On the outside, I probably looked worn out and tired. On the inside, I was kissing the ground and thanking my lucky stars that we’d made it back in one piece.

It has taken me a while to recover from the stress of both slug rides, but such bad luck is pretty uncommon. My fingers are certainly crossed for a smooth ride tomorrow!

Slugs Buck New L’Enfant Plaza Line

Slug Tales 

If there’s one thing I’ve learned since I started slugging a few years ago, it’s that slugs don’t adapt easily to change.

That may seem surprising, considering slugging is so innovative in itself. As legend has it, this unique method of commuting traces back to the 1970s, when commuters would wait for rides near bus stops, fooling the bus drivers who mistakenly thought they were waiting for the bus. Becoming annoyed by the confusion, the nickname “slugs,” just like the counterfeit coins passengers might try to pass off as payment for bus fare, caught on… so the story goes.

PRTC-Passport-ad-300x250And since then, new commuter lots were constructed and new slug lines were created over the years, and it all seems to work pretty well. So when I considered the idea of starting a new slug line at Tackett’s Mill for L’Enfant Plaza, I knew it would take a lot of work, but it seemed completely feasible.

Early in my commuting days, I would slug back and forth from the commuter lot at Potomac Mills. The location was convenient, and I could almost always find parking and a ride available, but it didn’t last long. In February 2011, Potomac Mills mall decreased the number of commuter parking spaces by 75 %, and many commuters like me had to find other places to park.

I tried the Horner Road lot, but could never find available parking, so a friend suggested the lot at Tackett’s Mill. The lines at that commuter lot only went to the Pentagon, Crystal City and Rosslyn, so my friend explained that she would slug to the Pentagon every morning and take the Metro one stop to L’Enfant, doing the reverse every afternoon.

That worked fine for a while, but then I started to realize how much time we were wasting on the Metro. Occasionally, I would ask drivers in the morning if the Pentagon was their final destination, or if they’d be driving into D.C. Many times, they were and didn’t mind driving me across the bridge, which was nice. Then it hit me – I’m not the only one commuting from Tackett’s Mill to D.C. My friend is doing it, some of the drivers are doing it, and I was willing to bet many slugs were doing the same thing.

So my friend and I decided that we could change this; we could start a new line. We made signs that said “L’Enfant” for the morning, and “Tackett’s Mill” for the afternoon ride home. We created flyers advertising a “new slug line!” and distributed them periodically on cars in the evenings. We put up signs by the Pentagon line, posted in message boards, spreading the word. We were pioneers!

But every morning, without fail, well-intentioned slugs would see me standing with my “L’Enfant” sign and advise, “Oh, you can’t slug to L’Enfant from here. You have to go to Horner.” Most drivers would pass me by in the Pentagon line, but I would hold out as long as I could for that one driver who’d be willing to drop off in D.C. Sometimes, other slugs would stand and wait with me. It was finally catching on!

In the afternoon, I’d do the same, standing in the line for Horner Road while holding my sign for Tackett’s Mill. When it was my turn for the next ride, I would ask the driver if they would drop off at Tackett’s Mill. My friend and I would usually attempt this together, giving drivers more incentive to take both of us and make only one stop. Until the backlash came.

I could feel the tension building that day in the slug line, but wasn’t entirely sure why anyone would be bothered by where I was slugging. It wasn’t affecting them; if anything, I was letting people behind me go ahead when drivers weren’t willing to drop off at Tackett’s Mill.

“If she keeps holding that sign, drivers are going to think this line isn’t going to Horner and they won’t stop here!” said one lady, as if I wasn’t standing right there, within earshot.

Thinking she was being irrational, I started ignore her. Nobody is going think that, I thought. Drivers know that this line is for Horner, and they will understand that I’m the only one holding a sign. It’s not like I was stopping cars from picking up; plenty of drivers were picking up slugs for Horner Road.

Then the others started to chime in.

“Yeah! She holds that sign every day! That’s probably what’s making the line move so slow!”

Okay, now I was becoming the scapegoat for a slow-moving slug line? My sign had nothing to do with that!

