The Case of the Trashed Big Wheel.

You do not know the true meaning of fearlessness unless you have watched a child ride something called a Big Wheel.

It's a low-slung plastic bike that can corner like a Ferrari, make a racket like a Harley-Davidson and get you where you're going almost as fast as a 747. To see a kid aboard one of these is to see a parent's heart leap to his or her throat. However, I've never seen a kid climb onto a Big Wheel and fail either to survive or to have a terrific time.

But D.C. Government Dopeyness has cast a shadow over the joy of some Big Wheelists. Here's what happened in Northeast the other day:

There's a Big Wheel club in the 100 block of Hawaii Avenue. The charter members are 5-year-old Sid Henry and his sidekick, 5-year-old John Daniel. A 4-year-old girl from down the block named Paulita frequently rides along.

Because they're kids, the Hawaii Avenue Big Wheelers sometimes forget to bring their bikes home when they've finished riding them. Just as often as not, one youngster will leave his B.W. in the back yard of another, to be reclaimed the next day when it's time to roll once again.

On Sept. 18, Paulita left her Cabbage Patch Big Wheel behind Sid Henry's house. Although the bike was left within several feet of the garbage cans, it had all its wheels, and most of its paint. No one could have thought it was garbage.

No one, that is, except the D.C. Department of Environmental Services.

Its garbage operatives picked up Paulita's bike the next morning and carted it away. Hours of phoning by Sid's mother, Jacquelin Peters, failed to locate the bike. Nor did all that calling locate a public official who (a) cared about the incident, (b) apologized for the incident or (c) was willing to try to do anything about the incident.

Jacquelin reports that Paulita is crushed -- which pretty accurately describes her Big Wheel, too. Garbage officials tell me that once a plastic bike is picked up by a trash truck, it's routinely ground to shreds within minutes. So no rescue is possible unless the mistake is caught right away.

Pretty clearly, this was an honest mistake, not a malicious act. Still, it took an awfully careless trash collector not to picture a weeping 4-year-old as he chucked her bike into the truck. Good rule for sanitationists: When in doubt, leave it behind.

The public address announcers at Union Station have given us such classics over the years as:

"All hand-carried luggage must be on carts."

"This train will make all stops between Washington and Baltimore. Next stop, Baltimore."

"Food service is not available on this train. We also regret to inform passengers that the air conditioning is not working. Have a pleasant journey, and thank you for riding Amtrak."

And, unfortunately, many more.

Newest applicant for classic status comes from Anne T. Graney of Chevy Chase. Her daughter was boarding a New York-bound train last weekend when she heard:

"Those who are not on the train when it departs will be left behind."

"I live in a high-rise apartment complex in Alexandria," writes Tracy Brown. "It seems to me that every day I come home from work and there is a leaflet or flyer lying either in front of my door or half underneath.

"Of course, I pick it up upon entering the apartment. But I have noticed later in the evening apartments with the leaflets still there -- sometimes more than one. Obviously, the occupants are not at home.

" . . . .It seems to me that if I (an honest person) can deduce this, then a thief who is always on the lookout for such clues is sure to notice. Is there some way we can stop merchants from leaving this sort of clue at our front doors?"

If you lived in a private home, my answer would be no, Tracy. But in a high-rise, prevention should be easy. Go downstairs and shake the person at the front desk by the shoulder (if the shake wakes him from his nap, so much the better).

Then tell him that for all the rent you pay, the last thing you and the other tenants need is a series of leaflet-leavers in the halls. Tell him that his job is to deny entry to unwanted pests -- and that he's regularly missing several. And tell him that if you don't see improvement soon, the manager is going to hear about the problem -- loudly.

From the pen of Bob Orben:

A lot of people are asking how they located the Titanic when it had sunk to such an incredibly low depth. It was easy. They just moved aside the stock market and there it was.

Jim Marley of Northwest says politicians are like dirty clothes. They only come clean when they're in hot water.