The people move like tides, in great pulses, drifting up one side and down the other. Women in pairs, wearing khaki golf skirts and carrying shoulder bags. Couples with identical alligator shirts. Girls in white tennis shorts. Teen-agers with jeans, T-shirt and a record in a square bag. Hiking shorts, backpack and boots. Muu-muus. Jeans. Almost more jeans than people. Shirts with words on them.

". . . aurentyvesstlaurentyvesstl aurentyvesslauren tyvesstlaur . . ."

"Wonderful Copenhagen"

"John"

"Duke Football 300 Club"

Under a woman's armpit, written in an arc, "Mixed Doubles." Nothing under the other arm. What does it mean?

In Georgetown, Wisconsin Avenue on a Saturday afternoon. Heading one wave of shoppers is a tall man wearing a Britannia shirt with the Union Jack. he is headed north on the west side, hunched with purpose, moving fast. His squadron meets a lone southbound woman with upswept blond hair who has on an extremely decollete backless sundress of blue ticking. She studies the contents of each and every window.

Words floating past:

". . . oh yes, it's really touristy . . ."

"It's funny, Bob and Frances are so much alike . . ."

"Just a sec, Jeff, I have to change that sweater . . ."

"Excuse me, wasn't there a jewelry store in this block? . . ."

". . . Now where?"

An endless procession of cars creeps down the hill, inches up the side streets, circles hopelessly all through Georgetown. There are no parking places. Haven't been since 8 a.m. Mostly, the drivers seem content, relaxed, not in the least anxious to reach their destination. Very Washington. They chat, play the radio, rubberneck at the strollers. Getting there is half the fun.

A muscular but fat motorcycle. Some drivers gaze after him with the vague yearning of a boy watching a hawk in the sky.

The Britannia man is now headed south on the east side, striding with fresh purpose. The backless woman is northbound. She carries a package that rustless constantly.

Each new tide brings a rivulet of people into the stores, roaming past the racks of clothes, carefully not catching the salesperson's eye. Most flow right out again. On the sidewalks, stores without walls: The jewelry people. The plant people. The belt people. The flower people. The paper handout people. A guy selling marijuana pipes next to a sign: "On This Corner, Toke Is Cheap." Someone running a little school in Dianetics, complete with desks, books, students. Filling out questionnaires.

Two young men with blow-dried hair pass an open door in which lounges a man in blinding gold hot pants with very hairy legs. "Did you see that?" one young man mutters.

A couple steps into the Maison des Crepes, steps out, steps into the Little Tavern next door.

People suddenly are eating ice cream cones. Two of them. Three. Six. An ice cream store is approaching. A crowd, a crush, a line clear out into the street. Then past, and the cone eaters dwindle. Outside Crumpets a whole row of them sit on a stoop like sparrows on a wire.

Here and there appear individuals who are not part of it. They live in another dimension: locals waiting for a 30 bus; two painters in overalls sitting on the hood of a parked car; three bare-chested bearded, strung-out men sprawled on the sidewalk around the corner from the Roy Rogers; a pretty young woman led by a Seeing Eye dog, who looks terrified; an authentic Georgetown grand dame, highway to Neam's to pick up something the chauffeur forgot.

Sign on the counter at E.F. Sly: "Too Fast To Live, Too Young To Die." In the gloom, a girl talks to her friend over the low door of a changing booth. "Oh wow, it's terrific, Diane. Pull it up a little. Hey, try it with the scarf. Hey. Terrific."

A woman pushing a stroller peers inside, turns to her husband. But he is staring across the street. Where saunters a solitary cafe aulait woman. The beauty of the day, and she knows it: tall and sinuous in slithering Nilegreen dress that flares below the knees, widebrimmed '30s straw hat, the only hat on the street.A figure straight out of a Reginald Marsh painting. Terrific.

Up the hill where the crowds thin out, a balding aman slumps on the lawn of the Georgetown Lutheran Church. he is stroking a cat. No, it is a woman's brown wig. he puts it into a shopping bag. The church readerboard says: "You Can Love God AND Your Neighbor."