Charles Dickens never spent a January night waiting for a bus at the Pentagon. But if he had, he might have said: "It was the frostiest of times, it was the windiest of times." Or perhaps something less gentlemanly. And he would have been entitled.

The bus waiting area at The Five-Sided Palace is one of the draftiest places in the Washington area, if not the world. The wind whips right off the Potomac, and there is nothing to protect you from it.

On a typical January night, five minutes of standing outside is the limit. Any longer, and you begin to think you fell asleep on the subway and got off in North Dakota by mistake.

Steve O'Neil is one of about 500 nightside workers who take the subway to the Pentagon each weeknight about midnight and catch the last bus to Alexandria or Mount Vernon. Steve says that's an especially chilly experience. But the reason is not just the weather. It's the high and mighty souls behind the wheel.

Steve says they "sit in their warm heated buses, refusing to let passengers inside until it's time to leave on schedule.

"Why in the world do these bus drivers have to sit in their warm heated castles while their passengers are freezing outside waiting for them to open the doors?"

The answer, Steve (if you care to call it an answer) is that bus drivers are guaranteed a break between runs. They may take it anywhere and in any way they like.

They do not have to allow riders to board before the bus is ready to leave. If they want to luxuriate in the warmth all by themselves, they have the right to do that.

But common sense (not to mention good public relations) argues that these drivers should give the Frozen Midnight Pentagon Gang a break. As Charles Dickens might have said:

"Hey, drivers! The human ice cubes out there could be you."

A letter from Wiley Patterson Reis of Cleveland Park, written Jan. 8, the day of the big snow:

"My Washington Post carrier never fails to deliver. However, after last night's snowfall, I was surprised very early this morning to see my paper in its plastic jacket lying in the snow on my steps.

"About 9:30, my doorbell rang. There stood a neighbor with a shopping bag full of today's papers.

" 'I know you enjoy doing the crossword every morning and I imagine your paper is buried under the snow,' said he. Obviously, he had gone to the corner and bought papers for all the elderly neighbors -- I am in that category.

"How is that for good neighbor policy?"

Every question should be so easy. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

Did you ever think the New Jersey Turnpike would help to boost the bottom line of our annual fund-raising campaign on behalf of sick kids? Neither did I. But here is a report from a reader that will serve as a warning to all who use the busy NJT.

Molly Rubinstein of Greenbelt tells of heading north recently for a visit with her cousins. Short on gas, she stopped at the first NJT rest area she encountered and asked the attendant to fill it up.

The attendant appeared to do so. Molly checked the pump when he had finished. It showed $13. She signed a credit card slip for that amount and started zooming north again.

About a mile up the road, Molly noticed that her gas gauge was registering only half a tank. She kept waiting for it to creep all the way up to full. She's still waiting.

"I suspect that he did not set the pump back to zero after the previous sale and pocketed the cash from that sale," Molly says.

Molly would have gone back to confront the larcenous soul who had overcharged her. But it's illegal to back up on the NJT (or on any interstate highway), and it would have taken too long to get off at the next exit and double back. So Molly decided not to do anything about the rip-off right away.

A few days later, when Molly was heading home, she stopped at the southbound service area that's directly across the highway from where the half-a-tank rip-off had taken place. She told the story to the southbound service area manager, Terry Clark. He immediately telephoned his counterpart at the northbound service area, Monte Jolley.

Monte drove over so he could hear Molly's story first-hand. He took notes. He promised to identify and reprimand the employee who was reponsible. And he handed Molly $6.50 in cash "to set the record straight."

Now, it's not every day you get that kind of response from Officialdom, or from Turnpikedom. You would think that Molly might rush off and blow her "found" $6.50 on macadamia nuts, or champagne, or something equally splurgey.

You would think wrong. Molly sent the money to me, to help sick kids.

As they say in New Jersey, Molly, that's juss wonnaful.

Groups, groups, groups keep giving! Latest group givers to our fund-raising drive:

The staff of the General Services Department, The World Bank ($810).

O'Conor Piper & Flynn Casey, Suitland ($175).

Customers of Fairfax Professional Pharmacy, Annandale ($20).

Economic Surveys Division, Bureau of the Census ($90).

Youth groups from six Episcopal parishes ($55 raised at a Christmas dance. Special thanks to St. Christopher's of New Carrollton, St. George's of Lanham, Grace Church of Silver Spring, St. John's of Mount Rainier, St. Mark's of Silver Spring and Our Savior Church of Northeast).

The Brown/Schroder Holiday Gala ($42 raised at a white elephant auction, in memory of Katherine Hoenes Brown and Robert Lawrence Brown).

Colony House Furniture, Arlington ($32 in memory of Raymond Durante).

Jill Bralove's coworkers at the Treasury Department ($50 in memory of the infant son of Jill and David Bralove).

Pulse Inc. and Pulse Engineering Inc., College Park ($1,150).

The night crew, National Graphic Center, Falls Church ($30).

Cappet Corp., Alexandria ($606, half from the employees, half from the company).

Submarine Monitoring Maintenance Support Program Office, Naval Sea Systems Command ($342).

Employees of James G. Davis Construction Corp., Rockville ($910.15 instead of exchanging Christmas cards).

Children and parents, School Age Child Care Center, Braddock Elementary School, Annandale ($46.37).

Customers and staff, Optical World, Fairfax ($375).

Vanguard Technologies Circle Towers Office ($244.38 from a baked goods orgy).

A lovely outpouring! Thanks to all. TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.