At the midpoint of any D.C.-to-N.Y. drive, most of us just need a pit stop, coffee and a snack--and anything that'll make the N.J. Turnpike seem shorter. So skip Delaware's too-small, buses-too-welcome service area at Exit 2, and go seven miles farther (toward the Delaware Memorial Bridge, not I-95 north!). Before the bridge, exit onto U.S. 13/40 south.

In a few hundred yards, all in a row, all on your right-hand side here on six-lane, industrial-strength Dupont Highway, are: a cut-rate Exxon, a 7-Eleven and--the climax, for me--a never-crowded Dunkin' Donuts that shares a front yard with a great used-book (and books-on-tape!) shop called Manor Books (1005 N. Dupont Hwy., New Castle, 302-322-5584).

Some 400 audio books are piled near the register, where owner Mike Baker rings up my two tapes (50 percent off the cover price, or $2.95 if you trade in one of equal value; same for books). Stacked around us are thousands of paperback romances, detective yarns, sci-fi collections, all the colors of John D. MacDonald's Travis McGee mysteries and surely every Nancy Drew serial since the dawn of ink. It's tempting to get lost here, but consistently rewarding to breeze in and out.

In 10 minutes you can be back on the interstate--and, simultaneously, happily lost in the Everglades or in an asteroid field not far from the planet Zarglotz.

* (On I-295, between the I-95 split and the New Jersey line, there are no exit numbers)

CAPTION: New Castle, Del.'s, Manor Books, home of the cut-rate book-on-tape.