Of Slugs and Groupon Codes…

This post is from Shiny of @mr_shiny

I’d like to think that I’m pretty social media savvy, but I was a Groupon virgin until this past weekend.

I knew what it was. I knew about the marketing trend that is “one deal per day” as well as the geographic exclusivity. I’m all about the bargain hunting, but it becomes more prominent when the deals are goods and services in which I take an interest. Oh — and they also have an iPhone app. So it’s simply an extension of my digital communication at this point.

So when I saw a Groupon for Robeks’ smoothies — 4 for $10 — I quickly jumped at the chance to sign up. They usually retail for more than $5 in my area (with tax), and they’re particularly yummy. A great deal? Hell yes! I sprang into action and signed up for the service, purchasing my first Groupon. Fine print and rules be damned! I had to get my smoothie coupon!

And then I did what I was supposed to in the first place: I read the parameters of the Groupon.

I only had a few weeks to buy these smoothies. I had to buy all four at once. No cash back. Since I usually purchase these smoothies during lunch at work — and I don’t really have that sort of “let’s get smoothies together!” relationship with any of my co-workers, it really wasn’t my ideal investment.

That was several weeks ago. But this past weekend, the conditions moved in to make it all worth it. My son and I were coming back from visiting my dad, and we were going to stop at a Robeks on the way home and slug someone.

That probably sounds a bit violent — not something you’d want me to do in front of my 8 year-old kid. But let me explain: “slugging” in the Washington, DC area has a very different meaning to it. Some of our main highways into our fair city have express lanes with HOV (high occupancy vehicle) restrictions. Carpool lanes. Some require two or more people in the car during rush hour; some require 3 or more. When it’s all totaled up on the end of any given day, the number of passengers using the carpool lanes adds up quite considerably, and they get into the city faster than those using the standard lanes.

But finding a carpool in such a sprawling suburbia is next to impossible! Which is why commuters banded together years ago and created an ad-hoc system called “slugging.” The way it works: independent drivers wait in line at a park and ride lot (or another landmark) outside the city. They are the ones looking for passengers (“slugs”) to pick up so they can utilize the express lanes. The slugs line up as well, some with signs as to where within the city they’re going. A match is made of these strangers who trust each other enough to simply share a ride. There is no monetary exchange for gas or wear-and-tear on the car. Everybody wins. There are even slugging etiquette rules posted online.

Let me reiterate — slugging was not formed by a department of transportation of a locality. It began as a way for individuals to help other individuals. People discovered it through word of mouth and community bulletin boards before the internet became prevalent. I like this — it’s truly a way for a peer-to-peer community to collaborate and create a solution and for people to utilize it to its fullest.

Back to Robeks and the Groupon: I wished that there were some ettiquette guidelines for what I was about to do — namely use my coupon, buying a smoothie for myself and my son and two strangers — and try to recoup some of my invested money in return. The challenge, however, was trying to avoid the creepiness factor of a complete stranger offering to buy smoothies for a discount price.

If there were a Groupon protocol in place, I could make this a very simple transaction.

“Groupon! Four smoothies for ten bucks. Need two more at two bucks apiece.”
“I’ve got two.”
“Thank you.”
“Thank you.”

And we’d order and that would be it. Simple, right?

We got to Robeks. There were two women in line in front of us, both considerably older than me.. I said “Excuse me” and tried to explain what I wanted to do.

“I’m trying to use a Groupon and I wanted to see if I could buy your smoothies for you at a discount…”

“A what?”

“A Groupon. It’s a kind of coupon. On my phone. Anyway, it’s good for four smoothies…”

“Oh, we’re only buying two…”

“Exactly! And we’re buying two as well! So — instead of paying full price for them…”

“So you have a coupon for us?”

“Um… no… I wanted to see if I could buy your smoothies. And you pay me, say, two dollars?”

“Why can’t I just pay her two dollars?” She pointed at the cashier.

“I’ve already paid for the Grou… the coupon. So you would pay me, and tell the server what you want.”

“I don’t know…” (one woman was consulting the other, leering at me. I was too creepy for words, apparently…)

“It helps both of us out. I can buy my son and myself our smoothies and the smoothies for the two of you, and it doesn’t cost as much.”

“Can I see the coupon?”

“Well, it’s on my phone. I handed her my iPhone. She seemed confused. I paged over to the actual offer on the screen…

“Rosa, I don’t have my glasses. They’re in the car.”

“Look,” I said, immediately regretting using the word “look.” “I just want to help you out. You’ll still get the smoothies from the people behind the counter. I’m not going to touch them. They’ll still be the same smoothies you would have purchased from here.”

“Is that your son?”


“How old is he?”

“How old are you, Av?”  He responded with eight.

“Does he like smoothies? There’s an ice cream place next door.”

I prayed that two different people would come into this Robeks. Hipster types in their 20s who could read an iphone. Or another like-minded dad with an iPhone, an eight year-old, and a sheer sense of frugality. Nobody else was coming. The Baskin Robbins next door sounded lovely right about now…

“Anyway — can I … can you help me by ordering your Smoothies? I’ll pay for them and then you’ll give me four dollars? That’s less than half of what you would pay at the counter.”

And ultimately it clicked for them.  The women nodded at me. I approached the register and flashed my iPhone with the Groupon screen. My son and I ordered, and I informed her that I was also buying “smoothies for these wonderful ladies.” One of them beamed at me. The other one either didn’t hear me or chose not to hear me.

“Do you have change for a ten?”

I actually did. I gave her six dollars back. We waited for our smoothies in silence. Until she piped up and smiled at my boy and gave him some sound advice:

“It’s good that you don’t talk to strangers.”

I assume she wanted to add “… like your dad does!”

Hey — I was just trying to engage someone into a win-win smoothie situation! Is that so wrong?

(I’ll be sure to read the fine print of my next Groupon…)

Shiny is a husband and father who has finally acknowledged that what he does at his office for 40 hours a week does not define him. He enjoys his leadership within his local Jewish community where he volunteers teaching teens and adults — and makes fun of small children who do not yet have witty retorts for his vicious barbs. He is currently being raised by his eight year-old son.

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  1. Jack says:

    That is far more trouble than I would have gone to for $4.

  2. ditto that.
    But then, I’m really BAD at remembering that I have coupons in general, so…

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  3. I’ll give you $4 to punch an old lady in the vagina. Then a Groupon would be worth it.

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  4. Sharon Heg says:

    I recently bought a Groupon for a 2-for1 for a place I like to visit so, like an idiot, I bought 4. THEN, like you, I read the small print. “Must be used same day.” Two would be hard enough. But 8? NEVER happen. Fortunately, Groupon offers the ability to cancel if you do it quickly, so I did. Anyway yeah, forget old ladies and technology. They’re getting better but they’re certainly not there yet.

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  5. IzzyMom says:

    OMG..how did your head NOT explode???

    (Over the weekend, I had a similar conversation with a “friend” who insisted I COULD charge his non-rechargeable batteries in my battery charger.)

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  6. Sybil Law says:

    “Old people are no good at everything”. Moe Szyslak had a point! :)

    Groupon makes me nuts. I really don’t know how it’s doing so well.

  7. mommakiss says:

    I got burned once on a groupon and was pissed! Some have been incredible deals, though.

    p.s. Aiming Low, love the new site.

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  8. Erin says:

    I’ve lived in DC for 7 years and this is the first time I’ve heard of slugging. Must be b/c I live in the city, and us city dwellers never carpool, we just metro.

    Thanks for the knowledge!

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  9. delmer says:

    I’ve never had the guts to take the Groupon plunge… despite the fact I like to think I’m technologically hip.


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