LEST YOU THINK this is a piece of special pleading, we point out that the people who work at this newspaper live in the Washington area, have for the most part had an opportunity to spend the requisite months, even years, learning how to board Metro at National Airport, and seek neither pity nor admiration for their continuing struggle to master the ordeal of dutiful Metro riders. It is not clear whether this training will be complete before Metro extends its working stops deeper into Virginia, thereby mooting the question of boarding the train at the airport, but that is neither here nor there.

So we rise today not for ourselves but, compassionately, for the huddled masses of strangers to our city who arrive by plane at National Airport, somehow manage to thread the concrete maze to the Metro stop and, suitcases in hand, an expression of tentative (and soon to be dashed) hope on their faces, present themselves for a trip into Washington.

Let us pass quickly over the procedure, merciless for first-timers, for obtaining a Farecard. The weather has been mild recently, which means that the station attendants have not retreated into the air-conditioned (and heated) bunkers in which they become inaccessible for the summer (and winter) months.

The serious trouble begins at the top of the escalator. The first signs encountered give only the names of the stops, most of which (McPherson Square, Gallery Place) are bound to be unfamiliar to newcomers. A bit further along the platform, you can find a system map, but it lacks the street grid that would help orient you. Then you must figure out, by color, which line to board; you wonder, in particular, where the Yellow went, or goes. Needless to say, there are no attendants available to consult.

The scene could be from an off-Broadway play: on the platform, baggage-laden people wandering about in a daze in all directions, while the departing trains carry travelers worriedly inquiring as to whether they heading to a place even faintly close to their intended destination.

Is it not possible for Metro to fix this mess?