In our family, Tuesday nights are usually reserved for hobbies. My wife goes to chorus practice in Chevy Chase, where she proves that pregnant people sing better Bach. Meanwhile, taking the low road as usual, I go off to play bridge in Arlington, where I prove yet again that I'm not ready to depose Charles Goren.
But Chevy Chase isn't on a subway line, and never will be, whereas Crystal City sits directly above one. So there's no question that Mrs. L. gets the one family car on Tuesday nights. I take the train to my bridge game, and can usually beg a midnight ride home.
But not last week. So after hotfooting it for the last subway, I found myself standing at 20th Street and Massachusetts Avenue NW at 12:20 a.m., with one more leg to cover on my journey home, hoping against hope that The Last Bus would be along soon.
It wasn't -- unless you consider 40 minutes later "soon." In the meantime, however, a summer street tableau played itself out under the high-intensity anticrime lights. For those of you who were tucked into your beds at that hour, here's what you missed:
Three young men in shirts and slacks stand beside the pole that says Metrobus. They converse softly in Spanish. They look tired. They also look as if they have no idea which bus goes where. So I ask if they need help.
"Yes," says the tallest and oldest, in hesitant English. "Silver Spring?"
After a few minutes of scribled maps and semi-conversations, the sad truth emerges:
The men are recent emigres from Honduras. They work as busboys at a downtown restaurant. None of the three can read English very well. They meant to take the last train to Silver Spring, but they got confused at the Farragut North station and took the last Dupont Circle train instead.
On an envelope fished from a trash can, I carefully draw a walking route to 16th and P, where they could catch a Silver Spring bus. "Thank you," says the tallest and oldest. They walk off. I silently make it even money that they'll never get home that night.
At which point the van drives up.
A teen-aged girl in denim cutoffs is riding shotgun, her legs up on the dashboard. The driver, much older and male, is wearing a bandanna and a T-shirt that reads: "Electricians Do It Shockingly Well." A tape deck is blaring disco.
"How do we get to Syracuse?" the bandanna wants to know.
I direct him, via Connecticut Avenue, the beltway, Frederick and I-81.
"Thanks, man," he says.
"What's in Syracuse?" I can't resist asking.
"A friend is having a party tonight," he replies.
"But you're 120 hours from Syracuse," I point out.
"It'll still be going on," he says.
At which point the Young Couple walks up and sits on the bench.
"I can't believe that in eight hours I'm going to be teaching crocheting to 150 campers," says the woman, perhaps 20.
"Crocheting? Have I told you my crocheting story?" asks her companion, perhaps 24.
"Oh, John," the woman replies. "You're so redundant ."
At which point the bus finally arrives. Four people are aboard. One is asleep. The other three look as if it wouldn't take much for them to follow suit. I'm home in 15 minutes.
"Didja win?" asks the sleepy soprano.
"No," I replied. "But at least I'm not going to a party in Syracuse."
"I'll explain in the morning. And by the way, tell me again why we aren't going to buy a second car. . ."
BEEFS -- a continuing series of puzzles and pitfalls that confront and confound Bob Levey's Washingtonians.
Walter Gallagher of Falls Church was watching "General Hospital" the other day when word of a severe thunderstorm watch silently marched across the bottom of his television screen in ticker-tape fashion.
Walter happened to be sitting in front of the tube at the time. "But what if I'd gone to the kitchen to get something to eat?" he asks. "I'd never have seen it."
His suggestion: TV stations should precede all such special announcements with a high-pitched beep.