Break out the crying towels, cowboys and cowgirls. It's Consumer Complant Day at the O.K. Corral.
Subject one: the lack of bathrooms in subway stations.
They don't exist because crime and depravity do. All you have to do to appreciate the wisdom of Metro's no-bathrooms decision is to visit a bathroom in a New York subway station.
If the surroundings don't overwhelm you with fright, or bacteria, a fellow bathroom-user might overwhelm you with a .45.
But if Metro was right in not building bathrooms 20,000 leagues under the earth, it was wrong not to have built some -- or arranged for some to be open -- nearby.
Consider the plight of anyone switching from subway to bus at the Pentagon, after normal working hours.
Most Pentagon bus-boarders are facing lengthy rides. Most are at least 15 minutes older and squirmier than the last time they had a crack at a bathroom. So hitting a Pentagon john before hitting a Pentagon bus would seem obvious.
Equally obvious is to take an escalator directly to the main Pentagon concourse, where a betting man or woman would expect to find bathrooms galore. Indeed so -- except that they're all locked at 6 p.m. for "security reasons."
OK, no sweat, there must be plenty of johns in the Pentagon's inner rings. Indeed so again -- but try getting to them without a military ID card. Guards at Pentagon portals are not impressed by hard-luck stories.
And what about children?
I have met very few kids who can go as much as an hour without feeling the urge. So if some little dear waiting for a train decides it's time, what is Mommy or Daddy supposed to do?
There's only one thing he/she can do: Leave the subway, dragging Junior by the hand, and walk the streets, begging storeowners to let Junior use the facilities "just this once." Meanwhile, of course, it costs 50 cents per person to get back into the subway.
Moreover, most of the kid-draggers in the subway are tourists. Doesn't Washington's image have enough trouble in Toledo already? Do we also need to present ourselves as The City That Expects You To Hold It In?
Subject two: The new Metrobus zone check/transfer program.
This is a voucher system that went into effect Sept. 23. It applies to Metrobus rides during which a passenger crosses from one jurisdiction or Metro fare zone to another.
The new system seems simple enough. When you get on a bus in, say, downtown Washington, the driver gives you a check/transfer. You pay the full fare to a final destination in, say, Rockville.
When you've arrived, you show the driver your check/transfer to prove you've paid the full freight. If you change buses, the voucher serves as your transfer, as well as proof of payment to the second bus driver.
Evidently Metro instituted this system because people were paying for a two-jurisdiction ride only as far as, say, Bethesda. Then they were continuing on to Rockville for nothing and getting off via the rear door.
If the driver confronted them, passengers could easily lie, and the driver had no way to be sure.
No longer. The check/transfer program now requires every passenger crossing a jurisdictional border to exit via the front door, so that the driver can play cop.
Marie Wildes thinks this approach is penny wise and pound foolish.
She called the other day to decry the lines and ill tempers that will develop aboard buses, as drivers check to be sure each passenger hasn't chiseled Metro out of a few nickels.
Wouldn't Metro do better simply to live with occasional cheaters, Wildes wants to know? After all, it only takes a couple of long and surly lines before Metrobus riders go back to driving.
Subject three: "Double Value Coupon Days" at Grand Union stores that really aren't.
Steve Gregory, of Sterling, Va., has the bad habit of believing what he reads. So when his neighborhood Grand Union promised in a newspaper ad to redeem coupons at double their face value, he bit.
But when checkout time came, Grand Union did the biting.
The checkout person toted up Gregory's purchases at their full marked prices, as usual. Then she added the tax. Only then did she redeem his coupons at double their face value.
Gregory cried ouch to the Better Business Bureau. As he saw it, adding tax to the marked prices reduced his "double" refund by a couple of cents.
He charged the store with "false advertising." Replied the manager: "Store policy."
Gregory concedes that his crusade may amount to cutting off his nose to spite his face. After all, most of the double refund is still a lot more than no refund. And if Gregory wins his point, Grand Union's response will almost surely be to abandon Double Coupon Days.
"Still," Gregory says. "Principles are principles . . . I dislike being misled."