The Power of Word Imagery


I am watching the Netflix series House of Cards featuring Kevin Spacey and Robin Wright.  One of the characters is a cub reporter who abandons a bright future at a prestigious newspaper to work outside in the gutter for an online rag called Slug Line. Where have I heard that expression before?

Rewinding the calendar to 1990, I shut my mind’s eye tight on the years streaming by and I’m in Washington DC in the K Street offices of my employer.  A co-worker casually mentions that she was able to make it to the office on time because she picked someone up at the slug line.

“You want to run that one by me again?” I ask.  My small town frame of mind pictures the stream of slime that the slow snail leaves as it slithers across the sidewalk on a sunny morning.

“Yeah, I picked up a couple of commuters at the bus stop so I could take the HOV in.”  She then explains to me the symbiosis in the practice of randomly offering taxi service to total strangers who are waiting at suburban bus stops and park-and-rides to go into DC. Instantly a line of snails reading newspapers and listening to portable music players becomes a two second movie seared into my brain.

Slugging to Work by D.Powell

But what do blogging and tweeting about the back-biters of political ilk have to do with the poor slobs trying to get to work at the Pentagon or Crystal City?

According to my key word search, I have several options from which to choose.  There is the phrase ‘slug line’ used in a song written by John Hiatt in 1979 acquiescing to the music industry to pimp him up so his music gets air time.  Then there are several references to the news industry. Ah, in journalism a slug line is the abbreviated text at the beginning of news copy describing the content of the story. “House Speaker Selected-300”, translation, the story is about a new Speaker of the House and is three hundred words in length. That fits with the House of Cards story but why are DC commuters called slugs?

Also listed is a website which reveals the how’s and why’s slugging of the commuter variety began.  In the mass transit world slugs are metal tokens used in place of coins by commuters looking for a free ride. As with coins and metal tokens, it’s a challenge for the bus drivers to distinguish the paying riders from the freeloading slugs waiting to be warm bodies for that expedited ride down the I-395 HOV lanes.

Eureka!  All this time I’ve imagined that my co-worker had slimy mollusks crawling around in the back seat of her car, when instead she had only a bunch of metal tokens.

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