Hey, man, I haven't seen you in ages. I thought you'd given up driving," said I, as I clambered aboard the crosstown bus.

"Can't stay away," replied my old friend, The Bearded Bussie, as he pulled away from the curb. "Where else can I have this much fun? Dodging crazy cab drivers, trying not to kill jaywalkers. I'm telling you, it's a real ball."

"You don't sound happy, man," I said, as I took my customary seat behind his left ear. "What's the matter? The bookies beating up on you this fall?"

"Bookies? Books is more like it. I got two in college and a third one going a year from now. They're always calling and asking for 'just another $100, Dad. Please.' What do they think? That I unload this thing into my pocket every night?" And he slapped the fare box with the flat of his hand.

"Well, I know advice is cheap, but maybe you should consider a new career," I offered.

"Like what? Robbing banks?"

"Why not become a forest ranger in Yellowstone? Or a bush pilot in Africa? You need a little adventure, man."

The Bearded Bussie gave a snort out of the corner of his mouth. "I've got all the adventure I can handle right out here, believe me," he said. And as if to prove it, a yellow Toyota chose that very moment to cut across the bussie's bow as he started to pull away from the curb on Wisconsin Avenue. Only a swift pounce on the brakes prevented who-knows-what.

"You see the driver of that car?" asked the bussie, as he turned right and rolled toward Connecticut. "That lady was, what, maybe 60?"

"Yeah. About."

"You probably won't believe this, but the best drivers I see out here are the teen-agers, and the worst are the older people."

"You're putting me on."

"Would I put you on for 80 cents? You're worth more than 80 cents."

"Gee, thanks."

"No fooling. The older people, they don't signal, they don't slow down when they should, they don't yield the right of way. I think half of them can't see, and the other half think they're the only drivers on the road. The kids, they do everything they're supposed to do. Maybe it's those driver's ed courses."

Now it was my turn to snort. "Come on, man," I said. "They've been giving driver's ed courses since Rutherford B. Hayes was president, and it hasn't changed any teen-agers I've ever met. Are you seriously telling me that teen-agers don't get behind the wheel and suddenly decide that they're immortal, that they can drive like Batman and live to tell about it?"

The bussie waited until two women got off by a bank. "I don't know about Batman," he said, "but I'm telling you like it is. These kids are careful."

"If you're right, then I think fear has to be the answer," I theorized. "I'll bet parents are showing their kids the premiums from the insurance company. I'll bet they're saying, 'Listen, the first scratch you put on this car, this premium is going to double, and you're paying for it.' "

"I wouldn't be surprised," said The Beard. He drove quietly for a second. Then he said:

"I think the adults and the older people take out their frustrations on the rest of the people out here. But the kids are respectful, and careful, and law-abiding." He paused and grinned. "Kinda reminds me of the way I used to be when I was their age."

My stop loomed. I headed for the door. "Keep on keepin' on," I said.

"No choice, man," he said. "Got to show the people that at least one old driver knows what he's doing."