It was the day before Christmas and, all through downtown, shoppers rushed, the unemployed protested and a man from California stood at 11th and F Streets NW shouting his praise for Jesus over the din of honking horns and the Salvation Army's jingling bells.
"I can't honestly say I know Jesus," Edwin Tiemann bellowed at the throng of shoppers hurrying past his corner. "I know God's love, God's joy. I know Jesus."
A little girl in white shoes with wide toes stared up at Tiemann and the red suitcase he had propped up on a blue Pride Inc. trash can. Her mother picked her up and said: "Don't bother with him, honey. He's crazy."
"No, he's not crazy," Tiemann's wife Joyce said later. She was standing a few feet behind him, an open Bible in her hand. "He looks crazy to you? Maybe you have to know him like I do. He's trying to get people to recognize God is the answer in this world, this mad world. That's what's mad, this world."
"He's told me he is trying to keep Christ in Christmas," she said of her husband, and postman who worked in Louisiana and California before coming east and making his mission the streets of the big cities.
Down F Street, Caroline Klein and her two daughters stood in front of the display windows at Woodward & Lothrop's watching puppets dressed as princes and princesses do magical dances.
"I've only got a few things to get," said Klein who lives in Fairfax County. "But I wanted to come downtown to see this. When I was a kid, Christmas wasn't Christmas if I didn't make it downtown."
Near the giant red candles on top of the store's awning, Bonnie Trumbule was selling shawls of all colors from a sidewalk table. She had woven the shawls after coming back to Washington from Canada this year.
She had left Washington with her husband during the late 1960s and Vietnam. Her husband feared that he would be forced to fight in a war they didn't believe in, she said.
"I'm getting so hassled selling this stuff," she said, handling the woolen shawls that she was selling for $25 to $45. "But we got the tree up this week and we'll have our own little Christmas."
Across the street, at the corner of 12th and F Streets, members of the Unemployed Workers Organizing Committee asked shoppers to sign petitions for guaranteed employment for all Americans. They handled out leaflets advertising a "Workers Nationwide March On Washington - January 21."
"I guess it's been eight months since I worked," said Rick Clemmons, who was urging shoppers to sign the petition. "I was working at a Ford plant in Norfolk, making $9 an hour. Been out of work since then. Unemployment's run out.
"I've got four kids - 10-years-old to 18-months-old," said Clemmons, who said he lives on Constitution Avenue NE. Really can't afford presents, a minimum, you know. If you go by our place you won't see much Christmas lights or anything like that."
A few steps away, in a red and blue Salvation Army booth, Estelle Williamson, rang her bell, hoping for donations to the kettle.
"I'm surprised it's so busy downtown this year," she said, adding a "Merry Christmas" to a man who threw coins in the kettle. "It was much slower last year. Still it's not as busy as it used to be, so many people without work."
Williamson, warm in a black wool coat with a fur collar, said she had finished shopping for her two grandsons last week. She bought him war bonds. "Really I finished my Christmas shopping years ago," she said. "I just shop for the grandchildren now."
On the other side of 10th Street, five musicians from the American Federation of Musicians played "Jingle Bells."
"The union pays us to come out and get the shoppers in the Christmas mood," said Clint Loop, the drummer. "And we have a merry old time, too."
Half a block away, elderly women with scarves covering their heads were attending confession at St. Patrick's Church. "I've been coming down here for years on Christmas Eve," said Anita Luskey. "After confession I'll go eat and shop. It is all in the same neighborhood."
At the Trailways bus station, Dora York, loaded down with a suitcase, was making her way to a bus bound for New York.
"I'm going to visit my son, he's sick, you know," she said. "Gifts? No, I don't have no gifts but one little old lady and that's me. I'll be there with him for Christmas."