you need one bad, eh? Well, for the price of an off-peak Metro fare and a half-smoke with everything, you can take one right now -- right here in River City.

We are talking traffic island vacations, of course.

Yes. Throughout the lush, tropical environs of D.C. proper, in October no less, thousands of us take island vacations daily -- to trade the stale air and fluorescent-green grimness of the office for some blue skies and fresh (or at least brisk) air. Or to work on that late-season, north-of-the-necktie tan. Or maybe just to escape the deskwork, the dusting or whatever it is that has your name on it back in the dreaded indoors.

Though income generated from this tourism trade is unclear, its spirit-lifting effects are obvious, particularly on one of D.C.'s famous Gorgeous Fall Afternoons.

Generally, such outings are brief and to the point (the point usually being "lunch," as it is known among natives). But they can last longer, especially after one comes to accept the mid- town milieu, as it were, which includes the following free extras: all-you-can-eat Metrobus exhaust, cement-truck and jackhammer special effects, flyaway napkins, unplanned hairdo makeovers, stubborn grass stains and -- if everything goes right -- a complete loss of the will to work ever again.

Island vacations also help familiarize us with the fascinating world of urban wildlife -- which includes pigeons; sparrows; pigeons that play "chicken"; bees; pigeons that have apparently seen "The Birds"; ants; and the enduring Urban Squirrel (rodentus go-gettum), distinguished from its more sylvan cousins by its tendency to climb onto your park bench, stand up on its hind legs and say, "Hey. Gimme some of that."

In any case, be creative. Walk with the green; otherwise, run. Take a walk, take a chance.

Take a sweater.

DOWNTOWN -- Pick up a sugar-free beverage and some deep-fried (but caffeine-free) french fries this Friday afternoon, and start here -- at any of the numerous square-block parks that qualify as traffic islands. They include McPherson, Franklin, Lafayette (actually two square blocks, to match the Reagan real estate across Pennsylvania Avenue) and Farragut, which appears to be the only park in the nation with a weekday dress code.

PENNSYLVANIA AVENUE -- Experience the novel, thoughtfully wrought, semi-tropical feel of Pershing Park, between 14th and 15th along Pennsylvania, if possible. Do not, if possible, experience Western Plaza -- the concrete and marble "landmark" a block east, unless you enjoy being a small tumbleweed on big man-made salt flat, which is what Western Plaza feels like.

THE MALL -- The Mall is, of course, one of the world's largest traffic islands -- bounded roughly by 23rd Street, Independence and Constitution avenues and the Capitol, and dotted with such minor attractions as the Washington Monument, the Lincoln Memorial, most of the Smithsonians and other such small stuff (see any Riggs Bank TV commercial for a complete inventory). We won't go into it here -- mostly because there are so many reasons to actually go into it. We will mention a small island treasure just south: the U.S. Botanic Garden Park, opposite the Botanic Garden building itself at Independence and First SW. As you'd expect, it is full of flora, some part of which is always abloom. As you might not expect, there are private spots within where you can almost lose sight, visually and otherwise, of the federal city around you.

FOGGY BOTTOM -- Between 18th and 20th streets, the east- and westbound lanes of E Street border a wide, unadorned, gently sloped grassy median. In the summer, you will see folks in bathing suits reclining on blankets here. Other times -- such as before a weekend visit to the Corcoran -- it's a nice place to sit and count car-telephone antennas headed to and from Virginia.

DUPONT CIRCLE AND NORTH -- People live here, and that -- humanity, in all its various stages of maturity, wealth and wardrobe -- is the main attraction along the islands hereabouts, of which Dupont Circle is the best known and most democratically inhabited any given day. Thus, there are chessplayers to the northeast, rehearsing jugglers to the west, sandals-with-socks bookworms to the south, boom-boxers at the fountain and on-the-move people on the move throughout.

Up towards Adams Morgan, another good people-watching island -- much smaller, but next to a 24-hour 7-Eleven -- is the long-bench triangle born of the intersection of 19th Street, Wyoming Avenue and Columbia Road. Popular -- at all hours -- with kids, cops, crazy people and men who come from around the world to drive a cab in Washington. (Although "drive" is not really the right word here.)