Thanksgiving approaches, and no one will celebrate it in a better way than the Ride On bus drivers of Montgomery County.

Until Sunday, every driver in the system will accept donations of canned or nonperishable goods from any passenger.

If you give at least one can of food to the driver as you board, you ride free.

All donated food will be given to the Manna Food Center, which feeds the hungry and homeless in Montgomery throughout the year and is planning to feed 1,000 county residents Nov. 28 and throughout the holiday weekend.

This would be a terrific program in any year. It's especially terrific in 2002 because it's the 16th year in a row that Ride On drivers have organized it.

And it's a fitting memorial to a Ride On driver named Conrad Johnson.

He was killed in October in a sniper attack as he prepared to make his first run of the day. All the sniper killings hit home hard, but Conrad Johnson's death was especially tough on bus drivers all over the region.

However, the killing has reenergized drivers about being part of the community.

A bus driver told me the other day that he has "left the grumpies at home" in recent days -- which he didn't always do.

"My troubles don't seem very big next to Mr. Johnson's," he said.

Other drivers said their main regret is that they couldn't get off work to attend Johnson's funeral. Many did attend, however -- including dozens who had never met the victim, and others from as far away as Illinois and New England.

I've often felt (and written) that we don't tip our caps to our bus drivers often enough.

Think of what happens to your stomach lining when you have to endure rush-hour traffic just once. Now multiply that by 240 days a year -- and by the degree of difficulty involved in steering a huge, awkward machine. It ain't for the faint of heart.

Therefore, when Ride On drivers create a great program like the Thanksgiving food donation, we owe it to them to get behind it.

"We lost one of our own in the sniper attacks," said Bill Selby, Ride On's chief financial officer. "This is a way to say thank you to the community."

And a way for the community to say thank you to drivers.

I'm already hunting for a can of creamed corn I can happily do without.

You too?

Speaking of bus drivers . . .

Have you ever noticed that sign on the wall above Metrobus drivers? It asks you not to talk to the driver while he or she is driving the bus. A driver needs to concentrate, the sign observes, and silence helps that happen.

Roger Mills lives in Adams Morgan, but according to him, he really lives "in the real world." That means he often talks to bus drivers, despite the signs.

"How could I avoid it?" Roger asks. "I need to ask for a transfer. I need to ask directions. I often say good morning."

Roger thinks the don't-talk- to-drivers sign is so forbidding and so all- encompassing that it isn't realistic.

"What we need is a sign that says, 'Please don't talk to the driver while the bus is in motion,' " Roger suggests.

After all, buses often stop for red lights or traffic snarls. At those times, the driver ought to be willing to converse, Roger thinks.

He makes heaps of sense.

But if Metro is wary of rewriting all those signs because of cost, perhaps patrons could pick their spots a little better.

A passenger who marches up to the driver and asks a question while the driver is dodging dump trucks and pedestrians is a passenger who needs more help than a sign will give him.

Valerie Hopkins is British. She moved here a year ago to work for an international consulting firm. She says she's enjoying her time in this former British colony very much, except for one thing.


Before you start with pots calling kettles black, Valerie is happy to admit that she has a thick British accent. I've talked to her by phone several times, and I can tell you it's a classic. Think Mary Poppins.

So perhaps she has the proper standing to ask why so many Americans slur their speech.

"I had heard southern drawls before I came here," she said. "So those didn't surprise me. But why do people from Ohio drawl, too? Do you suppose some of them swam north from Alabama?"

Not bloody likely, as the Brits would say. I told Valerie that I had a hunch that was only a hunch. But I stand by it.

People drawl because they think it's cool.

Even if you're from Ohio -- where middle American flatness is usually the order of the day -- you'll sometimes drawl because you think it makes you a more approachable, engaging figure.

"I'm thinkin' about havin' another cuppa coffee," an Ohioan will say. The imprecision marks him as a friend, or a nice guy. Or so he hopes.

It's not because he didn't go to school, or didn't pay attention while there, I told Valerie. It's because he'd be tabbed as a spoilsport or a stickler if he held on to those G's and carefully enunciated "cup of."

Anyone have any other light to shed? Here's how to shed it:

To contact Bob Levey:

By mail: Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

By fax: 202-334-5150.

By phone: 202-334-7276.

By e-mail: