I was home most of yesterday, so I didn't get to check around downtown and see if it was primarily deserted like I though it would be, but we did drive through that evening and I noticed that MORE people were out than the usually deserted weekday night. People so far are enjoying the exceptionally warm weather and treating this as a mini-holiday, and besides, the happy hour nightlife is vastly more entertaining than the complete lack of activities available during the day. The Corcoran Museum, which I personally loathe (I've never been to an exhibit I've liked there, and as it's a paid museum I always feel ripped off) is probably bursting at the seams. They've eased up some of the ridiculousness of trying to block off open-air sites and parks, which the exceptions of the ones that already had permanent barricades in place since 9/11. Of course, any park that doesn't have a permanent fence is also littered with homeless people you'll have to contend with and whatever crazy comes with them. Not to mention they lean towards trash, dust, and dirt over grass.
Metro ridership was down 20%, but traffic was as bad if not worse during rush hour, which surprised everyone but me. I'd already predicted that lack of slugs would make traffic worse as more people drove into work. And now I have to explain sluglines.
Washington, DC is probably one of the few, possibly the only, place where there is a form of legalized hitchhiking. The cost of living is so high that most people live well out into the suburbs, and traffic during rush hour is a pure nightmare. There are HOV (high occupancy vehicle) lanes, but carpooling can be tricky. The local area is rather transient in nature. People come to DC to work for a few years and then leave, and many are constantly on business trips, so establishing a regular carpool of peers isn't easy. So began the custom of slugging.
Slugging is essentially picking up strangers in order to be able to drive in the faster HOV lanes. What was a custom became legalized to make it safer and the majority of "slugs" are government workers. "Slugs" are the folks you pick up. You can't just do it willy-nilly, because other forms of hitchhiking are still illegal. There are listed commuter lots in the morning where people wait to be picked up and taken into the city, and there are only a few places in the city ("sluglines") where you can be picked up in the evening to be dropped back off at designated commuter lots going home. You can even register as a slug, and if for some reason you have to stay late or miss the time when most folks pick up slugs going home and you find you can't get a ride, a service will provide one for free, a sort of "slug insurance plan".
For those driving, the benefits are many. You still have your car, you save a tremendous amount of time on your daily commute, and you have a single convenient pickup and dropoff point (no more shuttling people to their individual homes at night, and the dropoff points in the city are usually pretty convenient to commuters). For those slugging, you lose time but save money. Slugs do not contribute for gas, and of course you save a mint on parking, so you only have to make your way to a local commuter lot, and then pay for metro. Metro will get you where you need to go, but not quickly. Going home make take a little longer, because you stand in lines delineated by which commuter lot you are traveling to, and you have to wait for a driver who is going to your particular lot. I don't know if this is still true, but pre-9/11 the Pentagon was such a big slugline hub (many slugs work in the Pentagon) that they actually had marked signs and roofed structures to stand under while waiting.
People coming into DC for work are generally freaked out by the entire concept. I'll admit it still unnerves me, but I've known people who do it all the time. Myself, I've gone home with a friend who slugs twice now, and each time felt like a crazy person for jumping into a stranger's car, even though I've also actually hitchhiked a time or two. I don't think I could do it every day, but then again, I suppose one could get used to anything if you did it long enough.
Welcome to DC!