“I was a slug, I’ve ridden with slugs, and I’ve driven with slugs.” So claimed Steve Relitz as we sailed an adventure on the York River with his mother and siblings on the occasion of his brother Sam’s 27th birthday. Steve lives in Stafford County, just outside Fredericksburg, and commutes to Washington to work for an aerospace firm. He drives or takes the train, and has in the past stood on a corner in quasi-designated spots to be picked up as a hitchhiker. They are called slugs.
“There’s an etiquette to slugs,” he continued cheerfully. You can look it up. Indeed, this is from the intro of the website Slug-Lines:
Slugging has its own set of etiquette that you won’t find written anywhere. Yes, most of the rules are just basic courtesies, but others are truly unique to slugging. Just like other rules of etiquette, the slugging rules are only casually enforced. By that, I mean you will probably not get kicked out of a car for breaking one of the rules, but you will be frowned upon by others. Most likely, the worst thing that will happen is the driver will ask you not to do what you were doing. Don’t get upset, because it was you who were breaking the rules!
One of the rules is No Talking. “That’s true. Don’t start a conversation if you’re a slug. I’ve had them try to change the radio station. Don’t do that. Most of them fall asleep.
“The worst case I ever heard about was a driver who went into diabetic shock and slumped over the wheel. Then the guy next to him in the passenger seat was asleep, so the guy in the back seat jumped forward. He tried to grab the wheel and stop the car by moving the transmission stick.
“But the worst thing I experienced as a slug was being in the car when it ran out of gas. I also had a flat tire once, and slugs aren’t required to help. One guy did, though.”
Sara and Ryan Bailey knew all about slugs.
What made the conversation funny was that the other couple was coincidentally from Leesburg in Northern Virginia. They listened attentively because they knew exactly what slugs are. Someone else from the Midwest or South would have no idea what Steve was talking about.
Commuting into Washington has other perils.
“One time I was driving into town when a Metro bus sideswiped me and took the mirror off as well as scraped the side of my car. And he just kept on driving, but I caught up to the bus and confronted him. He told me to fuck off. I got his DOT number and followed up with the authorities. It took a few days but they sent me a check. I hope he was fired.”
Next, Steve’s brother Sam works in a store at Tysons Corner, the busiest spot in the Washington metro area. I asked about the driving. “On a good day, you have to wait four cycles of the stoplight to get through. On a bad day, you’re like, is there an accident up there somewhere? You just sit there.”
No traffic could be seen on the York River on this day, except for the departure of the USS Winston Churchill from the Naval Weapons Station. It was a mighty sight, and the tugboat Tracy Moran got close enough we could see her name on the port side. We discerned some VIPs on the bow, along for a joyride to Norfolk Naval Base. But I doubt any of them were slugs.
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