At exactly 6 o'clock last Saturday night, Hannah Cunningham dragged her three screaming granchildren and their toys into the small brick house on Harrison Street NW. She bolted the front door and then scurried from room to room, pulling down the window shades. "I hate it, I hate it, I hate it," she said, shaking her head, her hands covering her ears. "In a while it'll look like Times Square on New Year's Eve outside."
She was right. Within 15 minutes, bumper-to-bumper cars crept down tree-lined streets searching for non-existent parking spaces. Several motorists, frustrated by the traffic, leaned on their horns and yelled out the windows: "HEY, WHAT'S HOLDING THINGS UP?" Other drivers turned up their car radios to drown out the noise. A group of junior high school students stood at the corner singing along to Bruce Springsteen blaring from a portable stereo.
The dogs in the neighborhood began to howl. Two little boys, frightened by the confusion, jumped out of their red wagon and ran home crying. The short-tempered drivers ended up leving their cars on the sidewalks, or in private driveways or anywhere else they could find a few feet of unoccupied space. One family parked its station wagon on a neatly manicured front lawn.
It's chaotic. On many weekend nights, hundreds of people -- teen-agers, young couples pushing their children in strollers, senior citizens groups -- invade this quiet residential neighborhood near the KB Cinema in the 5100 block of Wisconsin Avenue. They're all going to see "Raiders of the Lost Ark." More accurately, they all Want to see "Raiders of the Lost Ark." Not all of them can get in; the theater holds 826 persons.
According to KB Cinema manager Jim Coller, "It's just like it was with 'Empire Strikes Back.' We have a cleaning crew that goes out after each show. We do have concern. . . There are probably customers who ignore parking regulations." And then he added, "I hate to break away, but we have a crowd coming in."
The lines start forming two hours before each showing. The neighborhood three blocks behind the theater -- well, it looks like the remains of an atomic attack, said Steven Reymer. "First there's all the noise, all the commotion. Then there comes an incredible silence with abandoned cars all over the place."
Around the corner on Garrison Street, an elderly couple sat on their porch, observing the moviegoers walking by. "If anybody comes near here, I shoo them away with this," said the tiny, white-haired woman, waving her broom. "Things have gotten out of hand."
Her husband agreed. "A lot of movies have come through here, but it's never been like this. Boy, it's awful," he said. "We can't move our car out of the alley. We can't walk the dog. We can't sleep at night. They've taken over our neighborhood."
His wife went inside to call the police, who come several times an evening to ticket illicit parked cars and disperse the crowds. The man leaned forward and whispered, "I have to admit, despite all the trouble it's caused, I'd love to see 'Raiders,' but I know she's kill me."
Other neighbors said they had absolutley no desire to see the film, which has grossed more than $45 million nationally in its first six weeks. "I wouldn't see it if I could go for free," said a man weeding his garden, who identifed himself only as George. "Sometimes I feel like blowing up the damn theater."
Mariann Mink said she often wishes she could build a cement wall at the end of her street. Nothing infuriates her more, she said, than coming home from work or the grocery store and not being able to find a parking place -- anywhere. "It makes me see red. It's a mess out here," said Mink, her voice becoming more agitated. "And then these people, they act as if they own the place."
Cars zoomed down the block, swerving around parked vehicles and pedestrians. Mink and the other parents in the area worry about their children's safety, as well as their own. "It's not just traffic," she said. "Often, it's high-speed traffic. The kids can't play outside."
One woman walked down the block, walking the line swell. People sprawled out on blankets, eating pizza and drinking beer. Some brought lawn chairs and books. "Why would anyone sit here for hours to see a movie?" she asked incredulously.
"Curiosity," said Ellen Tate, 17, of Bethesda, who had been trying to see "Raiders" for three more weeks. "I finally got smart and just camped out for a few hours."
"I'm here because everyone is talking about it," said Frank Moses of Arlington. The two-hour wait didn't seem to bother him or his wife, Jane.
Diane Drucker, 18, and Joel Boyd, 26, met while waiting in line four weeks ago. They have been dating ever since. "We've become real 'Raiders' fanatics together," said Drucker. "This is our 10th time. Besides finding each other, we've made a lot of friends standing here."
Around the corner from the Uptown Theater on Connecticut Avenue, where "Superman II" is showing, there is similar pandemonium on most Friday and Saturday nights. "It's leveled off some," said Merle Lewis, manager of the 1,120-seat-theater. "But it's still a madhouse."
Cleveland Park residents seem to have adjusted to the steady stream of cars and people. "We lived through 'Star Wars,'" Judith Byrnes said with a living sigh. "That means we can live through anything."
The merchants in the area, however, welcome the opening of expected box-office hits. "It always means a boom in business," said Liz Brach, a cashier at Robert Abbo's Roma Restaurant across the street from the theater.
Since "Superman II" opened six weeks ago, Safeway employes said the store has been "hopping." Moviegoers buy everything from popcorn to suntan lotion. One couple had a barbecue while they waited in line, according to a Safeway stock boy. "They dressed like Clark and Lois," he said.
Meanwhile, on Harrison Street, after the 7:30 show, Hannah Cunningham went out to the front yard and swept up the empty beer cans, candy bar wrappers and cigarette butts. "I don't know why I'm doing this now. I'll have to clean up again after the next crowd," she said. "If they make a sequal to this movie, I'm leaving this neighborhood."