IN THE DAYS before there was an Edwin Newman to watch over the English language, there used to be such a thing as a true fact. A true fact was something everyone knew but no one could prove, like "summers are getting hotter" or "all politicians are crooks" or that business about nurses. I take no positions on these, but there is one I have to offer. For a motorist, Washington is a nightmare That is a true fact.

It is a true fact, for instance, that the traffic lights on K Street have been cleverly timed so that you can't make more than two in a row. It is a true fact that traffic-light timing has been perfected on Rhode Island Avenue, where you must stop for every light - a tour de force in traffic engineering.

It is a true fact that a bus driver can be fined for not running the yellow light and it is a true fact, also, that he can likewise be dismissed for failure to enter a bottle-necked intersection during rush hour. (One year suspension.) It is a true fact that the Teamsters' Union kicks out truck drivers who do not double-park and it is a true fact that the drivers of chartered buses are forbidden by their union from turning off their engines while their passengers are, say, touring the White House.

It is a true fact that Washington is full of freeways no one ever heard of, most of which were named after birth control devices. They are called the inner loop and the outer loop and most of them lead absolutely nowhere. Some of them go under buildings and about 12 of them go under Capitol Hill and all of them offer false hope with signs saying Baltimore or Richmond, but they end, suddenly, with wooden barricades put up on a temporary basis in 1963.

For a time, I would not write about this subject. For a time, I thought I was the only one who could not get around Washington, who was always getting lost, who could never, for instance, get the hang of Capitol Hill. People here are forever telling you what a piece of cake Washington is. They start with the basic lecture - how the town is divided into quadrants and then that business about how the streets are numbered or lettered. I even once heard someone say something about how they were going to the third alphabet. It happened soon after I got here it was the way I thought Washingtonians talked. I said nothing.

I found out later that you are not told about the avenues that are named after states and that go off like drunks in the night and change Constitution Avenue to Independence Avenue and sometimes vice versa, and you are not told about traffic circles that have claimed the lives of more Washingtonians than Saturday night specials - some in accidents, most simply through old age. But mostly, you are not told about Virginia.


Virginia is a very special place, something like a magnet, actually, and for years every time I went near it - every time I drove along the Potomac River - I would somehow wind up on a bridge heading for Virginia. This went on for years.I would be driving along, minding, my own business, as the expression goes, or maybe thinking I had this Virginia thing beat when whammo - Virginia! My stomach would sink and my palms would get sweaty and I would find myself on one of those bridges, heading towards Virginia.

In no time I would be on something called Dolley Lee Madison Custis Byrd Highway Pike, driving along, trying to reach for the map in the glove compartment, scared silly I would wind up in the express lane to Richmond, seeing the river occasionally or maybe the very top of the Washington Monument, trying to head for it, making all the proper turns, cruising alongside the river, when suddenly the road would hook to the south and I would be heading into the heart of darkest Virginia once again. On several occasions I managed to make it back across the bridge, to one of those traffic circle numbers, and wind up back on the bridge heading toward Virginia. I found out that, like death and taxes, Virginia is inevitable. That's a true fact.

I have some others. It is a true fact that a sign was recently posted at the entrance to the K Street underpass ordering you, for no apparent reason to turn on your lights.It is a true fact that no one does so. It is a true fact also that there is no way any more to get on Kenilworth Avenue going north and that there is no way to get off going south. It is a true fact that the people who designed the Southwest Freeway (aka Southeast Expressway) also designated 270 in Montgomery County and thought the proper exit for the city of Rockville should be above the town or below the town but not at the town. That exist they gave to the Washington Motel.

It's a true fact.