So why were those 48 kids sprawling on the tile floor of the Capitol South subway station concourse on Tuesday evening? And what was that man in the flowered sport shirt doing buying 53 Metro farecards one by one?

Perhaps the worst of all possible fates for tourists had befallen the kids and their five adult escorts, from the fifth grade at Indian Trail Elementary School near Charlotte, N.C., -- they had lost their chartered bus.

"It is terrible," said Freida Kersey, a remarkably unrattled mother of one of the youngsters, "to be stranded with 48 kids."

Ken Thompson, the teacher who was buying the farecards, told me (as I almost literally stumbled over the well-behaved group of weary kids) that the group was to have been picked up at 2:30 p.m. outside the Capitol. But, he said, the bus, chartered from the Kannapolis (N.C.) Transit Co., didn't show up.

And here they were, nearly five hours later, trying to puzzle out the mysteries of the Metro system and its hyperconvoluted fare structure as they made their way to their motel near Duke Street and Shirley Highway in Alexandria. ("You go from here with a separate farecard for each rider, be sure to get a transfer, ride to the Pentagon then pay a bus surcharge . . . . " etc., etc.).

We couldn't reach the school group yesterday, but the general manager of Kannapolis Transit, John Huffstetler, said when Metro Scene called that the bus and the group were reunited at the motel. He said there had been a misunderstanding and the driver was where the written itinerary said he should have been at 2:30 p.m.

It was, he said, "a lack of communication. The driver called me Tuesday night, about 10 o'clock and told me all about it. That's about all I know right now. We'll try to appease the tour group when they get back."

Metro's station attendant, Steven Morrison, did a lot to ease the group's problems. He arranged to have all 53 move through the emergency gate as a group and called his counterpart at Pentagon station so they could exit similarly and be directed to the correct bus route.