Vagrant thoughts while shampooing . . .

* Thanksgiving weekend travel . . . It's always a jaw-dropper if you try to travel by car. Getting out of town Wednesday night can be a mess. Getting home Sunday night can be a disaster. So are people figuring out ways to cope?

They apparently are. I had six calls this month from Washingtonians who planned to leave at an off-peak hour Wednesday and return at an off- peak hour Sunday. Who says we're the most stubborn species in the barnyard?

* When donations aren't donations . . . I heard from a reader who volunteers at a place where people donate clothes to the poor. She says she routinely deals with "lots" of ragged T-shirts, soiled underwear and jackets that are missing buttons. Please, gang, if you wouldn't wear it, why assume that another human will be grateful for it? Are you that desperate for a tax deduction?

* So you think the emergency brake is just for decoration? . . . A reader who lives on Illinois Avenue NW says a neighbor parked his Ford Taurus, locked the doors, left the gearshift in neutral and failed to step on the emergency brake.

Not wise.

"Kids in the neighborhood walk around and push cars, just for fun, to see if they'll move," my reader said. This car moved very nicely, as you might expect. In fact, it smacked into a car at the end of the block, where it was left for the owner to find it, dented bumper and all.

* Sweat Shirt U. . . . A pal in the college admissions game said he recently got an application from a student who lives in Northern Virginia. In her essay, the student said she had never heard of this college until she saw a young man wearing a sweat shirt on an Amtrak train. The name of the school was on the shirt. The girl asked where the school was. The rest is on its way to being history.

* Farewell to a wise and witty fellow . . . My pal Dennis Owens called it a career this month, after more than three decades of early-morning hosting duties on classical music radio station WGMS-FM. I caught his farewell "pop-in" with morning hosts Mike Moss and Richard Day at GMS's sister station, WTOP.

Owens's parting line for the ages:

"Classical music is like sex. You never know how long it's going to last, and it's embarrassing if you clap at the wrong time."

* Where's common sense at Verizon? . . . If you pick up a pay phone and don't do anything for three seconds, a stern male voice will ask you to dial a number. But if you dial a number without first depositing 50 cents, a stern male voice will ask you to deposit 50 cents. Memo to stern male voice: Get first things first and second things second, or I'll start calling your company nozireV.

* The drain below the equator . . . It's always amusing to see how Washington puts a political spin on everything. I'm still getting over the e-mail I got last week, from a fellow who often travels to South America on business.

He asked me if I'd heard why water goes down the drain "the other way" below the equator.

This supposedly happens because the Earth's gravitational forces are "flipped" from what we northerners know. (It turns out that the effect is so small that the water doesn't really go down differently.) But this fellow insisted it's because political systems are different there, and local leaders ordered up "reverse drains" to emphasize how different they are from America.

Uh huh. And I suppose Santa Claus pulls a sleigh in Buenos Aires, while Dasher and Dancer sit in the back and shout, "On, Santa! On, Fatso!"

* Errors in TV ads . . . Amazing, isn't it, to see how many ads (especially on cable) contain misspellings. If I did business in Silver Spring, and my ad said I did business in "Silver Springs," I'd be mighty embarrassed.

* Fount of false alarms . . . As you approach the Woodrow Wilson Bridge on southbound Interstate 295, you pass a D.C. Fire Department training campus on your left. It has been there since the 1940s. A brick apartment building sits right in plain view. It is often set afire so trainees can douse the flames.

Did you know that more than three dozen people call 911 each year to report a building fire there? A bigger sign facing the highway might prevent this waste of time and money.

* Monkey County . . . I'm told there's a middle-level county government official out in Rockville who has issued a decree: His staff can no longer refer to Montgomery County by its age-old wise-guy form, "Monkey County."

Please, gang, buy this fellow a sense of humor for Christmas. You can be sure it's one gift no one else has already given him.

* Something in the water in Alexandria? . . . If you're heading to Mount Vernon from Washington, the only direct way to get there by car is via Washington Street, through Old Town Alexandria. You'd think this would be a daily bottleneck, since it's a very local street with lots of very local traffic.

But Washington Street moves pretty nicely, even at rush hours. Reason: timed signals. Perhaps Santa will put some of same in the stockings of downtown Bethesda, downtown Fairfax City and downtown Langley Park.

* And finally, boneheaded pet owners . . . While walking his infant son through a Fairfax County park the other day, a reader was suddenly approached by a very large, very aggressive German shepherd. The dog wasn't on a leash.

After a few seconds of sniff-sniff-sniff and paw-paw-paw, an owner appeared. She pulled the dog away from the man but didn't apologize. All she said was: "He loves to run loose."

And I love leash laws, ma'am, for exactly this reason. The parks are not oases where laws don't apply. Buckle him up.