They call it a Beltway, but you and I know it's a chamber of speeding, swooshing horrors. Especially if you have a blowout and have to stop on the shoulder. Double-especially if you find yourself in the fix that a reader called to report last week.

She was one of seven elderly women who had gone to a luncheon by van and were returning to their homes. Three of the women are blind. Four are more than 70 years old. The other three "haven't been spring chickens for some time themselves," according to my reader/reporter.

Just as my reader pulled onto the ramp that leads from the outer loop of the Beltway onto northbound Interstate 95 in Beltsville, boom! She wrestled the van to the shoulder and sat there in gathering afternoon rush-hour traffic until a police officer arrived.

That took almost a half-hour. As they waited and waited, the women became more and more worried and frightened. Some of them need to take medication at certain times of the day. What if they were still sitting beside an offramp when the appointed hour arrived?

In addition, there was the feeling of vulnerability that all of us who've been in this situation have experienced. What if a thief decided to stop and steal all of their pocketbooks? There'd be no way to fight him off, or summon help.

As soon as a Maryland state trooper arrived, my reader/reporter rushed up to him and asked his help in getting the women home. But the trooper refused, according to my reader. All he said was that they'd better get the van off the shoulder as fast as they could. Then he got back into his patrol car and disappeared, my reader says.

The women were eventually aided by a fellow motorist, who found a phone and summoned the husband of one of the women. But it was more than two hours before all the women were safely home.

Chuck Jackson, a spokesman for the Maryland State Police, said there's no record of the incident and no formal complaint on file from the seven women. He said he had no comment on this specific case "because I need facts, and I've got no facts."

However, Chuck said that in general, state troopers "make every effort to facilitate safety, particularly on interstates. Typically, a trooper would stop and make every effort" to help women such as the Beltsville Seven.

If a motorist wants a trooper to call a tow truck, the trooper will generally do so, Chuck said. And if anyone in a vehicle is sick or injured, the trooper will call an ambulance. "The agency has a reputation for courtesy, and we like to think we've earned it," Chuck said.

Then why would a trooper have given seven help-hungry women the brushoff? He might have been on his way to an emergency elsewhere, Chuck guessed. Or there might have been a communications fumble and he might not have realized that the women inside the van were blind, elderly and frightened, Chuck said.

In any case, the officer should have taken an extra second on the scene. If he sees this, and recognizes himself, maybe next time he will.

Great Moments in Direct Mail Marketing (thanks to Kay Mitchel for the smoking gun):

Merrill Lynch Equity Management Inc. of Jacksonville, Fla., recently sent a letter to potential clients who might want to arrange home-equity loans.

One "fishing letter" went to the Potomac Presbyterian Church on River Road in Potomac.

The salutation read: "Dear Potomac P. Church:"

As Kay says, the staff at the church was deeply impressed by the personal touch.

Ruth Smock of Silver Spring visited Canton, China, recently. She came home with more than slides. Her tour guide passed on this joke:

Q: What happens to a politician when he dies?

A: He lies still.


We're still less than halfway home in our annual fund-raising drive. If we're going to send all 1,100 scheduled campers to camp this summer, we have lots of turf to make up in the next four weeks.

Won't you please help us? Send a Kid to Camp is a 43-year-old Washington tradition. It helps the kids in our midst who need help most. That, in turn, makes ours a stronger community.

Thanks so much.


Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp, and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.

In hand as of June 30: $126,440.02.

Our goal: $275,000.