Cab drivers are forever calling me and whispering sweet nothings in my ear. Sweet nothings like, "Drop dead." Or, in their more rational moments, "How come you don't like cab drivers?"

I always reply that I have nothing against cab drivers generally. But I have plenty against bad ones. And sadly, despite all the public outcry, there are still far too many bad drivers on the streets.

But there are good ones, too -- lots of good ones. What follows is a bouquet aimed at A. L. Baldwin. He isn't just a good one. He's a terrific one.

Brother Baldwin earned his bunch of roses for bailing Dorothy Clark of Arlington out of trouble. Dorothy was trying to drive from her home to an appointment in Cheverly. She figured the best way to get there was to take the Southwest Freeway, get off at I-395 north and follow it past the Capitol to New York Avenue.

But that maneuver is easier described than accomplished. Confused by the rush of exit signs advertising C Street, Massachusetts Avenue and who knows what else, Dorothy got off 395, and soon discovered herself hopelessly lost.

At a red light two blocks from the Capitol, she pulled alongside A. L. Baldwin's cab and asked him where New York Avenue was. Baldwin asked where she was trying to go. "Cheverly," Dorothy said. "Follow me," Baldwin said.

For the next 15 minutes, on his own time, for free, Baldwin shepherded Dorothy the length of New York Avenue, all the way to Cheverly. That is what the great phrasemaker had in mind when he invented the expression, "Above and beyond the call."

But not all is sweetness and gumdrops in the Baldwin story. Before she called me, Dorothy phoned Mayor Barry's office to see how she should go about recommending Baldwin for a meritorious conduct citation.

One of the Mayor's aides cheerily gave Dorothy the phone number of the D.C. Cab Commission.

Dorothy called it.

Wrong number.

A lot of people think that all they need to do is to tell a journalist about a wrong and, poof, it will magically become a right. 'Tain't so simple, my friends, as the story of Bruce Rummel proves.

Bruce called the other day to tell me about a very strange phone call he had gotten at his home in Reston. Without identifying herself, the caller said to Bruce: "We're bringing our records up to date for the fire department." The caller went on to ask if Bruce really lived at such-and-such an address and had such-and-such a phone number.

Bruce thought this was a little odd, so he asked the caller if she worked for the fire department. Only then did she admit that she worked for Hanes Directory -- compilers of crisscross address and phone directories in the D.C. area since 1928.

Bruce thought this was pretty sneaky of the Hanes rep. I agreed, and told him I'd check into it.

Hanes vice president Jim McGeorge put a pin in Bruce's balloon pretty quickly. When a Hanes rep calls to verify a phone number and an address, "the first thing they do is identify themselves," Jim said. "We would never do anything like" what Bruce described, Jim insisted. "It would cause a lot of people problems," he said.

Now, I don't have any reason to doubt what Jim McGeorge says. But I have no reason to doubt what Bruce Rummel says, either.

So what really happened here? I'd guess it was one of two things.

As Jim suggested, Bruce may have misheard the caller. It may have been a fire department employe calling to update her station's copy of the Hanes Directory. The other possibility is that the Hanes rep was too lazy or too forgetful to follow the established Hanes procedure of identifying herself.

But there is no way to prove which scenario is accurate, or if either is. So Bruce is left without any satisfaction. I wish that journalism could have settled this one. But that, gentle reader, is the ambiguous course my business so often follows.


Three days to go in our annual fund-raising campaign, and this typist is still pinning and needling. Will we make our goal? As you can see, we're close. As you can also see, a gift from you would make a difference. Please help 1,200 underprivileged Washington-area children learn about the great outdoors this summer. Here's how:


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.


In hand as of July 24: $188,156.90.

Our goal: $220,000.