Finally, I became frustrated. I was tired of being turned down, rejected by drivers who weren’t going the direction I needed to go. I was sick of the slugs, bless their hearts, telling me every day that I couldn’t go where I needed to go, just because “this line doesn’t go there.” I tried, but I was sick and tired of trying. And eventually, I gave up.

Since then, the Prince William County attempted to start a new lot by leasing space in a church parking lot, which failed miserably. Afterward, a new commuter lot on Telegraph Road is open, and six months later, finally starting to catch on with slugs. Although the supporting infrastructure to connect the Telegraph and Horner Road lots has yet to be completed, the location is more convenient and is more easily accessible to commuters from the HOV lanes.

When it comes to slugging, I suppose change may indeed be possible, it just takes time… a lot of time!

Parking Space Battle Ends in Ride With Enemy

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

Parking in local commuter lots can be a ruthless game.

Just a couple of weeks ago, I happened to be going to work earlier than usual and thought I’d attempt to find parking at the Horner Road lot in Woodbridge.

It was the peak of the commute, just after 7 o’clock when I pulled in. The lot was bustling with people parking and walking to the slug lines and cars full of slugs heading off to D.C., while I vigilantly searched for a parking space. It was like digging for buried treasure.

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Of course, I wanted to find the perfect space, close to the slug line I needed so that I wouldn’t have to walk too far, but I’d take anything that was available. With all of the traffic and chaos of morning rush hour, I just wanted to park and be done with it.

Just then, ahead, I noticed an open space. Jackpot! Seeing no one else around, I hurried over and prepared to turn into my perfect little parking space – until seemingly out of nowhere, she appeared.

She didn’t give me a second glace, probably too ashamed to make eye contact because she knew what she was doing. She totally stole my spot! Stunned, and admittedly pretty angry, I sat for a minute, staring down the bumper of her parked vehicle. Yeah, that’ll show her.

I couldn’t believe it! Clearly, that space was meant for me. I saw it first! As I drove off, I thought for sure I’d have no choice but to park in the very back of the third lot. Ha, if there was even anything open back there! At this point, people were already starting to create their own (illegal) parking spaces in the grass and on the curbs, so either those folks were too lazy to keep looking or just couldn’t find anywhere else to park.

Of course, I could always park in the new lot on Telegraph Road, which I do a lot on days where I go in closer to 9 a.m. But I was here early today, darn it! I thought for sure it was early enough to find parking in my preferred lot.

Just when I’d started to lose hope, there it was, in all its glory. A shiny new parking spot, even closer to my slug line, even better than the spot that had just been stolen from me. Take that, parking space thief! I thought. I win!

I hurried into the spot and threw my car in park, taking only a moment to bask in my sweet, sweet victory. Then, grabbing my bags, I hustled over to the slug line.

Since I was now parked even closer, I made it to the slug line before she did. And what a coincidence, she was headed to L’Enfant Plaza, too. I hoped she felt bad now, standing behind me. I hoped she recognized that it was my space that she took. I hoped she was ashamed of herself.

Soon enough, we were next in line. I started to get into the front seat, when the driver called past me, “I’ll take three!”

Take three? No! She can’t ride with us, I wanted to shout. When a driver says that he or she will “take three,” it literally means they’ll take three passengers, instead of the usual two. Most drivers won’t immediately offer to do so, some will if the slugs ask, and some won’t. Very few will make the offer, especially when the lines are long.

Usually, I think it’s commendable for a driver to make the offer to take three. Usually, I appreciate it. Today, I did not. I wanted the parking space thief to be punished, to have to wait in the slug line longer than I did. I did not want her to be sitting behind me the whole way to work. She was my new arch enemy.

Once we were on the road, I whipped out my cell phone to text my slugging friends about my plight that morning. Certainly, they would understand! I started a group text, furiously jabbing away at the screen.

Then, I realized – she’s sitting right behind me.

I mean, she’s completely within eyesight of my phone, right? I wondered if she was able to see my phone over my shoulder. Then, I decided that I didn’t mind if she did. Earlier, I’d wanted her to feel badly for taking my spot. Now, I felt differently.

