As many of you know, Lesley Stahl toils as a CBS News correspondent here in the land of the big story. However, late one November night, Lesley wasn't chasing Ronald Reagan or Facing the Nation. She was just a tired worker bee trying to get home by cab.

Rather than raising her arm on a streetcorner and hoping, Lesley used the oldest trick in the Washington book: Head for a hotel and snare a cab from the stand.

Lesley chose the Mayflower. When she got there, no cabs were in sight. But a woman was standing beside the doorman, obviously waiting for the next cab. Lesley fell into line behind her.

Two men arrived soon afterward and took their places behind Lesley in line. The men were both white, as Lesley is. The woman was black.

After waiting for a few minutes for a cab to show up, Lesley and the two men started to freeze. They went inside to wait. The woman remained outside.

Lesley and the men struck up a conversation, and discovered that they were going in the same general direction. They agreed to share a cab -- if and when one came.

One of the men popped his head back outside and asked the woman if she'd like to share, too. But the woman was going to the other side of town.

At last, a cab showed up. It was driven by a black man. The black woman started to get in. But the driver stopped her.

"I'll take the three white people, but I won't take you," he announced.

The three whites asked him what in the world he was talking about. The black woman had been first in line, so didn't she deserve the first cab? The driver simply sat there, without responding, waiting for Lesley or the men or both to hop in.

At that moment, three white women walked up. Just as they neared the hotel, a second cab appeared, again driven by a black driver. He pulled to the curb and asked the three white women if they wanted a cab.

Lesley and the two men told this driver the same thing: that the black woman had been first in line and should be taken first.

The second driver pointed at the six whites. "I'll take you," he said, "but not her."

"We were getting angrier and angrier," Lesley told me. "I asked this driver, 'You're black. Why are you doing this?' He told me he didn't have to take anybody he didn't want to take."

That isn't true, of course. D.C. law requires a cab driver to take any passenger anywhere he or she wants to go, regardless of race. D.C. law also entitles the first person in line at a hotel cab stand to the first available cab.

But lots of cab drivers in this city don't care about laws. They care about George Washingtons. So even if a driver happens to be black, he looks at a black woman standing by herself in front of the Mayflower Hotel and thinks, "Must be going to Southeast. Long run, for very little money. And probably no tip. I'd rather take the whites to Cleveland Park instead."

Many whites wouldn't stop to protect a black woman's rights in a situation like this. They'd cluck and wish the world were different. But on a freezing night, with midnight fast approaching, they'd decide to save the world some other time.

Not Lesley and the other whites on this night.

The black woman became exasperated by the situation and walked away. The six whites thus had the two cabs to themselves. But they refused to take them. They decided that they'd rather wait a few more minutes for Cab Three and Cab Four, so they could teach Cabs One and Two a lesson.

I'm not sure whether the lesson was learned as well as it was taught. Probably Cabbies One and Two will do the same thing to another black woman the next time they have the chance.

But it's still worth it to bring this kind of driver up short. The law is the law, even if it means a long, poor-paying run to Southeast. Hooray to six whites who understand that we're all in this together -- and that standing on principle, even when it's late, even when it's cold, is worth it.


Me, cuss?

No way. Not me. Never.

Well, not much.

Well, only when I'm pushed.

Well, only every other second or so.

Cuss? I don't think I could get through a day without at least one pungent obscenity -- and often a lot more than one. Am I alone? I doubt it greatly.

E. M. Clark Harper of Arlington used to be a cusser like me. But she has stopped -- and the hospital with the built-in deficit is richer as a result.

"Last Christmas," she writes, "when my brother visited me, he was shocked because he thought I was cussing much too much.

"I live alone, and it seems in the morning, when I read the paper, I would talk to my little Yorkshire terrier and tell her what stupid people were in charge, what unfair sentences were handed down, what no-good people roamed the streets, etc., etc.

"But I didn't say 'stupid,' 'no-good,' 'unfair,' etc. I used much stronger language."

The brother urged the sister to set up a "cuss box." For each choice expression, she'd kick in a dime. For each time she used the Lord's name in vain, she'd kick in a quarter. E.M. agreed to try it for six months.

Evidently her language is as saucy as a sailor's, because when the six months were up, the total was, too -- all the way up to $34.54.

The total should have been divisible by five, but as you can see, four pennies somehow wormed their way in there. E.M. doesn't explain. Must have been a few "darns" and "hecks," I figure.

In any case, she says it's all for a good cause. I agree -- and I wonder if other cursers might not want to raise funds the same 3/4%$& 3/4% way.

We get donations every year from schools, and from individual classrooms, and we love them each and every one. But we seldom get donations from individual teachers.

Why not? If you have to ask, you must not be trying to make it in this inflationary world on a teacher's pay.

So it's always especially heartwarming when a teacher decides the mortgage can wait, and kicks in a few pesos to our campaign instead.

Marian Henterly of Locust Grove, Va., is one such kicker-inner to the '87-'88 Children's campaign.

"I am a retired primary teacher," she writes. "Children have been my entire life. As far as I'm concerned, children are what makes life worth living." And right beneath those sentiments was a check for 20 bucks.

Beautifully expressed, Marian. The kids appreciate it -- and this former kid does, too.

Group donors to our campaign include:

"Three friends in Circulation" at The Washington Post ($18).

The Glover Park Babysitting Coop ($100).

Contract managers and other employes at the Temple Hills Facility of the Washington Suburban Sanitary Commission ($25 in honor of Lee T. Elden).

Matt Kane's, the well-known downtown watering hole ($100).

Brand Electrical Construction Inc. of Warrenton ($100).

Thank you, one and all.


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