I know this will amaze you, dear friends, but the state of Virginia has a sense of humor. It comes in the form of fire hydrants.
Imagine the surprise of the Levey family one recent afternoon as we pulled into a place that isn't known for surprises -- a rest area along I-95 between Washington and Richmond.
I was hunting for a parking space when my wife pointed out the window and said, "Do you believe that?"
It was an orange fire hydrant, sitting smack in the middle of the "Pet Rest Area."
"Great idea!" I declared. "Here's the Old Dominion, which doesn't even possess a big city, and who is it looking out for? Urban dogs, who are so used to relieving themselves against hydrants that they might not be able to perform the job anywhere else. Hey, if Baliles keeps this sort of thing up, he might be president some day."
Right then, the other three Leveys gave me their best save-the-speechifying looks. We took turns using the bathrooms-for-humans, which didn't look a thing like hydrants. And we went on our way.
But I made a mental note to look into the hydrant question as soon as we got home. Here's the scoop:
Hydrants-in-rest-areas began as a joke. But the joke "took" -- and it spread.
According to William R. Clements, a vegetation management engineer for the Virginia Department of Transportation, the first hydrant was placed a few years ago by some state employes who bought it with about $100 of their own money.
"They got it at a junk store and put it there, but it wasn't hooked up," Bill recalled. The dogs neither knew nor cared. They quickly treated the hydrant like an old friend, so it stayed.
State maintenance engineer Jack Leigh says "several" rest areas along I-95 and I-81 have since been hydrant-equipped. Bill Clements added that other rest areas in the state have traffic cones, tree stumps or pieces of telephone pole instead.
The reaction of the public? Mixed at first, according to Jack.
"Some people said they didn't like to take their dogs there because the dogs might catch something through the pads of their feet," Jack said.
Bill added that he still chuckles over a letter he got from a New York City fireman, who assumed the hydrant he had seen was hooked up to a water source. The fireman castigated Virginia for violating the principles of fire safety by placing a hydrant so far from the main rest area building.
But such negative reactions are becoming fewer and farther between, officials say. The hydrants are, if you can stand the pun, a fixture.
Just when you thought it couldn't get any worse, one of D.C.'s wonderful cabbies has come up with a new way to make the riding public miserable.
If you're a female passenger, this cabbie will ask you for a date. If you decline, he'll try to overcharge you -- out of vengeance.
It happened exactly that way to Dwanda L. Farmer, who was trying to get to her home on Holmead Place NW from Georgetown one night.
She paid the $3 fare as soon as she got in -- specifically to avoid the fare struggles for which Our Town's cabs are famous.
The cabbie turned lover boy about halfway to Holmead Place. Dwanda cooled him off by showing him the wedding band on her left hand.
But Romeo wasn't through. As soon as he crossed U Street, he announced to Dwanda that they had just crossed another zone line, and that would be an additional 90 cents, please.
Dwanda had already paid to cross that zone line -- a fact that she was quick to point out. And by the way, she wanted to know, how come the driver didn't have his license or ID card displayed?
This led to further arguing, which led to Dwanda abandoning ship about a mile short of her destination. At 2 o'clock in the morning. Great time for a woman to be on the streets by herself.
However, one good thing came of the incident. Dwanda thought up the following spiel for passengers to use on drivers who don't display the identification that the law requires:
"I'm sorry, but I can't pay you because you have no license and ID card. However, if you'd like to call a police officer, I'll be glad to pay you your appropriate fare."
Here's shoddy service taken to new heights -- or do I mean depths?
The scene was a Connecticut Avenue gas station. Diane Gaffney of Northwest pulled into FULL SERVE and asked for a fill-up. Midway through it, she asked the attendant -- who should have offered by now, but hadn't -- to check the oil.
"I can't check the oil," the young man replied. "The engine's too hot."
I've had my oil checked in the middle of Death Valley by a gas station attendant who simply wrapped the end of the dipstick in a cloth before he touched it. But here in Lazy City, "too hot" is what you get for your extra 50 cents a gallon.