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Away From Capitol, It's Just Another Day

Many Locals Choose Routine Over Ritual

By Paul Schwartzman and Karin Brulliard
Washington Post Staff Writers
Friday, January 21, 2005; Page A29

The president's motorcade was crawling along Pennsylvania Avenue yesterday when Lillian Brown walked into the Capital Laundry Mat on Benning Road NE, pulling a blue basket filled with two large black plastic bags fat with clothes, including the white uniform she wears as a food server at St. Elizabeths Hospital.

Images of Bill and Hillary Clinton and Newt Gingrich and other dignitaries flickered on a TV set above a bank of dryers, though none of the pomp caught Brown's attention, nor that of a cluster of other patrons who stood before three other sets. All were tuned to the Jerry Springer show.

Brown unloaded her clothing, fed $4 worth of quarters into two washing machines and folded her arms across her chest. She said she looked forward to spending the rest of her day off at her apartment, cleaning, smoking cigarettes and listening to music -- maybe the O'Jays or Chaka Kahn. She said she would expend not a moment observing or ruminating on the second inauguration of George W. Bush.

"It has no meaning for me," said Brown, 54, unfazed by a phalanx of police officers on motorcycles who roared past the coin laundry. "I'm poor, and he's for the rich. I'm going home to rest, like I always do on my days off. I like it quiet; I like the peace of mind."

Downtown Washington was transformed into an inaugural theme park yesterday, its klieg-lit streets crowded with people floating from the swearing-in to the parade to black-tie balls.

But for many residents across the city and surrounding suburbs, the pageantry was little more than background noise for the routines of everyday life -- a reminder that, beyond the fishbowl that is otherwise known as Official Washington, the region is a collection of neighborhoods and towns with rhythms all their own.

In some cases, people chose to shun the event because of their allegiance to the Democrats. In others, they observed from afar, watching on television or listening to the radio rather than enduring the hassles of venturing downtown. And then there were those who were oblivious because they were consumed by more pressing concerns -- going to work, or even finding work.

"No money for lunch, no money for coffee, hungry," said Julio Melano, 37, among a half-dozen Latino men hoping to be hired for the day on a construction crew, as they stood outside the site of a former paint store at 15th and P streets NW.

"You tell Bush, I need a lot of work," said Antonio Cisneros, 35, speaking in broken English as he stood a few feet away, hands thrust deep into the pockets of his work pants. He hoped to land a painting job to help support his wife and two young children.

In the Trinidad neighborhood in Northeast, Jimmy's Tire Shop has been a Florida Avenue institution since the mid-1970s, and manager Rick Colburn was at work as usual, dressed in a blue work jacket, turtleneck and knit cap as he patched a customer's damaged radial.

"Your souvenir, sir," Colburn told the man, handing him a mangled, inch-long nail he pulled from the tire.

The radio was tuned to WTOP-AM, not because Colburn hoped to listen to the president's inaugural address, but so he could stay on top of the weather forecast. A snowstorm, he said, could be good for the tire business.

Colburn, 46, has spent his entire life in the Washington area, and he has always been at his job on the day of the inaugural. "Sure, it would be neat to see how everything works, the ceremony and the balls," he said, surrounded by shelves stocked with hundreds of tires. "But this is my ball and chain. This is where I've got to be. There are bills to pay."

On Georgia Avenue, near the Maryland border, Lisa Howell stood just off the curb dressed as the Statue of Liberty, wearing a green dress over her pants and sweater and a crown to match the dress. Her costume was not an ode to the day's events but the uniform for her $8-an-hour job, trying to draw motorists' attention to the accountants at the nearby Liberty Tax Service office, as the sign that she held advertised.

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