The Christmas sun was out yesterday on Connecticut Avenue. It wasn't exactly a Frank Capra movie, and it certainly wasn't a Currier & Ives print, but it was bright and it was Washington and there was luck and music in the manner of 1982.
At the corner of M Street, the Avenue was swinging to "The Jersey Bounce," "Varsity Rag," "In the Mood," "Pennsylvania 6-5000," "Johnson Rag," and whatever else is wrong this season, it wasn't these members of Local 161-710 of the American Federation of Musicians. People stopped to tap their toes.
Ruby Gerald's toes kept on walking, but just as it seemed she would walk right past the swing band her face broke, without warning, into the largest smile on Connecticut Avenue. The musicians smiled back.
There's no explaining a smile, but Ruby Gerald, a computer analyst, gave it a try: "I've already finished my shopping, and that old music is my favorite."
It's Christmas week, but there weren't very many people carrying packages yesterday between noon and 3 o'clock on Connecticut Avenue. Or at least that was what the street vendors observed. There were more of them than ever before, but business wasn't very good.
"It's not that there are any fewer people on the street than last year," said Amir Tehrany, who was selling solid brass objects from India, Pakistan, the Philippines and Taiwan. "The people just don't seem to have any money."
This may be a little hard to believe on Connecticut Avenue, the wide midtown boulevard where women have expensive hairdos and men have a way of wearing a scarf -- overcoat open scarf hanging untied -- that gives you the impression they are somebody's boss. But in between the bosses there seem to be a lot of Bob Cratchits this Christmas.
With a gold stud in her nose, an aqua necklace and a remodeled sailor's cap on her head, Chazz Ricci was on the Avenue yesterday to make money, not spend it. Whereas many passersby were looking for a sandwich, she already was one. The sandwich boards she was wearing advertised Georgetown Cotton & Co. This is Christmas work for which the pay scale runs $5 to $7 to $10 an hour, she said. She had not started her own Christmas shopping. "I have other priorities."
A woman in a red coat came by the swing band with a man on each arm. Two men in their mid-thirties, squash-playing sorts of fellows with those State Department eyeglasses and wearing their scarves unapologetically, exchanged gifts outside the Mayflower Hotel. "You gave me a handkerchief?" "It's because your nose is running."
As the sun moved down behind 1140 Connecticut Ave., the shadow crept closer to the swing band. In between tunes, they moved a few steps south, and kept ahead of it. It is amazing how problems will go away if you move south.
Lying in front of Elizabeth Arden's salon was a Denver Boot in two pieces with its large padlock tightly locked. This was Denver Boot 297, but apparently there was something defective about Denver Boot 297, and it just fell off some offending citizen's wheel and he or she drove away, scot-free and with a secret smile. Luck has not abandoned us all.
It was the swing band that made it like a movie, thanks to the living sound track provided by Paul Dawson on tenor sax, Harvey Lenderman on double bass, Jack Johnson on trumpet, Marshall Maley on drums and George Curletto's accordion.
A woman did not want to dance, but a man in a hat with furry ear flaps wanted her to. "Come on, let's dance," the man said a couple of times. The band had turned everybody within hearing into hepcats. Still the woman demurred, and the man turned to nearby James M. McGinnis for support.
But McGinnis said, "Not in the street, there's no culture in that."
"I've been all around the world," McGinnis said, explaining the basis for his judgment that the woman was right even though the band was tempting. McGinnis met a Jesuit priest on a bus in Washington in 1980, and they toured the Washington memorials together. Then they went to East and West Africa together, and then last year they went to India, where the priest teaches philosophy, and soon McGinnis is going on to visit the Holy Land, Assisi and Rome, and then back to Africa. He is not doing any Christmas shopping at all.
"I have to save all my money for travel." McGinnis has a birthday next month. He will be 72.
A trombone duo was putting out a different sort of sound at the intersection of K Street, where Jane Todaro, age 24, was hurrying back to work in extremely red lipstick while eating a vanilla ice cream cone she had just purchased at Best of the Wurst for the simple reason, she said, that "I just wanted something sweet after I ate lunch."
One of the good things about an ice cream cone on the Avenue in the last days before Christmas is that it doesn't drip. On the other side of the street the trombones broke into "Silent Night." Todaro has "just about finished her shopping."
A vendor of leather goods summed up the commercial aspect of the Christmas season in two words: "It stinks."
Yet the Avenue had a jaunty spirit nonetheless, although it was not crowded the way Fifth Avenue in New York would have been yesterday. When a red light turned green, approximately 30 people stepped off the curb together, nicely striding in time with the trombone duet. There were no Salvation Army Santas, but on the other hand there were no professional beggars, either. There was one young man holding a hand-lettered sign which read, "I'm Hungry."
The trombonists were playing in the warm air from the subway escalator at K Street. On the bent trombone wound with electrical tape was Donald Watson, and on the shinier trombone was Vernon Lipscomb. They are students at the University of the District of Columbia. They had music stands extended all the way up, and sometimes passersby bumped into the slides of their trombones. They also play at night in Georgetown, where last Monday it was cold and because a trombone player's lips are often wet, Lipscomb's got chapped.
A good's day's take for the trombonists is $45 in coins in their open trombone case. Another day the take may only be $9. They sounded fine. When the horns hit intervals of thirds or fourths, they produce a lovely resonance, and Lipscomb and Watson were getting it.
They are young, and they are going to grow up and out of this temporary recession or depression or whatever it is. "We play all kinds of music," Lipscomb said. "If you're going to be a professional, don't you have to?"
The Avenue is saying goodbye to Shelly and Kate Lawrence, and they to it. For six years they have been in business at the corner of K Street, but as of Jan. 1, the sale of "paraphernalia" -- the bongs, pipes and wooden apparatus with which controlled substances are consumed -- is against the law.
"Going out of business in six days!" Shelly Lawrence called. "Our prices are lower so you can get higher! Check it out!"
By 3 o'clock the sidewalk traffic had thinned out, and the shadows were low enough to cast a chillier light on the rough stalls and polished storefronts. The musicians still played, and Mercedeses still waited to make turns onto DeSales Street, but there was not what you would call even the beginning of a Christmas-shopping rush.
The vendors stamped their feet and talked to one another.
Inside the small shop called Wellington Jewels ("Diamond-Inspired . . . Luxurious Jewels") there was room for only four customers, but there were in fact four customers. You don't just walk into Wellington Jewels, they come and unlock the door for you.
"Our business is good," was the report from inside.