I hailed a cab at 24th Street and Virginia Avenue NW and gave an address near the White House. The cabbie headed east into the tunnel that takes Virginia below 23rd Street. I was fiddling with something in my briefcase when I heard the cabbie say, "Great!"

I looked up with a start. A car was heading right at us, at about 30 miles an hour.

We were just coming out of the tunnel, in the left lane of a two-lane stretch of one-way, divided highway. It was about 2 p.m., which meant that traffic was relatively light. The cabbie thus had three options, as I figure it.

He could have stopped and hoped the oncoming car avoided us. He could have swerved to the left, onto a low median divider. He could have swerved to the right, into the unoccupied right lane.

The cabbie did none of these. He slowed down sharply. But he invested his hopes and prayers in his voice.

"What are you doing?" he shouted, to the woman in the car coming toward us. Of course, she couldn't hear.

After a long couple of seconds, the woman took us off the hook (and extended our life spans considerably) by stopping. Then she made a U-turn, to a chorus of beeping from my cabbie and other eastbound cars. So the story ended undramatically.

But ever since, I've been wondering what the cabbie (and anyone who faces the same situation) should have done.

I think the answer is that he should have stopped.

The whole idea in a situation like this is to make the oncoming driver realize as soon as possible that something is seriously wrong. Once the oncomer recognizes this, his instinct will be to 1) gulp and 2) stop as fast as possible.

If my cabbie had swerved, he would have been betting that the oncomer knew enough to swerve in the opposite direction. That's fine when it works. But it very well might not.

Evidence: Any crowded downtown sidewalk. A person walking east and a person walking west go through an elaborate series of Alphonses and Gastons. But they often can't avoid each other.

The other argument for stopping is that it will reduce the force of a collision, if a collision is in fact about to take place. Just sitting there and absorbing a blow will go against the grain for some people. But when you consider the physics, you'll see the wisdom.

Whenever I miss a few issues of Time or National Geographic, I just make a doctor's appointment. A doctor's waiting room wouldn't be a doctor's waiting room unless it was crammed with dozens of back issues, some of them dating back a couple of years.

What happens when it's time to make way for new issues? I'd always assumed that the doctor simply opens the garbage can, hoists the back issues and goes plop. But one doc has more respect for old magazines than that.

He's Murray J. Politz, a podiatrist who practices in Rockville. Once Dr. P's magazines have spent a couple of months in the waiting room, he slaps a sticker on their faces. It says: "I'M USED. PLEASE TAKE ME HOME." And according to Kate Johnson of Kensington, a Dr. P patient, people do.

Isn't that a clever approach? Other docs, please copy.

Bill Littlewood of Bethesda reports noticing a vanity plate the other day. It read: NEURO.

Says Bill: "That guy sure had a lot of nerve . . . ."

Confidential to Twinbrook Turf Tussler:

Grass often grows in this area after Dec. 1, especially when the temperature has been in the 50s, as it has been. In fact, lawns in the Washington suburbs sometimes grow all winter. Whether you "waste" fertilizer in December is none of your neighbor's business. But you might point out to her that fertilizer is unnecessary. Mother Nature is producing that lawn of yours, not something from the sale rack at Hechinger's. CHILDREN'S HOSPITAL

Listen up, all you supermoms. Shirley R. Regan of Fairfax has just demonstrated that you can find time to write a check for our annual holiday drive.

Here is how Shirley describes the circumstances that surrounded her $25 gift:

"While doing all the normal(?) Christmas chores most people must do, plus convincing two puppies that the fun things on the almost-decorated tree are not their playthings, trying to wrap jumbo boxes with Kleenex-sized wrapping paper, rearranging the dust in my house so that Santa won't notice it, trying to locate the best recipe in the world for Christmas cookies, finishing my cards so that my friends will receive them prior to New Year's and preparing and planning and cooking for a dinner party for 20, I found myself with a free five minutes.

"So enclosed please find a check for Children's Hospital. What else can one do with just five free minutes?"

Ya gotta love it, as the kids would say. Ya also gotta emulate it -- please?

Group donors continue to make the vault groan at its hinges. The latest groan-makers:

Fort Myer/Arlington County Duplicate Bridge Club ($40).

The staff, American Alliance for Health, Physical Education, Recreation and Dance, Reston ($540).

The Housing Division, Bureau of the Census ($110.60).

Corporate Claim Testing Section, Blue Cross/Blue Shield of the National Capital Area ($20).

Computer Services employes, Internal Revenue Service ($1,138.56 raised during a Christmas drive for the needy).

Huntington Neighborhood Association Inc., Waldorf ($60 donated by Santa and his helpers).

Document Information Handling Facility, Agency for International Development ($62.75 remaining in the holiday party fund).

Production Unit, Russian Service, Voice of America ($160 discovered in the coffee fund).

Cafeteria staff, Glasgow Intermediate School, Alexandria ($20).

Astron Corp., Herndon ($435, half from employes, half from the brass).

The Montana State Society ($100 raised at the annual holiday get-together by selling such Montana-esque goodies as huckleberry chocolates, buffalo berry jam and chokecherry jelly).

Seminary Ladies Bowling League, Alexandria ($115).

Employes of Potomac Electric Power Company's Chalk Point Generating Station, Aquasco, Md. ($265).

Students at Katharine Gibbs School, Rockville ($2,395.14 given by families and friends of students in a words-per-minute typing contest at this secretarial academy. Special congrats to Kitty Norton, who typed the fastest; Tammy Sonnabend and Carmen Arguella, who obtained the most pledges, and Heather Creighton, who raised the most money).

A fine performance! Thank you very much. TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:

Make a check or money order payable to Children's Hospital and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C., 20071.