Slug Lines – “Slugging” It In and Out of DC

In the Greater DC area, thousands of people use slug lines daily to get to work.  In order for a driver to use the HOV (High Occupancy Vehicle) lanes, he or she has to have at least three people in the vehicle.  If you have less that three, you find yourself a Slug or two waiting at the slug line.  It’s a
win-win situation.  Slugs get a free ride into (and out of) the city, and the driver escapes the snail lanes on I 395 and is permitted to zip along in the HOV lanes.

I live in Springfield, Virginia and have been picking up Slugs for years.  I don’t know where the name came from.  I always associated it with putting slugs in a juke box or a vending machine to make it work.  Slugs were the same size as coins.

No government agency or official administers the slug lines.  We are convinced that if the government got involved, the system would fail (they would also change the name to something more official sounding).  In Springfield, we used to pick up Slugs in the Long John Silver parking lot.  LJS closed their store, and put up an eight-foot chain-link fence to keep out the slug line (liability concerns?).  The next day the slug line had reassembled next door in the Circuit City parking lot. 

The Slugs form two lines, one for drivers going over the 14th Street Bridge and one going over the Memorial Bridge.  You drive up to the front of the queue and say something like “two for 14th and K.”  The message is passed down the line and two Slugs get into your car.  There is also extensive slug-line etiquette, but you will be pleased to know that I don’t intend to address it.  If there are more drivers than Slugs (it is a fluid process), then the drivers get out of their vehicles, form a queue, and wait for the Slug to appear.

We picked up a young woman who had been in the United States for only three months.  She told us that the slug line saved her a lot of money, but she wasn’t about to tell her parents in South Africa.  She said, “If I told my parents that I traveled to work by climbing into cars with people I do not know, they would demand that I come home.”

At the end of the workday the slug lines form in the District.  One of the more popular locations for Springfield is 14th and Constitution.  A few years back, a new Chief of Police arrived in DC and decided that picking up Slugs on 14th Street was delaying traffic (it probably was).  So he dispatched some of DC’s finest to disband the slug line.  The police waived cars on and disbanded the line.  That lasted for two days.  Tom Davis and other Northern Virginia Congressman threatened to hold hearings on the Hill to determine why the Chief was mistreating Slugs.  The Chief then acknowledged that there was justification for having a slug line, but he intended to find a better location.  I guess he is still looking, because we are still at 14th and Constitution.

We were coming home one night and there were just the two of us.  Terry worked with me and she would hitch a ride some evenings.  When we arrived at 14th and Constitution, there were no Slugs.  It is three lanes in each direction and so I put on my flashers and waited.  We then saw a woman working her way across 14th Street, obviously heading for the slug line.  Traffic was creeping and she crossed in front of a car that didn’t see her.  There was a screech of brakes and the woman jumped clear.  As she got into the car she said, “I thought he saw me.”  Then Terry said, “That was close, and if he had hit you, no telling how long we would have had to wait.”

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