Thanks for . . .

Law enforcement officers who issue tickets when they are deserved, despite the raft of excuses they encounter. The excuse-dealers ought to look in the mirror a little harder. They don't have the right to go 70 miles an hour in tight traffic just because they're late for work.

The clergy of the Washington area. They don't get too many headlines because they don't aim at any. But they advance the ball and keep the peace, every day.

D.C. United. That's a soccer team, not an airline, and its crowds look more like the real Washington metropolitan area than anything at Daniel Snyder Stadium or MCI Center.

D.C. taxi drivers who play by the rules. Ahmed Kashouri is one. In his cab, a current zone map, a "fasten seat belts" sign and Ahmed's license are all on display. Too many D.C. cabbies fail to display at least one of the three. "I don't know what's so hard about doing what I'm supposed to do," Ahmed said when I complimented him. I don't know what's so hard about it, either.

The wonderful oak and locust trees of southern Montgomery County. Bring on those legendary Washington summers. The oaks and locusts will shade us well.

Drivers who pick up riders at the Northern Virginia slug line in Springfield. How easy it would be to whip on by -- or crawl on by, most days. But in the name of companionship or clutter-cutting -- plus using the HOV lanes, of course -- these drivers make rush hours just a little bit better.

The hospices of the Washington area. They didn't even exist 25 years ago, because it still seemed perverse not to fight for every last breath, even when the outcome was obvious. But now the dying have a dignified alternative -- and it doesn't have pea-green walls or fluorescent lights.

High school students who insist on a designated driver. These young people have gotten the twin messages: They aren't immortal, and a car is not a toy.

All the coaches, from the itsy-bitsy T-ball leagues all the way up to the college varsities. The best recognize what the job really is: an exercise in human relations, not just an exercise in exercise. They're the ones who win -- and who deserve to win.

College advisers who keep high school seniors sane (or close, anyway). It takes a special soul to say to a nervous teenager, "You will get into a good college. You will. You really will," when the child doesn't believe it. It takes even more specialness to fend off the true enemies of the process, parents.

Those who sell umbrellas at Metro stations. These angels of mercy crop up magically whenever three drops start falling. I don't know where they hide the rest of the time, but when I rummage in my briefcase and discover that a child has stolen my favorite black bumbershoot (again), it's nice to be able to stay dry for a mere $5.

Pharmacists. They really pay attention, they really try and they really know their stuff. Also (keep this under your hat), they hate managed care as much as we patients do.

Bag loaders outside grocery stores. They are smooth, swift and sure. And their hands will surely be left to the Smithsonian some day. Who else can grasp five full bags with one hand, swing them into the back seat of a car -- and never tear the bag?

Johnny Holliday. He's been manning a radio mike and dominating the musical comedy stage around here for ages. I just caught him in "Follies" at Toby's in Columbia. Oh, to be so ageless. Oh, to be so talented.

People who tell the truth when they don't have to. I bought new tires for the Leveymobile a couple of weeks ago. The sales clerk said I'd have to pay $1 per tire for new air valves. I asked why. "I don't know," he said. "It's just what they told me to say." I was so disarmed with chuckles that I didn't kick up a fuss.

Embassies that roll out the red carpet and toss dinners or receptions for local charities. They never get a shred of ink or credit for it. They hereby get a little of each.

Everyone who's setting an extra place at the table today for someone far from home. It doesn't take much. It provides a great deal.

Everyone who's working in a soup kitchen today. It doesn't take much. It provides a great deal -- especially as an example for children, who sometimes think that Thanksgiving is notable mainly for the NFL games that cranberry-stained dads can't wait to turn on.

The guy named Jerry who was working a construction job in Ballston the other day. As Phil Bernstein passed by, he overheard a child of about 5 ask Jerry why he wears a hard hat. "Because my hair is even uglier than my face," he said. Most Jerrys would have said something about OSHA and falling I-beams. This Jerry had a sense of the moment.

Those little buttons that make voices louder on pay phones. We aging wonders hate to admit that we are starting to fade, but the bitter truth is otherwise. Now if they could only give me a button to push so my back wouldn't ache.

People who return borrowed pens. They are about as numerous as cures for cancer.

People who don't point out sometime today that Christmas is exactly a month away. Can't we please do 'em one at a time?

People who say thanks today for their families -- and mean it.

People who say thanks today to their families -- and mean it.