I began to realize that she had done me a favor. If I’d wasted my time arguing with her, dwelling on the fact that she took the spot where I’m sure she saw that I was going to park, I would have never found the other parking space. The better parking space. The parking space that was clearly meant for me!

Thinking about this for a moment, I began to calm down. This shouldn’t upset me; rather, it should set the tone for the rest of my day. After all, I felt pretty lucky and blessed for the way things had worked out.

Sometimes, people can be aggressive when it comes to parking, or even other aspects of commuting. But when it comes down to it, I guess some things are just not worth getting upset about!

Slug’s Text: Are You Hot?

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

It was a cold and windy day.

Slugs standing in line were bundled up in their winter coats, their teeth chattering as they waited for a ride home. It was almost March, but it was chilly.

Not in this car. No, inside this car was as hot as Hades.

When I came out of my building that evening to get into the slug line, I was pleasantly surprised to run into a friend, standing at the end of the line. We chatted our way up to the front, ending up in the same car together.

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Since talking is normally frowned upon while slugging, we opted to communicate via text throughout the ride. Just a few minutes in, she sent me a text from the front seat, asking if I was too hot.

Sitting in the back seat, I guess the heat hadn’t gotten to me yet, and I told her I felt fine. Then, it hit me – a wave of warm air. At first, it wasn’t too bad. After being so cold, it was nice to get into a warm and toasty car. Until it got a little too toasty. It wasn’t long before the air went from feeling warm and toasty to hot and stuffy. And we were dying.

The driver, on the other hand, didn’t seem to be uncomfortable at all. I noticed she wasn’t wearing a coat or scarf, and I was wearing both. Maybe taking off my scarf would help? I stuffed it into my bag, but felt little relief. My friend joked that she was beginning to feel light headed. At least I thought she was joking, so I sent her graphics of snowflakes and told her to “think cold thoughts.”

It wasn’t working…

The heat was cranking. I started to feel a bit nauseous, but despite that, could say nothing. Slugs are typically at the mercy of the driver, whether it’s with regard to the temperature, the music selection, or anything else, really. Hey, I’ve ridden in cars that smell, cars that are filthy, with drivers who drive erratically and even those who drive 10 mph below the speed limit. It could always be worse.

My friend and I were both breaking into a sweat, when she sent me the good news – the driver finally dialed down the heat!

“She realized it felt like the 3rd ring of Hell and turned it down…” she texted.

Our conversation then turned to iPhone emojis of hands clapping and giving the thumbs up, celebrating and texting happily away until we arrived at the Horner Road Commuter lot. A few times, I wondered if the driver had somehow caught our virtual conversation and finally realized that it was hotter than a sauna in her car.

Either way, my friend and I may have spent half of the ride feeling overheated and car sick, but at least we were able to joke about it! And sometimes, that’s all you need to make an uncomfortable situation more tolerable.

Slugging Conversation Creates Comedic Connection

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

If you ask me, it is amazing the connections that you can make while slugging.

In the day and age where social networking generally takes place exclusively on websites like Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn, it seems building relationships in person is somewhat of a rarity. Within the community of those who spend day in and day out commuting from the suburbs of Northern Virginia to Washington, D.C., however, many connections are made while standing right there in the slug line.

Learn more about PRTCThere have been many times I’ve run into friends, both old and new, just slugging back and forth. Though most people typically will wait in silence for a ride, many conversations are started there, even amongst total strangers.

Usually, these conversations are limited to comments about the length of the line, or the weather, or how happy they might be that it’s Friday. But sometimes, those conversations lead to deeper connections. Perhaps you have a friend or colleague in common, or you happen to live in the same neighborhood. It’s a small world, as they say.

Many times, I’ve run into people who recognize my photo from my dad’s desk at the car dealership (he just so happens to be the best salesman at Karen Radley Volkswagen). Other times, both slugs and drivers have mentioned that they’re in the market for a new vehicle, and I’ve been able to help by passing his card along to get in contact with him. I might be biased when it comes to singing his praises, but the way I look at it, it’s always nice to have a good reference when you’re shopping around.

