Last week I cursed the annual migration of tourists to Washington while I was tied up in a traffic jam, but this week I praised the weather god for answering my mean-spirited prayer. It was snowing big, fat, wet flakes that threatened to ruin their Easter vacations and leave the spring season to the home folk for a change.

I imagined the visiting hordes hauling Kodaks, souvenir key chains and bad manners back to their departing tour buses. But the April snow lasted only an hour or so and, to my chagrin, the tourists stayed.

Now, I have nothing against any particular tourist, but I did get a kick out of hearing a member of the Luff family, who hail from West Nyack, N.Y., complain, "We could have stayed in New York and seen snow."

Hardee har har.

So now they get to see Washington like the rest of us -- during the winter months, when the tourists are gone and at last there are places to park.

"It was a frightening experience to wake up and see snow," said Laura Hood, who had come up from St. Petersburg, Fla., on a Sunshine Tour Bus. A few more inches and maybe she would have been scared back to the Everglades.

The problem with tourists is that about a million pour into Washington with woefully ill-conceived notions about the city -- the main one being that this is somehow their city, entitling them to drive cars like covered wagons and park them like tractors, and entitling them to cross streets like flocks of chickens.

Of course, they're the cutest families in the world -- perfectly patriotic couples with 2.4 children who walk four abreast while reading maps upside down.

One such family somehow had managed to walk around Thomas Circle twice and head the wrong way up 14th Street. Suddenly among people dressed in head rags and lace leotards, they looked as if they had just landed on the set of "Wild Kingdom" without Marlin Perkins to guide them. Surely they will have fantastic stories about the natives in D.C.; that is, if they make it back home alive.

Listening to and watching tourists maneuver through this town each spring raises serious questions about the state of middle America -- if indeed that's where they come from.

Only tourists can turn the National Zoo into a circus and the National Gallery of Art into a zoo. Only tourists will stand in the snow for an hour waiting to take a two-minute ride to the top of the Washington Monument, or wait half a day to take that lifeless White House museum tour.

This is not to say that Washington doesn't benefit from this influx. Those "dirty water" hot dog vendors make a killing, as do pickers of pockets. Anybody with a driver's license can tack a "sightseeing" sign to his vehicle and charge whatever the market will bear for a round trip from, say, the White House to Blair House.

Unfortunately, tour buses move through streets in long and inconvenient caravans, causing noon-hour gridlock as the tourists rubberneck to visually reinforce their textbook myths about this city.

But I prefer that they stay on the buses rather than hit the streets, or pile onto the subway. It seems that as soon as tourists get on a subway car the veneer of the all-American family starts to fade.

"Mommie, I'm hungry."

"Shut up."

"I got to use the bathroom."


"I can't."



And this after the rest of us barely have made it through a hard day's work.

Then there's the scene in the White House tour line, when the little girl asks her mother if they will see the president. When the mother says she doesn't know, the girl turns truly touristy. "I wanna see him!" she screams. Her mother stays cool and says the president is probably out of town. So the little tourist starts to cry. "Whaaaaa, wanna see the president!"

So the mother grabs her by the collar and says sweetly, "Look, honey, the president doesn't want to see little girls who have their noses up [in the air]."

And that goes for a lot of other folk, too.