For a week in May, my cousin, two friends and I toured Washington, D.C. The lovely lady who hosted us – Hazel – lives in Virginia, about 70 kilometers as the crow flies.
But the states flow together, linked as they are by a tangle of highways. There’s also excellent commuter train service, but that’s half an hour’s drive from her home.
Flying Porter Airlines to Dulles was a treat. Instead of the crush and chaos of Pearson, having to take the Go train then a shuttle bus to Billy Bishop airport was a piece of cake.Only taking carry-on was an adventure, because my bag had to weigh under 10 pounds or they’d charge $47 to check it in.
Needless to say, when the woman at the check-in counter started frowning, I began layering clothing and tucking stuff into my jacket pockets. When you think of it, that makes no sense, because weight is weight, whether I’m wearing it or carrying it. But the lounge looked like a living room and there were free refreshments. What’s not to like?
Due to all the horror stories in the news, I’d purged my photos and emails and deleted all my social media apps from my phone and iPad, but that wasn’t necessary. Thanks to my Nexus card, I was able to ‘clear’ US Customs via machine and sailed out in a few minutes, no questions asked.
My companions had taken the red-eye from Calgary and were waiting for me at Reagan Airport, which was a half-hour shuttle ride through mind-boggling mid-afternoon traffic. I’d booked in advance, online and paid in $US (ouch $30US=$42CDN). All of the drivers for the Super Shuttle were African – friendly, but their accents were hard to understand.
Hazel picked us up at Reagan and our first stop was, of course, Costco.
I didn’t have my card with me, but a cheerful guy at the door said all they needed was my driver’s licence to find me in their files. Now that gave me a bit of a chill. When I had to get the Costco Mastercard, I asked about protection of private Canadian information in an American company’s databanks – no one had an adequate answer. Guess I know now – anything is accessible.
The layout is basically the same, although the US version has a large telephone sales aisle and more computer equipment and furniture for sale. What I really envied was the huge selection of wines located right by the cheese counter. Here instead, there are aisles of lawn furniture, camping equipment and bicycles. Boring.
There were rows and rows of excellent South American wines (I know, because we visited/drank our way through many of those wineries a few years back) selling for about half what we’re gouged here. A large array of Kirkland wines, probably from the same vineyards.
The roads are quire remarkable – built for thousands of daily commuters into D.C. What makes them different than the abomination that is the 401 at any hour, is the three lane EZPass/Flex route that goes north during morning rush hour and reverses to funnel traffic south in the afternoons. The ‘free’ lanes are clogged with 4 lanes of truck and car traffic – horrendously slow and frustrating.
Drivers with three riders can drive the route free, while others with fewer passengers pay up to $25 one way, depending on the distance traveled. Cars must have a transponder, or they’ll be fined. Police do a visual check or they have FLIR/heat sensor devices to check the number of warm bodies in the vehicle. There’s lots of speed and rider enforcement and fines are huge for people trying to game the system using mannequins.
Hazel had us all agog on the subject of SLUGGING. Car-pooling extreme style.
In the morning, she drives 5 minutes to a huge parking lot built for that purpose. There are marked ‘lanes’ for different destinations. For example, if she was working at the Pentagon, she’d join the designated line. Drivers pull up and three passengers hop in and get a lift. Some vehicles are pristine while others bear the wear-and-tear of children, food wrappers, cigarette smoke, etc.
There are rules of engagement – if the driver doesn’t want to talk, the passengers don’t chat, no personal hygiene, eating or drinking, no loud music, no money to the driver. Hazel usually reads a book. In the afternoon, everyone heads out of town.
She has us in tears – apparently, her first search for information about ‘slugging’ took her to a porn site because she’d looked for ‘sluggers’.
The IT people at her office appeared on the double to inquire what she was doing. Awkward. Thankfully, she wasn’t the first commuter who’d typed in the incorrect term.
Of course we asked about pervs and weirdos, but her response makes sense: “why would someone endanger their valuable security clearance (and ability to get a higher paying job) by doing something stupid like accosting a Slug?”
It’s an ingenious idea. It might work in the GTA, if folks got over an aversion to road tolls and their attachment to driving solo, in complete control of…going nowhere fast. Here are some sites – Slug-Lines, and an NPR piece about Anonymous Ride-Sharing.