Christine Patten, a Metrobus driver, drove up to a Northeast Washington bus stop last fall and opened the door. A youth boarded, she said, and refused to pay the 40-cent fare.

When Patten asked the youth to pay, he spit in her face, then went to seat for a free ride. Patten wiped her face, closed the door and drove to the next bus stop.

"There's nothing you can do when something like that happens but take it and be glad it wasn't much worse," said Patten, who began driving buses for Metro 18 months ago.

Patten was among more than 200 bus operators from the northern division of Metro who returned to work yesterday with other drivers across the city after a walkout on Thursday to protest violence and a lack of security on Metrobuses.

The morning rush hour yesterday was close to normal, with only 19 scheduled runs out of service because the drivers were still absent. Sixteen of the inactive bsues were at the Bladensburg garage, where drivers participated heavily in the walkout.

The afternoon rush also appeared to be normal.

The walkout of hundreds of Metrobus drivers followed the predawn rape earlier this week of a female bus driver, who the drivers say might not have been assaulted if Metro had a better plan for security in operation.

The drivers won a number of promises from Metro general manager Theodore Lutz and other city officials that immediate attention will be given to security problems, including the completion of a silent alarm system in all buses within two weeks.

As the drivers checked in and out of the northern division terminal at 4615 St. NW yesterday, they exchanged often bizarre stories of verbal and physical abuse, threats on their lives by passengers and their feelings of helplessness.

"I have a family - a wife and two teen-age kids," said Freman Tyndell, 34, who earned $17,500 last year.

"Sometimes this job can be frightening," he said, "but I've got to take care of my family. So I come and I work. But every time I climb into the driver's seat, I realize I may never climb out again."

Last year, Tyndell said he was driving a bus on 16th Street NW when a man and a woman boarded the bus. Moments later, Tyndell said, the man pulled a knife and clashed the driver over the right eye when the driver refused to let him off the bus between authorized stops.

Tyndell, who said he had blood streaming down his face, said he barely managed to stop the bus - loaded with 75 passengers - only a few feet from a 50-foot-deep subway excavation.

Thomas G. Owens, 34, a driver on the U Street line, said he received a serious head injury when a disgruntled man threw a wine bottle that gashed Owens behind his left ear.

"I pulled up to the bus stop at Vermont Avenue and U Street and a guy told me he wanted to go to White Oak, out in Montgomery County," Owens said.

"I told him I didn't go to White Oak and that he'd have to catch another bus," Owens said. "He threw a bottle through the door. I ducked and the bottle broke the window behind me. A lady passenger screamed, then the guy threw a second bottle which caught me behind the head." Owens said his assailant escaped before police arrived.

Kenneth Bowe said he was driving on U Street when a male passenger attempted to rape a female passenger on the back seat.

"Who do you think the woman called" Bowe said. "She didn't call for the police - she called for me, and there is little I can do."

Bowe said he stopped the bus and politely asked the man to stop the assault, which, surprisingly enough, the passenger did. But Bowe was quick to say, "When I became involved to try to help the woman, I was taking my life in my own hands."

"There is a lot of marijuana smoked on the buses," said Melvin White, who works out of the northern division. "There are drunks who want to aide without paying. There are dudes who get on with gun and tell you they're not going to pay.

"A lot of passengers are assaulted along with bus drivers. And something ought to be done to make it safer for everybody," White said.

He said that teenagers smoking marijuana frequently board his bus. And when there is a group, he said, there is virtually nothing he can do to control their behaviour.

"If I stop a cop and he tell them to get off, the next time I pass the bus stop these same teen-agers will be waiting for me," he said.

"A man got on my bus once, showed me a sawed off shotgun under his coat and asked if he could have a ride home," said Thomas G.Owens. "I said, 'Sure, you can have a ride to any where you want.' The man went on to the back of the bus and went to sleep."