I HAVE TO BE careful. I should not generalize. I should state right off that there are exceptions and that I have met some of these exceptions, talked to them, and gotten to like them. I should say the right off in the event that the exceptions should call on Monday with hurt in their voices. Now I should say how I feel. I hate Washington cab drivers.

I say that because I am sick and tired of getting into cabs where the driver has all the leg room, where a battery of signs tells me what I cannot do and what I cannot expect the driver to do (like make change or know the city), sick of being passed up because I am only one person and not a group, sick of getting harangues from drivers who date the decline of Washington as a major center of Western civilization to the approximate time the Supreme Court struck down segregation in the schools. I am equally sick, if I may say so, of drivers who treat me as if I, personally, were establishing some sort of master-slave relationship simply by getting into the back of their cab.

What I'm saying, I suppose, is that I've had it I've been an obsever of the basic Washington cabdriver for years now and there are some things I've learned. Your basic Washington cab driver has no peer in the country. He is the slowest, rudes, most unprofessional, least competent driver I know. He does not know the city. He does not know the rate structure. He cannot drive his way out of a paper bag. He will head toward a traffic jam like a moth forward a flame and if it has been caused by something like 4-year-old Metro construction he will scratch his head and ask no one in particular, "Wonder what's going on?"

Your basic Washington cab driver knows one route to downtown and will stick with it no matter what. He knows no short-cuts, no way around traffic. He considers it a sin not to use Connecticut Avenue whenever he can and he considers it a sin to work during the rush hour when he is needed or any other time, like, say the inaugural, when there is lots of traffic. Your basic Washington cab driver will explain that he cannot make money in traffic. He does not get compensated for time, only for distance. A meter would fix this. He does not, though, want a meter.

Your basic Washington cab driver will cruise in the left lane. He will move into the right lane only when he alrealy has a passenger. This is because he is now looking for another fare. He will not take the direct route to your destination. This is also because he is looking for another fare. He does not understand that time is money. He is inexplicable.

Your basic Washington cab driver reacts to a $5 bill like a vampire to a cross. He will shrink in horror from it. He will point to a sign saying that he is not expected to make change of anything as big as five.He will then open a cigar box positioned next to his right thigh, and mess around with some nickels and dimes and say, "I can't change it." He will say this like it's all your fault, like this is more money than he'seen in all his life and how, by the way, di you come by it? Not honestly, that's for sure. And then, if you stick to your guns, he will reach into his pocket and take out a wad of bills.

Your basic Washington cab driver is the opposite of a speed demon. He will not go faster than 25 miles per hour. He believes that speeds greater than that are no affront to Our Maker and that they will result in a painful case of the bends, maybe a nosebleed to boot. This is not true, though, of many of the cabs entitled to do business at National Airport. That moving junkyard contains more specimens that really cannot go more than 25 miles per hour.

Your basic Washington cab driver will not signal. He will not signal that he is turning and he will not signal that he is stopping. There are other things he will not do. He will not display his hack license in any specified place so you can tell who is driving your cab. He will sometimes have it on the left visor and sometimes on the right visor and sometimes it will be covered with rubber bands and matchbooks. Sometimes, he will not have one at all. This sometimes happens when the person driving your cab is not licensed to drive a cab. This has happened to me. I must report it made no difference at all. He, too, told me in no uncertain terms that he - and only he - would choose the route.

That was maybe the 20th time or so that a cab driver has told me that he would choose the route and, if I didn't like it, I could go to hell. Sometimes the message is put in the local idiom, which is more colorul, but most of the time I am meant to feel like I am imposing on the person driving, that I have no business in the back of his car, that he is doing me a favor.

The most recent time this happened was when the doorman at the Shoreham Hotel put me into a cab operated by a driver who obviously thought he had a group ride coming. So he took off and opened a mouth on no one in particular. I will translate. He was sick of this treatment. He thought the doorman was an oaf. I should have been a group. Here I return to his original words. "I'm retired", he said. "I'm independent". Back to translation.He didn't have to put up with this treatment. He was going home.

Well, here I was in the back seat feeling very uncomfortable, squirming a bit, feeling waves of hostility rolling over me, when I glanced out the window and saw the promised land - a construction site. I murmured something and he said, "What'd you say?" I repeated it louder and left it at that.

"Metro".