It is the only corner in Washington where misplaced New Yorkers, hungry for their old haounts on the Upper West Side, feel hope in exile. There at 18th and Columbia road a certain New York energy exploded, ricocheting off a Manhattan mix of people. A tiny Latin lady scurrying to the corner in huge pink hair rollers is stopped by a Socialist proselytizer who thrusts a pamphlet in her hand. Two black children cut her off on lightning skateboards. A chauffeur driven Rolls Royce, a dowager in the back seat, round the corner to pick up something delicate from the neighborhood French patisserie, Avignon Freres, located next door to an old high-vaulted bank on one corner of 18th and Columbia. Catty-corner from this stately beachhead is a vacant lot where the Ambassador Theater once stood, wherein Jimi Hendrix could be heard slamming Purple Haze while Peter Townshend warmed up and acid light-shows helped along the real thing. Now, on the vacant lot, what amounts to whole outdoor clothing stores, produce markets, gewgaw stands and health food vendor carts make it not so vacant until nightfall when street games take over and baseballs can be heard whapping up against the brick wall that says in giant graffiti "BP, Our People Want No Gas Station." The other two corners are both quick-food havens, feeding New Lefts, old hippies, nouveau artists, Italians, Latinos, blacks, whites, families, loners, bums, sophisticates, all kinds of dealers, drunks, dopers, lovers, first-night daters, school children and mothers. On one corner is Eddie Leonard's which is next door to a wonderful ancient Greek delicatessen; on the other is McDonald's, right next to a great out-of-town newspaper stand and the dirty movie store.

It is the center of Adams Morgan, a kinetic community to begin with and the center of a strange world where sounds collide between demonstration chants, salsa street bands and strains from open windows of soul, bluegrass, a bit of Beethoven, all overlaid by someone's lonesome horn solo. And always there seems to be a thick scent of Carribbean cooking. It is, you mightsay, real life; more real than Washington. And it changes, like a West Side Story, dramatically, from day into night. Ten O'Clock Saturday Morning

A crush of people and traffic on 18th Street. Double-parking is the rule for cars as diplomats from the Spanish-speaking embassies and just plain Washingtonians descend on the Latin grocery stores for south-of-the-border foodstuffs. Latin resident stroll up and down the streets: old and young men together, women with strollers and bright-eyed, nut-brown toddlers, pretty young girls who draw comments from the young men for their tee-shirts that say "Kiss Me, I'm a Puerto Rican."

Already there are cars with Maryland and Virginia license plates outside Columbia Station, the Clyde's of Adams Morgan. The legal parking spaces are filled up by suburbanities, mostly women who take dance at the Dance Project. They stroll up the alley by the parking lot, past the trash bins of EI Caribe restaurant and the Netherlands and Covington Apartment buildings, in jeans or skirts and bright leotard tops for an hour and a half of stretches and strenuous steps.

By 11, their silhouettes will have been replaced and against the filtered light that falls into the theater's loft, the Paradise Island Express troupe will be limbering up for the musical they'll perform in a few weeks.

"We've been here several years," says one of the men dancers. "I love the neighbourhood, though a lot of people think it's rough. Shortly after we began performing here, there was a murder at the end of the alley. They've never discovered who did it. But we're not afraid to practice here late at night. You just take the usual precautions and look around you careful."

Down the alley at the corner the street vendors have had their umbrellas and stands set up for several hours in the parking lot and are doing a fast business in apple juice and fresh vegetables.

Before the theater was named the Ambassador it was the Knickerbocker Theater where, in 1922, ninety-eight people met their deaths when thirty inches of snow brought the roof down on them during a performance of George M. Cohan's "Get Rich Quick Wallingford." Since the razing of the Ambassador in 1969, the parking lot has been the focus of dispute between business and community interests. The community wanted the black and Puerto Rican residents to have some say over the uses of the site. TRecently, an agreement between community leaders and Perpetual Savings and Loan has been arrived at the parking lot will finally turn into a bank.

