Every weekday morning at about 8:15, some 50 women carrying vinyl pocketbooks and shopping bags board the T2 bus at Dupont Circle for an hour-long ride out to River Road in Potomac, where they are greeted by women in Porsches and station wagons who drive them to their large houses and estates.
The T2 bus is the link for these women between their apartments in Washington and the Potomac estates where they spend their days ironing, vacuuming, making beds and washing floors. As the bus moves out Massachusetts Avenue, the women chat, sleep, read the newspaper and do crossword puzzles. Mostly they chat.
There is Ethelean Duckett of Southern Avenue SE, who has cleaned Dr. and Mrs. Benson's 12-room house for 15 years, ever since her own eight children were old enough to take care of themselves. "I do this just to get out," says Duckett. "I couldn't work for a nicer family."
Sitting beside her is Thelma White of 8th Street SE, who works because she needs the money and takes pride in "doing for myself." She used to be a seamstress, but now her eyes cannot take the strain.
Several rows away, in the front of the bus, sits Elizabeth Lohman, wearing a striped ski cap. She began cleaning houses in North Carolina when she was 14. "I used to go with my mother," she says. "I started going by myself when I was 16."
In the back of the bus, six women are discussing the Maryland lottery. They all agree there should be one in the District.
"It's because of Maron Barry. He don't want it," says a small woman in a blue coat.
"I didn't even vote for him," says the woman across the aisle.
"I did," says the woman next to her. "But not again. The potholes are so deep I fell in one.""
They all laugh.
As the bus moves past the embassies of Massachusetts Avenue and on to the restaurants and stores of Wisconsin Avenue, the women in the back of the bus begin talking about their employees.
"They're nice people, but they don't like to pay," says a woman wearing a black imitation fur coat, who says she earns $3.50 an hour, 40 cents over the minimum wage. cents over the minimum wage.
"They like to take trips," exclaims the woman behind her, in the back row, as her seatmates erupt in giggles.
The T2 crosses the District line and bounces along River Road, past the large brick and stone homes of Chevy Chase and Bethesda. The women in the back are talking in tones of amazement about what those other women, the ones who pick them up in the Porsches and station wagons, do all day.
"They go out and talk about their husbands, their dogs and their maids," says one woman.
"They go to tea parties," adds the woman in the imitation fur coat.
"And in the afternoon," says a woman across the aisle, winking at her friends, "they take a nap and shower to get ready for their husbands."
Among the women on the bus, there is a certain pecking order. Those who do "week work" -- working for the same family every day -- are thought to have better jobs than those who do "day work" for different families on differenct days.
"When you do day's work, they look for you to do a week's worth of work in a day," said Doris Holler, who used to do day work when she was younger. "You wear yourself out."
And the women who do "light work," such as polishing silver, making beds and ironing, are thought to have beetter jobs than those who do "heavy work" such as washing windows.
Over the years, they say, many have all but lost one of their favorite "light work" chores, ironing, because of the use of non-iron fabrics. But they also have lost one of their most dreaded "heavy work" chores, scrubbing floors.
"It used to be that you had to get down on your knees and scrub with a brush," says Elizabeth Lohman. "Now the floors are made different and you just mop."
Several hundred woman ride buses from the District to the suburbs of Maryland each day to do housework, according to Lloyd Smith, a Metro supervisor. At least 100 of those women travel to Potomac on the two T buses that leave from Dupont Circle at 8 a.m. and 8:15 a.m.
The women who ride the T2 bus into Potomac usually wake up around 6 a.m., and take at least one bus -- but more often two -- before they catch the T2. The T2 fare is $1.10 each way, usually paid by the maids' employers.
The most discouraging part of their day, these women say, is often the bus ride home. In the mornings, the bus usually is on time. But in the evenings, after they have done a day's work, they often wait up to one hour for it to creep up to the bus stops at Falls Road an River Road in Potomac. Then the bus may hit traffic or break down, and it can take three hours for them to get home.
"They give us the raggedy buses," said Thelma White. "They want us to get out there, but they don't care if we get back."
Metro spokesman Cody Pfanstiehl said the T2 buses have been late because of the length of the route. "As they go through the day, they get tied up in traffic, fires, parades, everything. The longer the route, the more difficult it is to be on time."
The bus creeps along River Road in Potomac, past the estates and large front lawns. It is the last leg of the women's journey.
Doris Holler adjusts her raincoat and gathers up her shopping bag, getting ready to leave the bus and be whisked off to a large house.
"I clean my family's house like it was my own," she says. "But there's no place as nice as your own."