They call it the "window on the world." It's a wall of clear glass overlooking Route 295 on the first floor of 950 L'Enfant Plaza.
In the distance, Hogate's restaurant pokes out of the mist along the Potomac, and every few seconds the Haines Point beacon illuminates the view from Communications Satellite Corp.'s Washington tracking station.
Just after midnight last Friday morning, Roderick Calloway, senior controller, and Robert Gorham Jr., junior controller, stood behind the window, talking casually about the world beyond Washington.
In front of them a bank of television screens gave the latest data on their overnight charge -- six communication satellites circling the earth at 22,300 miles. Three were providing massive nationwide television linkage, the other three an essential aid to maritime navigation. So far, it was a quiet morning: Public knowledge of the just-aborted rescue mission in Iran had not reached American yet.
The tracking station must be manned around the clock. Calloway and Gorham say they enjoyed their work, but acknowledge that the graveyard shift leaves from cold.
"We eventually get two weekends a month off." Calloway said. "But we're both on our seventh consecutive day in here right now."
They are enthusiastic about the work, however. "We're always taking readings on the physical status of the satellites," Gorham said. "This is the control center for them. All maneuvering done with the spacecraft is done here.
"This," he added proudly, "is the heart of the system, our IBM 370 computer. It's crucial -- very, very crucial to the operation." Fortunately, the IBM was showing nothing but peace and quiet in the cosmos. f
Some blocks to the east, the scene was anything but quiet. Tree surgeons Voward Foster and Jimmy Brumfield were busy waging war against insect pests and disturbing the peace around Union Station. Both are employes of the office of the architect of the Capitol.
Seated high in the saddle of a spraying truck, Foster paused briefly, removing his gas mask to talk about night work, in an occupation usually associated with hot summer days and the suburbs.
"I don't like (night work) and my family doesn't like it, but it's bread on the table," he said.
"You have so many senators and congressman parking their cars around here during the day that we almost have to spray at night," he added.
Brumfield, seated in the cab of the truck and wearing heavy rubber gloves, said he doesn't mind the work too much.
Brumfield lives with his mother in Brandywine and has been on the truck with Foster, a 15-year veteran of the work, for the past three years. The two are a team unbeset by the usual hassles.
"We start at 8 p.m. Sometimes I drive and he sprays," Foster said. "It just depends on how we feel."
Many hours after most of Washington has drifted off to sleep, Kevin James, the night time disc jockey at WKYS-FM, starts to warm up to his audience. Each week night just after midnight, James sits down in the womb-like sound booth to begin his job as music coordinator, promoter and part-time companion for Washington's nightsiders.
"I've always been the laid-back type who has enjoyed talking to people," he said. "At night it's much more on a one-to-one basis than during the day." A DJ for six years, he encourages audience participation.
"When I started working, only a few people would call, maybe two or three a night," he said. "Now I probably get 150 calls a night before I leave at 6 a. m."
James, who readily admits to being a night person, enjoys the company he gets on the phone lines and airwaves. He began radio "check-ins" for listeners who enjoy his mellow voice and friendly manner. At 2 a.m. Friday he asks for a checkin and the telephone panel begins to flash as callers register song requests and say hello. On this night, many are concerned about the rescue mission rumors.
James is unable to do anything but reassure worried callers. "I'm their buddy, a person who many callers have gotten to know," he says. "I suppose we are at the point where we need each other.
". . . No matter who calls I always listen to what they have to say. I never make fun of people no matter what. Just as all radio time is important, so too are all these people. I guess you could say we're in this thing together."
Soon James asks for another check-in and the phone lines start to flash as one after another calls in, while the city begins to awaken to the latest events in the Persian Gulf. With equal empathy he reassures his listeners, responding to their questions and requests while performing a musical balancing act all at once. Some of the callers are quickly recognized by the disc jockey.
While some talk a lot and have plenty of nightime companions, others aren't so lucky. The two White House guards manning the Northwest Gate at 2 a.m. could only be described as taciturn. To every innocent question posed about night work, the two unanimously referred the questioner to the "public affairs office."
The White House public affairs office was in no mood to entertain questions about night workers as early morning awareness grew of the events in Iran. It just wasn't important.