SOMEWHERE IN those 70-plus tons of trash hauled off the Mall Sunday and yesterday is a mammoth visual argument for a deposit-bottle-and-can law, but that's for another day. For now, we who have been quick to chronicle the glitches, hitches, snafus, gridlocks, tense times and poor plans of past Fourths of July on the Mall and elsewhere should cite the relatively smooth and happy celebrations that took place in and around town over the weekend. There were mishaps: Kathy Eldreth of Manassas suffered third-degree burns when a ball of fire from the big fireworks display hit her in the back, and at least 28 others were treated for lesser burns. That's a frightening, painful end to a holiday, but at least officials did not offer bureaucratic excuses -- instead they're looking at better ways to arrange the safety fences.

The marked difference this year was in Getting There -- and getting back. In other hard-to-forget years, subways and subway stations have been filled to the standstill-gills with overheated and understandably irritated Mall-goers. This year, an estimated 200,000 to 225,000 people took roundtrips on the Metrorail system with few hitches, according to Metro. At times an estimated 100,000 celebrants an hour were using the service; at one point, the count showed 30,400 an hour emerging from the Smithsonian station alone. Clammy, sure; but by and large good humor prevailed. Metropolitan Police, Park Police, parks officials, bus drivers and others summoned to spend their holiday as shepherds were well deployed and on the whole quite patient.

So what was the difference this year? We guess some people will argue that the absence of big afternoon rock or Beach Boys or other concerts made for a better tone. But the logistical hangups of the past were not caused by America's youth -- but by traffic tie-ups and mistakes that Metro and others would just as soon forget but didn't. This time things worked.