But for now, Naomi Bloss will continued to sell her plants from a cart on the parking lot. "I come every week, or my husband comes," she says. "I sell plants to support my own habit of buying them. You don't make a lot of money, but I enjoy it and the people I meet." Leaning against her stand, she fans herself as she explains to a customer the vagaris and preferences of a spider plant.

AT the entrance to the parking lot not far away from Bloss's plant stand, Hailatesfa Mikail, who hands out tickets and collects the money from people who park, is taking a break. A Howard student from Eritrea, he is explaining to several passersby the situation in his country and encouraging them to sign his petition. They listen politely then shake their heads and continue up the street.

But the moment is indicative of the unalienable right to protest or petition that thrives in the multinational neighborhood. It is full of causes. Under a street shelter, a minister will enlighten your soul, if you let him, with a five-minute spiel. Posters calling for boycotts of grapes, support of the Workers Movement, bans against nitrates in meat, raggedly collage the sides of buildings in the area.

Petitions are as common as paper clips would be in an office, and one can sign up to be for or against almost anything. Noon

"South African people fighting to be free/American people say victory."

Chanting, they come up 18th Street from Connecticut towards Columbia Road. Red, black and green flags of black nationalism flap on the breeze as file upon file of demonstrators pass by. It is reminiscent of the late 1960s as young people, black and white, in fatigues and jeans, strolling babies in carriages, or prancing down the avenue to the beat of conga drums, yell out the slogans.

"South African people fighting to be free/American people say victory."

There are masses of demonstrators in the streets, hemmed in by policemen on motorcycles whizzing up and down their ranks.

The parade of people in the street stops and watches. A father hoists his daughter on top for a rest stop as a bus point for a better view.

"What's it all about, Daddy?" she asks.

Before he can answer, a young man in army fatigues and a black beret thrusts a flyer into his hands. The mimeographed sheet has a bleared picture of black South Africans behind barbed wire. The caption over the picture reads: "Down with the Racist Regime of South Africa."

The father explains the situation in South Africa, about segregation, about whites and blacks, then, heavily: "Years ago, you would have seen the same kind of demonstration for Spain," he tells her.

Years ago, when the Ambassador Theater was still standing, on the nights when Washington's "hip" community came to its psychedelic shows, Norman Mailer once held forth with a cup of bourbon in his hand. He, along with poet Robert Lowell, writer-philosopher Paul Goodman and hundreds of other opponents of the Vietnam war gathered in the theater to launch the march on the Pentagon. Now another protest passes by.

"South African people fighting to be free/American people say victory."

A cadre of Vietnam veterans do a snappy cadence drill as they call out the words.

The fluttering flags and the chanting demonstrators turn the corner at Columbia Road, marching into the early afternoon light. Afternoon

Adams-Morgan is a neighborhood of people who take the bus, so bus stops are always crowded. People coming from downtown, laden with shopping bags, trailing children that seem to forever be escaping them, stop at the vegetable stands to look over the produce. Several ladies with small children finger the clothing on the racks that stand at the end of the parking lot as naturally as if they were shopping in a department store.

Across the street in front of Eddie Leonard's a group of old men, one of them swigging from a bottle of booze, appraisingly eye the young women who saunter by. One of them leaves his perch on the bus stop rest and teases two young black women in Muslim dress.

They ignore him and hurry up the block to Home Rule, a mecca from natural-healing, health-food aficionados. Here one can buy herbal teas, floral honeys, bottled water, vitamins and organically grown vegetables. The store does a steadily booming business.

Adams-Morgan was once the heartland of some of Washington's most prominent stores. Along 18th Street, Gartenhaus Furriers and Toys-R-Us first started business. The Showboat Lounge, now a burnt-out building that used to house a mattress factory, once featured guitarist Charlie Byrd and other jazz musicians.

