This is the story of some excellent work by the D.C. Department of Public Works. I'd better repeat that. Excellent work. By Public Works. The same people who issue indefensible, implausible, incomprehensible, illegible parking tickets. The same bureaucracy I've roasted ever so many times for being lower than fungus.
But Saturday, Sept. 22, changed all that, for one evening at least. My informant is Jacqueline A. Berrien of Brooklyn, N.Y.
Jacqueline was in town for a bridal shower, and to visit her parents, who live in Northwest Washington. Jacqueline and her mother stopped at a liquor store near Georgia Avenue and Kalmia Road NW to buy some champagne. The daughter went inside to make the purchase while the mother waited in the car.
"As I exited the store, I saw my mother standing near the car. She appeared upset," Jacqueline writes. Understandably so.
As Jacqueline had come toward the car, Anna Berrien had bounded out of her seat to see if her daughter needed any help. In the process, Anna apparently knocked Jacqueline's open purse from the seat onto the street. Her wallet and checkbook apparently tumbled down a nearby sewer.
Gone were all the essentials and usuals -- driver's license, money, ID cards, credit cards, ATM card. "When I contemplated, even briefly, the bureaucratic hassles I would inevitably face in attempting to get duplicate identification and cards issued, I literally felt nauseous," Jacqueline writes.
But first things first. Were the wallet and checkbook down the sewer or not? The two women went home to pick up Anna's husband, Clifford, and a flashlight.
Clifford aimed the light down the sewer. All he could see was a ballpoint pen, but Jacqueline took a peek and confirmed that it was hers. There was thus no doubt that Jacqueline's stuff was where they all feared it was.
What now? The Berriens flagged down a passing police car. The officers told the Berriens to seek help at the nearest station house, which is about a mile south on Georgia Avenue.
A desk officer placed a call to Public Works. She told the Berriens to go back to Georgia and Kalmia, where a Public Works crew would meet them.
Less than 15 minutes later, Tom Moseley and Joe Waymer turned up. They are the Public Works after-hours retrieval team, and they quickly proved that they know their work. A few prods, a few swipes and bingo: One checkbook and one wallet, slightly wet but contents intact.
"Too often, we . . . . read in the newspapers about the snafus of governmental agencies," Jacqueline writes. But her experience "was the very antithesis . . . . I cannot find the words to express how grateful I am."
Along with Tom and Joe, June Adams of the Public Works Department deserves a round of applause. June oversees all emergency water and sewer line problems. It was June who fielded the call from the police officer at the station house. Obviously, June is a woman who knows how to get things done.
By the way, Jacqueline Berrien's experience was nowhere near unique. According to Tara Hamilton, the department's spokeswoman, "we get about 30 calls a year of this nature. We try to help in any way we can."
In this case, the help couldn't have been more timely or more efficient. Nice to know such competent folks are around -- even on a Saturday night.
About a year ago, I published the story of Rita Wong and her second-grade students at Oakland Terrace Elementary School. Seems that one day, Rita was trying to describe to her class how big a million was. But the kids couldn't visualize a number that large. So Rita asked for my help in collecting one million pop-tops.
The crusade is getting there -- slowly. Rita tells me her total is "somewhere between 285,000 and 290,000." She and the kids are storing the pop-tops in the Oakland Terrace math lab. Obviously, they have amassed a considerable mountain of metal. But the million mark is still a long way off.
So the Oakland Terrace pop-top brigade needs your help. The public is welcome to bring or mail pop-tops to the school at 2720 Plyers Mill Rd., Silver Spring, Md. 20902. Bringers should arrive between 9 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. on school days. The school's phone number is 301-929-2161.
Rita needs help on another front, too. Last year, she had worked out a deal with a Montgomery County recycler, who said he'd accept the million pop-tops, melt down the aluminum and donate the proceeds to Children's Hospital. Sounded great.
But the recycler recently learned that pop-tops are an aluminum alloy, not pure aluminum, so he backed out. Does any reader know of a final resting place for a million pop-tops -- preferably one that will bring credit to the environment and dough to the hospital? Ideas should be phoned to me at 202-334-7276.