ear Uncle Harold:

See? I did get home, Mr. Smart Guy. I admit it took me a few minutes to get out of the parking lot after I saw you off. I admit it took me a few more minutes to get around the circle in front of the terminal. But as I told you, Harold, there's not much you can do when you're saddled with a 1940 facility, and it happens to be a Friday night in 1985. I agree that National Airport is a disaster. It's just that closing it would be a bigger disaster.

Let's take your flight home, for example. To get from Washington to Albany, you could have taken any of 10 flights on the Friday you traveled. Six of them left from National. Four of them left from BWI. None of them left from Dulles. Do you think that's an accident, Harold? It's a fact of the marketplace, that's what it is. More planes leave from National because more people find that airport convenient to get to. And until that stops, the logjam at National won't stop.

I agree with you that BWI is a beautiful, uncluttered airport. I agree with you that Dulles is a beautiful, uncluttered airport. But both of them are twice as far from our house as National. Do you really want to drive for 45 minutes in order to fly for 55? I realize you like driving, Harold, but as Cousin Bernie would say, let's not go hog wild.

Friday night was actually my fault, Harold. I should have insisted that you go earlier or later. After all, how many times have I gone through that end-of-the-week insanity out there, when everyone and his brother is at National?

You saw them all: the computer engineers heading for Atlanta with their ties yanked down, the congressional aides rushing to get to Indianapolis for the appearance by the boss that night at the county fair, the two-city Romeos and Juliets hustling for the Shuttle so they could meet their darlings in Manhattan by dinner time. It's as if the whole town becomes a giant schoolyard, Harold. Ring the bell on Friday at 5 p.m., and every "kid" zips off to National to go somewhere.

But, as I told you, it's a lot better than it used to be. Metro has made a big difference, and I think it'll make an even bigger difference as time goes on. As you pointed out, all it's going to take is for a few people to miss a few planes while they're caught in traffic, and Ye Olde Blue or Yellow Line is gonna look mighty good -- even if you do have to lug your bags a little farther.

But close National? First of all, Harold, you're wrong in saying that it's politically impossible. Half the Hill can't get convenient flights to their home districts from National. If they wanted to go to Arizona, say, they could leave from National, but they'd have to change planes in Chicago or Dallas or some place. So why would a Western Congressman fight to keep National open? It doesn't help him now, and it never would.

But the real flaw in your argument is that closing National wouldn't make the crunch go away. It would only spread the crunch around. And I'm not at all sure that BWI or Dulles could handle it.

Remember when you went to Europe from Dulles, Harold? That was on a Friday night, too. Your flight was one of 20 that leave from Dulles on Friday nights, over the space of about four hours. Hardly a backbreaker, right? Even so, the drop-off area was a jungle, and the ticket counters were backed up halfway out the door. Could Dulles handle five times as much traffic? Maybe on the runways. But inside, I'd have to say no.

BWI would do better, but its greatest advantage could quickly become its greatest liability. Right now, you can always find a place to park there. Rain or shine. Sun or moon. Never fails. But if you shift half of National's traffic there, you'll see guys having to park way off in the next county. Not a good way to win friends and influence people.

I kind of liked the idea you proposed while we were sitting behind that great big Cadillac. You know, the one about satellite parking lots and shuttle buses. But I've been thinking about it, and I can't imagine where you'd put the lots. There isn't a serious-sized piece of vacant land within 20 miles of National. And if you're going to drive to a satellite lot 20 miles away, you might as well drive to BWI or Dulles.

I'd like to see better enforcement of loitering and lingering laws around the main circle, as you suggested. You're right. I can't remember the last time I heard a cop say "Move it!" to some triple-parker there. It's certainly worth a try.

I'd also like to see better staffing of check-in lines at the ticket counters. If you create a clog there, the ripple effect reaches through the lobbies, to the dropoff points, to the roadways, to the parking lots. You can't get Person B into the process until you've gotten Person A through the process. If just two or three of the bigger airlines did this, I'll bet it would make a large difference.

But what it comes down to, Harold, is that there are an awful lot more people using National Airport now than there were in 1940. And that ain't National Airport's fault, is it?Your loving nephew, Bob