I commute to work 32 miles each way, every day. Spending one and a half to two and a half hours of my day driving in traffic and the ensuing stress finally became too much, so I relented to the idea of picking up slugs so I could use the high occupancy lanes which cut my commute time in half, but filled my car with strangers. I'd still be driving to work if it wasn't for an excessive increase in the monthly parking costs, so I became a slug myself.
Slugging is a social phenomenon here in the Washington DC area that has become an institution since its inception in the 1970's. Basically it's a way for commuters such as me to get a free ride back and forth to work by loaning out my body to another driver; I suppose another name for this could be "commuter whore", but since the ratio of men to women slugs is almost 50/50, that term might be a bit pejorative.
It is an almost completely random process as to who I ride to and from work with each day, and during the course of my slugging experience, I've ridden in vehicles ranging from 1990's hoopty cars to contractor's work vehicles to brand new 2013 Jaguars and BMWs. Regardless of the vintage of the automobile, I've noticed something that applies to myself as well as many in Steeler Nation.
Whether it is a built-in navigation system, or a portable unit that clings to the windshield like a dingle berry, invariably I get rides with drivers who drive a very specific and unchanging route every day but nonetheless have their navigation system turned on telling them where they are at any given moment....picture that in your mind a moment and see if you grasp what I'm saying.
They have a navigation system telling them where they are, when all they have to do is pay attention to what they're looking at through the windshield.
At first I thought it was merely a coincidence that drivers from all walks of life all had their navigation systems on; some of the built-in ones may have been default set to display the navigation mode as opposed to the radio or maintenance modes, but that didn't explain the portable units. Why were they turned on when the drivers were taking the same route they took every day? So I started asking questions and while I did not conduct any formal interviews or follow any scientific process of quantifying their responses, a general consensus appeared; they wanted confirmation.
We live in an era of incessant information; whether it is breaking news Tweets, 24 hour sports channels or internet sites that are free but so full of advertisements it makes using them almost stressful, we self-immolate ourselves in information. We have become so dependent on the act of receiving an endless deluge of information that we suffer a junkie's withdrawal symptoms if the flow is interrupted.
Like the drivers I ride with who need their eyes and ears electronically bombarded by navigational systems to reassure them that they are in fact at the intersection of G Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, even as they sit at the traffic light and can see through their windshields the road signs that read G Street and Pennsylvania Avenue, so do we in Steeler Nation crave and require incessant reassurances that the Steelers we witness with our eyes will be the Steelers we believe them to be.
"Return to Steelers style football", "re-invigorate the Steelers' style running game", "return to drafting men of character", "resume passing deep", "the Steelers defense needs to recapture its dominance" are all phrases I've either uttered, read or heard these past several months. The off-season is a difficult time for us Steelers fans, especially on the heels of such an un-Steeler-like season as last season because without seeing them in action, we don't seem able to accept that the Steelers are who, what, and where we think they are.
We all read or heard or made comments regarding the spate of injuries to David DeCastro, Sean Spence, Mike Adams, Marcus Gilbert, LaMarr Woodley, Troy Polamalu and questioned whether or when the Steelers would address the conditioning issues causing those injuries; something that was "obvious" to us all. Yet, Kevin Colbert and Art Rooney II both made reference to the Steelers Front Office focusing on conditioning this off season.
We all read and heard or made comments regarding the Steelers' salary cap issues and the problems they were causing for the team in keeping key personnel or affording free agent replacements for players lost, yet even before the June 1 deadline when the Steelers could "bank" the $5.5 million in salary cap space they realized by cutting Willie Colon, the Steelers signed rookies Shamarko Thomas, Markus Wheaton and Terry Hawthorne, as well as free agent LaRod Stephens-Howling.
We all read and heard or made comments regarding the Steelers' draft issues and how so many Steelers seem to be getting into trouble with the law (Jeff Reed, Alameda Ta'amu, Chris Rainey, Santonio Holmes and others), yet look at this year's draft class and the common theme found in many of the players selected, as pointed out so eloquently by BTSC's own Rebecca Rollett.
We of Steeler Nation live and breathe everything pertaining to the Pittsburgh Steelers and yet, despite our individual birthplaces or residences, we collectively mirror a character trait of native Pittsburghers (being one myself I say this with confidence) in that we are never comfortable or satisfied with what we see; we worry over a dropped pass or missed assignment as if that one occurrence of misfortune (or lack of inhuman perfection) somehow will cause the dream to cease and unravel any hopes we have this and every season for the arrival of the next Lombardi trophy.
We don't seem to "see" the Steelers as they are, just as my slug drivers only seem convinced of their location by use of their navigation systems and not by what they see outside their windows. The navigation systems can't account for the pothole in the left lane that wasn't there yesterday, and many of our perceptions of the Steelers don't take into account the "potholes" that the team experiences from year to year. But just as the road I have traveled to work all these years will always be where it was constructed to be despite changing weather conditions, traffic jams, road work or accidents, the Steelers will always be as they were constructed, despite changing players, improving opponents, or changes in the nature of the game.
In other words, I know full well the road I traveled yesterday will take me to the same place today, as it will tomorrow, and the Steelers team I have followed for 14,965 yesterdays will be the Steelers team I follow today, and for all of the tomorrows to come.