Just last week, I got into a car headed to Horner Road one evening, and the other passenger started a friendly conversation. She asked the gentleman driver and me about our day, and she joked with the driver about singing to us on the way home. Normally, talking while slugging is against the rules, but the driver seemed okay with it and continued to chat.

Somehow, the passenger ended up mentioning her part-time gig doing Christian-based comedy, and I perked up upon hearing this. It just so happened that a few days prior, a good friend of mine had posted on Facebook that he was in need of a Christian-based comedian for an event at his church! I couldn’t believe my luck, as I shared this with the lady in the backseat. She gave me her information, which I immediately sent his way.

A minute or two later, he sent a text back saying that he had emailed her the night before, inquiring about her services! Unbelievable, I thought – it must be a sign!

Not to mention, this was a friend I had just recently reunited with after several years, only days earlier. My friend was shocked at the coincidence, not to mention thrilled that I had gotten the chance to meet her. After that evening, they were able to have a conversation about the possibility of her performing at his church’s function later this month.

Although I normally enjoy a quiet nap during the commute home, a good conversation is sometimes a welcome change, especially when it leads to a surprisingly valuable discussion. And even if it doesn’t, it can be nice to meet new people, or even to catch up with folks you know or have met before. Turns out, it really is a small world after all.

 

When Slugging, Do You Know Where You’re Going?

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

When slugging, it’s always a good idea to know where you’re going.

Sure, this may sound like a no brainer, but there are many slugs and drivers alike who assume everyone is on the same page, and well, we all know what happens when we assume.

Slug lines are typically organized at specific locations, based on their destination. For instance, slugs headed for the Pentagon stand in line near the bus bay in the Tackett’s Mill Commuter Lot in the morning, or they wait near the intersection at 14th & Independence in the afternoon to get to the lot at Old Hechinger’s near Occoquan.

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For the most part, slugs generally know where to wait and drivers know where to pick up. However, we’re all human, and occasionally, we make mistakes – and some of us have had to learn this the hard way!

I speak from experience, clearly. There’s one day in particular, where I remember standing in the Horner Road-bound slug line at L’Enfant Plaza. The slug lines there are all located along D Street, with different destinations in Springfield, Woodbridge, and Stafford, and are somewhat close together, even closer on days when the lines are very long.

This was one of those days, and it was getting late, so I was relieved when I was next in line and the next car finally arrived. I got into the front passenger seat, and the driver took two more riders into the backseat. As we settled in for the journey home, I guess none of us thought to confirm our destination – we were just happy to finally have a ride. It wasn’t until I looked up and saw that we were passing the exit that we realized something was wrong.

Confused and almost speechless, I pointed to the exit too late. “Horner?” was all I could manage to spit out.

The driver, just as bewildered, responded only by saying, “Stafford? 610?”

Right away, the two ladies in the backseat awoke from their drowsy state, just in time to tell the driver that we all thought we were going to the Horner Road Commuter Lot, not the lot at Route 610 in Stafford. The driver apologized, and was kind enough to take the next exit to circle back and drop us off.

Later, I heard a story from a friend, who slugs from Woodbridge, that when the same thing happened to her, the driver refused to take her passengers back. That poor slug had to call a family member to be picked up in Stafford.

Since then, I’ve always been sure to confirm my destination with the driver before getting into the car. It only takes a second and can save a major headache later. Still, miscommunications are bound to happen from time to time. Especially in the morning, I’ve gotten into cars with drivers who have said they will go to L’Enfant Plaza, and once they’re on the road, ask for directions. That’s not so bad, if that’s the worst of it. Once, I rode with a couple who said they knew where L’Enfant was, yet somehow, we ended up at Foggy Bottom. What a mess that was!

Another time, I rode with a man who was running late for a meeting and decided in the middle of the ride that he wouldn’t have time to stop by L’Enfant to drop me off before shooting over to 14th Street.

“I used to work near L’Enfant,” he kept assuring me. “I’ll drop you off real close.”

