Susan Travis of Beltsville says she has learned to be "a little more cynical and a little less naive." She'd like her lesson to become yours.

About a month ago, Susan was idling in the drive-thru lane of a fast-food restaurant in Brentwood, near where she works, when a man pulled alongside.

He began making roll-down-your-window motions. When Susan complied, he informed her that her right front tire was wobbling a whole bunch and looked as if it was about to fall off.

Susan had just bought four new tires, a fact that she immediately revealed to the "helpful" man. He said he sure hoped she hadn't bought them at the local Goodyear dealership, because he worked there and he knew she'd be fleeced for an expensive, unnecessary new ball joint if she went back to report the trouble.

However, the man said he was so concerned for Susan's safety that he would fix whatever ailed her tire, right then and there, while he was on his lunch break, for $50 -- cash only.

You've read only five paragraphs, and already you know that this is nothing but a scam. But at the time, Susan wasn't so sure. The guy seemed to know what he was talking about. Susan says she "fits the stereotype of most women {who} know nothing about cars." Besides, like all con men, the guy was ultra-solicitous and ultra-convincing.

Luckily for Susan's wallet, she hesitated a bit. The guy dropped the price to $40. More hesitation, and the price fell to $30, then to $20. By then, the phrase "cash only" had rattled around inside Susan's head long enough. She smelled a rat, and told the guy she wasn't interested.

A few days later, she did take the car back to Goodyear. They checked all four tires. There was nothing wrong.

Susan says she "lucked out," but I don't think she's giving her instincts sufficient credit. Some inner voice told her that the chances of running into a tire expert shortly after buying tires couldn't have been very great. The same voice told her that even an expert would have a hard time diagnosing a dangerous tire if the owner was creeping through a drive-thru lane at a mere two miles an hour.

Sgt. Chuck Cooke, the press information officer for the Prince George's County Police, said his department is unaware of this particular scam, or this particular scam artist. However, Chuck has alerted the fraud division to Susan's story.

Chuck also offered a good general rule about "help" that walks up to you in a public place: If the deal seems too good to pass up, pass it up.


Although this was the moment we had expected, although we were driving through real snow to a real delivery room, it was still a dream.

Jane was immensely, uncomfortably pregnant with our first child. As I reminded myself to slow down and steer in the direction of any skids, I was immensely, uncomfortably curious.

Who and what would this child be? Everything we hoped?

She has been more.

Emily Susanna Levey turns nine on Sunday. She has the same brown eyes and the same wall-to-wall smile we remember from Day One. But she no longer oohs or goos. She soars.

She can watch a movie once and remember half the dialogue a week later. She can pour milk from a plastic gallon jug, one-handed, without spilling. She can wash her own hair without helps or yelps.

She has even become a diplomat of sorts. Last week's pronouncement: "Boys are yukky, awful, gross and disgusting. (Three-second pause) Except for you, Dad."

But best of all, she is still as healthy as she was on Dec. 16, 1981.

Emily Levey has been to Children's Hospital only to help her Dad deliver money there. However, her birthday is my annual reminder to myself to yank out the checkbook and make a contribution.

After all, Emily may need Children's tomorrow morning, just as her brother Allie did in 1987 when he decided to fall off a three-foot ladder onto his one-year-old skull (He wasn't hurt, for two reasons: He has his father's hard head, in every sense of the phrase, and he was treated promptly and skillfully in the Children's emergency room).

But genes are one thing and solvency is another. By writing a check, I help assure that Children's will be there for Emily and Allie in the long run, and for today's needy families in the short run. With your gift, you can accomplish the same.

Happy birthday to the best girl I know, and many more. Everyone should have a daughter as terrific as you, Em. Meanwhile, isn't this a good day for you to contribute to our annual fund-raising campaign, for the Emily in your life?


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