LET US BEGIN with a hearty good morning

and, for most of you, permission to take liberal leave and liberal doses of your favorite warm beverage. It is Saturday, and if the snow isn't falling sideways, things must be getting better. Yesterday was a blast, all right, from the winds of morning outside to those of war on the tube last night, both of which took some braving to get through. And once again, we were reminded how quickly local weather becomes the absolute top news story, a common cause stirring a spirit of friendliness and cooperation among all people around town--sort of Mother Nature's answer to the Redskins.

There should be more than a few awards for most valuable players, too, starting with the often-criticized Metropeople, who seemed to be doing their best to transport those whom duty did call. Bus drivers were severely challenged, and could have found any number of reasons for pulling over and out, but those we saw were as patient as they were skilled; with a mixture of determination and improvisation, they managed many a hazardous mission safely and on time.

Some cheers, too, for the plowing crews, whose work wasn't always visible for long, but who ran their patterns repeatedly for long hours on main roads, which allowed many city cabdrivers to do a brisk and welcome business.

The one party in a Washington snowstorm that invariably takes a lot of heat is that faceless bureaucrat who makes the call on whether federal employees should go to work. Yesterday, the early word for most was to take a day's leave if you cared to, but come on in if you chose. Those who did show up, however, barely arrived when they were told it was time to turn around and go home. Frustrating? Sure, but the forecasts did keep changing, and for most employees, the option to stay home was there from the start. And no, there was no overwhelming reason to just give everyone an extra day off; leave is leave, and is well enough left alone in this instance.

And now, back to the shovels.