He is asked about the automatic star quality attached to his name. "TV and magazines have made us celebrity addicts. The autograph thing still freaks me out. Why should somebody want my autograph just because I'm the son of the president? But every place I stop I have to sign my name dozens of times."

You learn to handle it, though. In his case, and in that of his two brothers, who have never liked politics much, there was the steady escalation of living in the public eye. "I don't think I would have been any good at being President Ford's kids. You know, going from the son of a congressman to the son of a president," - he snaps his fingers - "partically like that. Or you think of the Nixon kids, who never campaigned that much. In the '76 campaign, not counting the summer, I was back in Plains six times in 18 months."

He has learned what he can do, he says. And what he can't do. "The other night, I went out for a beer at 11:30. I wouldn't do that in Washington now."

But it's in Washington Chip Carter has gotten to know his little sister, Amy. That's one irony of life in the fish bowl. He took her to a Leo Sayer concert a while ago. "It was fun watching her turn on to the music." Chip's younger brother, Jeff, is a graduate in geography of George Washington. He has his dreams, too: He spends his time working with a professor friend on a plan for computerizing maps. The eldest Carter son remains in Geogia pratiching law.

Chip's never quite free of the tightsuited men who guard him. Two agents are permanently assigned to his detail. "You can't help getting to be friends when you spend this much time on the road." He seems about to say more, doesn't.

Plains and that $147-a-month trailer two doors down from the post office, where he and Caron used to live, must seem far away. He nods. "Except I still think I may end up back there running the family business. That would be fine."

So would politics, Chip Carter once held office - as a Plains city councilman. This was after he had sold units at Sears in Atlanta while living in the governor's mansion. The job paid $2 a month. He helped get a sewage system in. He and his wife knocked on every door in town one afternoon. He won 110 to 61. Uncle Billy lost the mayor's race to the town barber by one vote. "Which only shows if you want to win, you have to work."

Someday, he would like to try for a bigger elective slice. He wouldn't think of diving in, though, "till Dad is all through." Which may be 1984 or sooner. "I would rather run as Chip Carter than as the president's son. It'll be harder than hell, I know." If Vice President Mondale wants him in '84, he'll be glad to help any way he can.

The first stab of his own would be in Georgia. "But everybody I know in office there is a friend of mine." He might enjoy the state senate. "But then my cousin Hugh holds that spot." A small laugh. Someday, maybe he would like an ambassadorship. "Not now. In my 50s."