Rush hour can (and often does) bring out the worst in anyone. But they're taking that phrase a bit too literally along the Shirley Highway.

Sandi Finck, of Dale City, commutes to and from work along the Shirley HOV lanes. On two occasions this summer, Sandi writes, "there have been automobiles parked along the shoulder of the highway going south with the owner and/or passenger urinating in plain view of rush hour traffic."

What these thoughtful citizens are doing is disagreeable enough. But, as Sandi points out, Shirley Highway is actually Shirley Slowway. Motorists drove past the roadside relief-seekers at a very poky rate of speed. The view was, shall we say, thorough.

Insult to injury: Sandi says that on one occasion, three adult males were urinating under an overpass as traffic crawled past, and they "never once flinched," with embarrassment or anything else. "What's wrong with people these days?" she asks.

There'll be a lot wrong with these people if the Virginia State Police ever catch them. A spokesman said it is "definitely" against the law to urinate on, near, at or around the side of a state highway. Not only is the urination itself illegal, but so is indecent exposure, the spokesman said.

However, don't bother to phone in the tags of anyone you see wetting down the countryside. The police spokesman said a trooper has to witness the act to make an arrest. There have been no such arrests in Northern Virginia recently, he said.

Urinating in front of dozens of slowly passing strangers is certainly "gross," as Sandi puts it. But what's a poor commuter to do? The old saw is still applicable: If ya gotta go, ya gotta go. So where do ya go if you're caught in one of Washington's cruelly misnamed rush hours?

One option would be for the state to construct a rest stop beside Shirley Highway. There are no such spas inside the Beltway. The first one you hit going south from Washington along Interstate 95 is near Woodbridge. Most weekday afternoons, that oasis is at least a 45-minute drive from the 14th Street Bridge, long enough for bodily urges to develop in a big way.

Any chance of a rest area near, say, the King Street exit in Alexandria? State highway officials say there isn't any land near there on which to construct such a facility, and there's not likely to be any money in the till to buy any. Police officials add that rest stops along interstate highways are notorious for drug transactions and sexual pickups. "Commuters aren't going to want that, are they?" one police official said.

The answer, dear friends, is a little piece of plastic.

For men, it comes in the shape of a jug. For women, it comes in the shape of a funnel, leading to a jug. Automotive stores sell them. So do mail order companies. Lots of local van pools keep at least one of these devices on board, and some, depending on the size of the pool, stock two or three.

These plastic relief-givers cater to a basic human need, while making use of a basic human strength: intelligence. You don't need to put on a show beside a highway if only you plan a little.

At least urinating beside the road doesn't risk causing accidents. The same can't be said for what they're doing on Suitland Parkway in Prince George's County.

Everly Smith, of Forestville, reports that a Volkswagen several cars in front of him was having a rough time one recent evening during rush hour. The VW's engine kept conking out, then restarting, then reconking.

At last, a fellow motorist pulled onto the shoulder alongside the VW (which was conked in the right lane) to see if he could help. Everly ran interference by pulling his truck in behind the good Samaritan and turning on his flashers.

It was obvious to anyone stuck in this mess that there was an emergency. It was obvious that using the shoulder to pass the three stopped vehicles on the right was dangerous. But that didn't deter several motorists. They went roaring right past on the shoulder as if there were no tomorrow.

Everly got angry and pulled his truck to the right of the stopped Samaritan. This totally blocked the shoulder. It should have totally blocked all the Impatient Irvings too. But no.

"Would you believe that four more drivers proceeded to drive onto the grass to get around on the right?" Everly asks.

Alas, I do believe it. I also believe that none of the motorists squeezing by on the left allowed cars from the right to merge in front of them. Glory covers you all, dear people. So does a pox. Which Everly Smith and I just put. On all your houses.

Everly has a question: "Are people here now so selfish that they believe their time is more important than anyone else's?"

Exactly, my friend. Sadly, dangerously, worseningly and exactly.