"Yeah, that's exactly what I used to think," said the visitor from San Diego, as he glanced out the restaurant window at the snowy sidewalk of downtown Washington.

"I was of the stereotyped opinion. I thought that the only thing people in Washington think about is serious stuff like foreign affairs and current events."

At which point a young woman walked up and made a very unserious request. Could she have a kiss from that three-foot-long orange beak?

"Suuuuure, honey," bellowed The San Diego Chicken. "I was already kissing you in my dreams last night anyway! "

She giggles. Thirty other customers at the downtown fast-food restaurant giggle. The help giggles. And loudest of all, The Chicken giggles. As he had said earlier, "I make people laugh, but the one having the most fun is me."

Dressed in his customary shocking yellow, red and blue chicken suit, The San Diego Chicken made his sixth visit to Washington last week. It was one of the 200 or so promotional trips he makes each year to help businesses or sports teams drum up attention and attendance. Last week's trip was designed to enliven a Washington Bullets basketball crowd, and to help Washington notice that the Wendy's hamburger chain now sells chicken sandwiches.

Wait a minute. A chicken promoting the fact that a fast-food chain is serving pieces of his brothers and sisters?

"Yeah, it bothered me for a while, too," said The Chicken. "It's almost like Kermit the Frog promoting frogs' legs.

"But then I said to myself, 'Hey, they're my competition.' So my motto is now: 'If you can't beat 'em, eat 'em.' "

That's The Chicken: a line for every occasion and every question. After eight years on various stages, he's got his patter down pat.

If you're a woman, and you say, "Hi, Chicken," he'll reply: "Hi, chick."

Why is he The San Diego Chicken instead of the San Diego Something Else? "Because there's something inherently funny about a chicken. It's everything from a food to an accusation."

Is there a Chicago Chicken, a Boston Broiler or a D.C. Drumstick? Could there be? "There isn't, and there couldn't be. There's only one Babe, one Elvis and one Chicken."

His favorite chicken put-down? "When people ask me why the chicken crossed the road, I say, 'To get away from stupid questions.' "

How long will The Chicken be with us? "Mickey Mouse is 50 years old. To me, that says something."

And what does he tell people who say The Chicken is just a costume? "To say The Chicken is just a costume is to say that Charlie McCarthy is just a block of wood."

The Chicken's real name is Ted Giannoulas. He is a 26-year-old former journalism student who now claims he always knew he wanted to be a performer, but was a little scared at first.

"The Chicken was chicken," he explains. "It takes time to be able to perform in front of 50,000 people."

The Chicken has now done that so many times that he can analyze the kinds of people in each major American city.

New York? "Pseudo-sophisticated. You'll walk down the street in the chicken outfit and they'll pretend not to notice you."

Chicago? "A saloon town. Always was. But very high-energy. The people are always ready to talk to you."

And Washington? "It might look serious, but the people in this town have so much fun. Just look."

I did. All over Wendy's, the customers were munching -- and watching their fine feathered friend give an interview. The Chicken was in his costume -- and his element.