'Bob Levey speaking."
"I don't believe it. I got through on the first try. How're you doing, Bob? This is your friend, the bus driver."
"My friend, the bus driver! Well, I was hoping for Raquel Welch, but I guess you'll have to do. What's going on, my man? Run any red lights lately?"
"Watch it, Bob. You know bus drivers never do anything wrong."
"Well, I know one driver who doesn't, anyway."
"For that, I'll only charge you 40 cents next time."
"It's a deal. Hey, while I have you, tell me what you think of this one. It happened to me last week."
"Some driver give an old lady a hard time?"
"No, nothing as simple as that. It happened on one of the N buses, heading out toward Friendship Heights. The driver stops at 20th Street and Mass Avenue, and a man gets on. He hands the driver a transfer and sits down. The driver looks at the transfer and says, 'Sir, this transfer expired an hour and a half ago.' But the man says, 'I ain't paying.' The driver replies that he isn't moving one inch until the man pays. The man refuses again. So the driver picks up his emergency phone and asks the dispatcher to send a cop."
"What's wrong with that?"
"Nothing, yet. But we're sitting there and sitting there and sitting there. Five minutes. Ten. I'm about to be late for an appointment. So is everybody else. Finally, a lady near the front of the bus fishes a dollar out of her purse and offers to pay the man's fare. But the driver refuses to accept it. He says the man does the same thing every day and it's about time he got taught a lesson."
"And a whole busload of people is being made to wait while the driver teaches that lesson."
"Exactly. Now, I don't know how this story turned out. I was running late, so I bailed out and hailed a cab. But do you think the driver did the right thing?"
"Well, I wouldn't have done it that way. I would have called up and said, 'I've got a man on board who gave me an expired transfer. He does the same thing every day. Would you have a policeman meet me at the end of the line?' That way, I don't make 40 people late."
"But the law is very clear about this, isn't it?"
"Very clear. The driver is not required to move that bus if any passenger refuses to pay the fare. But you've got to judge each situation individually. If a kid gets on my bus in the middle of morning rush hour, and the bus is packed, and the kid only has 65 cents with him, I'm not going to make 50 people late for work. I'm going to tell that kid to bring the rest of the money the next day. Or I'm going to ask one of the other passengers if they'll spring for 15 cents. Or something. But my job is to get people where they're going."
"Fine. But back to 20th and Mass. If the guy really does hand the driver an expired transfer every day, the driver has to do something, right?"
"There are lots of things he can do. Next time it happens, he can refuse to let the man on the bus. He can ask his supervisor to be waiting the next day at 20th and Mass so they can settle it that way. Or he can ask the Metro police to be there. Nothing like a policeman to adjust somebody's attitude."
"No argument there. But here's what bugs me about the whole story. As you say, the driver's job is to get people where they're going. When the woman offered him the dollar, the driver suddenly had a way to do that. But this driver decided that it was more important to teach some deadbeat a lesson than it was to step on the accelerator. Was that right? Shouldn't he have accepted the dollar?"
"I would have."
"Tell you what, my friend. You sound as if you need a change. Wouldn't you like to drive the N routes for a while? We riders could use your seasoned judgment there. Besides, I hear it's nice and relaxing. No tough customers. No hassles."
"Wonderful idea, Bob. So wonderful that I'm back to charging you full fare the next time I see you."
Somehow, I knew it was too good to be true. SEND A KID TO CAMP
If only it cost the same 80 cents to place a child in camp that it costs to ride the N bus. Unfortunately, it costs a lot more.
Inflation being what it is, it will take $304 to give a needy D.C.-area child two weeks in the woods this summer. Unsurprisingly, that's the highest that figure has ever been.
But the need is as great as it has been for the 38 years that this program has been chugging along. More than 1,100 kids in our community are hoping to go to camp this summer. They're relying on you readers to give them a healthy, positive experience they probably would never have at home.
If you can't spring for the full $304, please give what you can. It'll be money well spent. Thank you.
TO CONTRIBUTE TO THE CAMPAIGN:
Make a check or money order payable to Send a Kid to Camp and mail it to Bob Levey, The Washington Post, Washington, D.C. 20071.