The trip up the long escalator at the Dupont Circle Metro stop, in which the tube appears to open wider with each rising stair, is one of the more tedious rides in the city. But patience pays off at the top.

"I'm your ice cream man; stop me when I'm passing by," sings Robert Palinic, the bluesman in the gray felt fedora and oversize wool coat. He's all motion, strumming his acoustic guitar, right foot keeping time on a battered bass drum, left foot doing the same on a smashed cymbal and tambourine. "Said all my flavors are guaranteed to satisfy... ."

He's only 27, but when he's making music he appears much older. He plays with hat squashed down over his brow, eyes closed, rocking back and forth. He strums blues scales so percussively, the thumping bass drum almost isn't needed. His harmonica playing is delightfully wheezy and road-weary.

He's become a fixture, playing up to four times a week for the past three years at the Q Street subway exit, as much a part of the landscape as the vendors who hawk scarves, incense and earrings and the homeless men who panhandle at the top of the escalator. Indeed, there's a camaraderie among these people. The vendors lend Palinic milk crates to sit on, and the homeless people stir up enthusiasm by dancing to his blues. "I've made a lot of friends through playing in the streets," he says. "They help me out a lot."

Palinic has been selling his act at this same spot since coming to Washington from Sweden in 1987. He has regular gigs every Friday and Saturday night at the 15 Minutes nightclub, both as a solo act (under the name Robert Lighthouse) and as guitarist for Charlie Sayles and His Blues Disciples, but the street gigs seem so necessary. It has something to do with loving the music. "I would like to get to the point where I don't have to worry about getting the dollars for every day," he says. "Because that's how I live now. You make the money and go buy food and stuff. But I might always want to come out and play on the street even if I have money and don't have to."

This particular afternoon hasn't been too fruitful. It's lunch hour and Palinic is playing to a few panhandlers and the guy manning the House O' Weenies hot dog cart. Eventually a few hardy souls do stop in the frigid weather. By 2:20 there are 10 people standing in awkward circles around him, tapping their feet for a few seconds before dropping coins into his open guitar case. After three hours, he's made almost $15. On a good day, a warm spring day for instance, he can make $100. But again, the money isn't the real reason.

"I think it helps a lot of people who come through here," says Larry Simms, who has been standing at the top of the Metro escalator asking people for change. "We all go through trials and tribulations every day, so to have a little rhythm and blues, it releases a lot of tension... .

"He's going all the way," says Simms. "He's my man. He's good."

"Is he blind?" asks a middle-aged woman standing nearby. "No? Boy, he sure can play that guitar."

Ads for Indian Museum

The Smithsonian Institution tries a new approach today in its fund-raising efforts for the planned National Museum of the American Indian with a full-page ad in four major newspapers asking for donations. The ad, headlined "Announcing a new museum from the people who 'discovered' Columbus," appears in The Washington Post, the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times and the Chicago Tribune. "This is the first time that a museum of the Smithsonian has gone to the public and said, 'We are seeking your contributions' rather than just welcoming them," said Alice Green Burnette, who is overseeing the fund-raising campaign as assistant secretary for institutional initiatives at the Smithsonian.

The ad, which cost a total of $80,000, is also unusual in that it was paid for by more than 75 individuals who were solicited because of their involvement in Native American affairs, according to Burnette. All those on the list are "people who would fall into one of these categories: people we've been talking to about the museum, collectors of Indian art, Indian leaders and members of the museum's board of trustees," she said. "All of these people have been involved in one degree or another {with the museum's planning}, so this was not a {cold-call} approach."

Among the signers of the ad are New York businessman David Rockefeller, actors Robert Redford and Goldie Hawn, Rep. Ben Nighthorse Campbell (D-Colo.), American Indian leaders Suzan Shown Harjo and Billy Mills, and Washington cultural activists Peggy Cooper Cafritz and LaDonna Harris.