Never will I ever believe that lie again – where he ended up dropping me off was not close at all! To be fair, it was walking distance, but it was absolutely freezing that day. I would have never accepted a ride knowing that I’d have to walk such a distance in the wind and cold. And you know how much I hate the cold. I was bamboozled.

At the end of the day, there’s always a chance that something will go wrong; people will make mistakes, or change their minds, and life will go on. But clear communication is your best bet in avoiding such situations, to make sure everyone gets where they need to go without any issues along the way.

Nodding off for a More Restful Commute

Slug Tales 

By LAURA CIRILLO

Many people say there are not enough hours in the day. I vehemently disagree with this statement. If you ask me, there are not enough hours at night!

Think about it. There are 24 hours in each day. According to the National Sleep Foundation, adults require seven to nine hours of sleep per day, but research says that many adults report less than six hours of sleep per day. So even if we’re getting the recommended amount of sleep, that’s still 18 hours, give or take, spent moving and shaking on a daily basis.

I don’t know about you, but I’m getting tired just thinking about that.

Learn more about PRTCJust imagine your own routine – commuting to work every day to deal with meetings, emails, your demanding boss, then coming home, making dinner, taking care of children and pets, cleaning, laundry, trying to squeeze in a workout… it’s all so exhausting.

And often times, the only thing that keeping me going is my daily nap while slugging.

My power naps are one of the many features of slugging which I consider a great luxury. Not only is it fast, free, and relatively easy to slug, but I can use that time to catch up on some rest while riding, preferably in the backseat.

My fiancé tries to discourage me from sleeping in strangers’ cars because he’s convinced I won’t wake up when the car stops and I’ll wind up a prisoner in some weirdo’s garage. I try to assure him that this has never happened, and if it did, I’m pretty sure the driver or other passenger would wake me up. This actually happened one morning last week, when the passenger in the front seat had dozed off and wasn’t easily awoken when we arrived at L’Enfant Plaza.

“Ma’am?” the male driver said, carefully attempting to rouse the sleeping passenger. I paused for a moment before exiting the backseat to see if she would open her eyes, but she didn’t.

Finally, he gently tapped her shoulder. When she finally woke up, she looked a bit alarmed. She apologized, and seeming embarrassed, grabbed her things to quickly get out of the car. The driver was understanding and sort of laughed it off, unlike one driver I can recall who openly wouldn’t tolerate his passengers sleeping, but I could totally relate to the tired slug’s humiliation.

Once, after a long evening ride to the commuter lot, I was told by the gentleman who slugged in the backseat that he “felt so bad” watching me nod off and wished he could have given me a pillow. I was mortified to picture myself conspicuously falling asleep, my head falling over, right next to the driver. How embarrassing! I must have been such a distraction.

But I honestly can’t help it. I’m just like a baby – put me in a moving vehicle, and BAM! Out like a light. I may not be able to sleep soundly through the night, but the second I get into the passenger’s seat of a car, it’s almost guaranteed that I will fall asleep.

As with most rules, however, there are exceptions to this. Stop-and-go traffic always puts a damper on my evening slug naps, for whatever reason. Until we’re cruising down the highway, I’m wide awake. And like clockwork, I always wake up the second we hit the exit ramp for the commuter lot. It’s as though my body just knows it’s time to wake up.

Recently, I’ve found that books on tape also interfere with my beauty sleep. I’m not sure why this is, especially when I’m not at all interested in the topic, but I find myself completely unable to turn my brain off with any sort of commentary in the background. It’s the same reason I can’t fall asleep with the television on, regardless of the volume.

Normally, I have no complaints about what a driver chooses to play on the radio while I slug happily along, but I suppose audio books are the one exception. Audio books and complete radio silence are on my overall short list of pet peeves while slugging. For whatever reason, both interrupt my much-needed catnaps.

Sure, I could probably manage to get through the day without the extra rest, but it sure helps to supplement the sleep I’m probably not getting every night.

So until some genius scientist comes up with more hours for us to sleep at night (or, more realistically, until I can find a way to get to bed earlier), I’ll be using those hours I spend commuting every weekday to catch some shuteye.

Judge me for sleeping if you wish, but I recommend you do the same… that is, unless you’re driving!

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