After the urban disturbances of the late 1960s, however, many of the merchants closed up shop. Now new merchants are reviving the old spots in all manner of imagination.

The General Store, with the cheapest jeans and Indian cotton garments in town packs them in on any day of the week, but particularly Saturdays.

A plant store and an ice cream parlor as well as the three-month-old La Fourchette French restaurant vie with the McDonald's on the corner of 18th and Columbia for customers. In the same block, even the old Showboat has promise of reincarnation as a new restaurant, this time filled with antiques and sunlight.

Jerome Mitchell, the owner of La Fourchette and a black American army officer who recently returned from Paris with his French wife, Monique, says "I chose the area because it is full of what the French call 'les hauts et les bas,' the high and the low.It's like sections of Paris. This is the most cosmopolitan section of Washington." Dusk

It is seven o'clock and the pink glow of dusk hangs over the neighborhood. A small blond girl practices skate-boarding around the corner of 18th Street. Over and over again, she careers around the corner.

In the gathering dusk, a group of young Latin children plays baseball using a tennisball, in the parking lot of a bank on Columbia Road. The chain-linked posts that close off the lot are the bases. A young black man in shorts crosses the lot and the children's game and blithely begins to practice his tennis shots against the wall of the bank building. The kids continue their game, side by side with the tennis player. Evening

By nine o'clock, 18th and Columbia is lit up for the evening. El Caribe and Omega restaurants are packing in the customers for paella, black beans, rice and Latin beer. A police cruiser is parked outside Eddie Leonard's, which is full of hyped-up looking young black men in sleeveless tee-shirts and tight polyester pants. Occasionally, some advanced young teenage girls will flit into the shop, talk with the young men, and flit out. Midnight

At midnight, McDonald's - fondly known as "Mickey D's" to those who follow the fast-food circuit - is jam-packed with black teenagers who have just left the roller-skating rink nearby. They scuffle, shove one another, kid and joke in line until the manager of the place has to oust several of them. Their irrepressible spirits aren't dampened. They move to the sidewalk where they sit in a tumble of bodies and skates. A short black man in large oriental hat that is almost as wide as he is tall zooms by on a bicycle. The kids hoot with laughter, fall all over one another, until one of them feels she's been pummeled too much. Though she is not my favorite sports in the neighborhood."

She smiles in thought. "The other is that filthy store across the street, the one that sells the porno stuff. The further you go into the store, the filthier it gets. It's terribly wicked."

A Latin family, just back from church, stops at Avignon Freres: mother, father, elderly parent, brother and small baby. The baby's mother has a hard time trying to keep her child away from her food.

By 10, churchgoers are on the streets. Outside the Assemblies of God Church, a group of Latin children whoop and holler while their parents, seated inside, listen to a lively sermon in Spanish. A black grandmother and her granddaughter, all in white, make their way to the bus stop.

"I live in the neighborhood, but I've been going to church in Southeast for years. I wouldn't stop now. This is my grandbaby," she says, patting the skirt of the little girl's dress."I'm raising her."

Their bus comes and they are whisked off.

Sunday eases in slowly in Adams Morgan as for the rest of the city. There are the usual morning joggers and dog watchers, but Sunday in this neighborhood is also a kind of Latin Father's Day. All week long, children are women's business. But on Sunday morning, fathers take the children.

In Community West Park on Columbia Road, a Latin father and his son take over the empty tennis court for a game for soccer - and acid - green tennis ball substituting for the traditional ball. It's a desultory game that they soon abandon.

Meanwhile a guitarist sets up his electronic equipment in the park, then settles in to sing "Sitting on the Dock of the Bay" for some appreciative cronies who toast his performance iwth their paper-bag-wrapped beer cans.

Back on the corner, people of all different shades have started to come and go with more regularity and by afternoon the music will be loud once again and the corner its usual crossroads of a Washington far removed from marble, politics and bureaucratic chic.