Monday night. Michelle's disco on Old Branch Avenue is jumping with the doo-wah rhythms of the '50s.
There are cold brews on the tables and fast-moving feet on the dance floor as couples spin and twirl through the Swing -- the '50s forerunner of the '70s Hustle. On stage, the Memories wail be-bop rhythm and blues.
The atmosphere is joyful. Comfortable. Wholesome. A lot like a family party.
Disco lights soften to a blue hue, and men and women who still call each other by their childhood nicknames -- "Joycie" and "The Toad," -- move around in a slow, grinding two-step to the music of the Memories, a neighborhood rhythm and blues group that has sung together since high school. In recent years, three of the four original members of the group hae been joined by five newcomers.
This is Washinton's silent minority at play. While Washintonians who grew up in the city's tough ethnic neighborhoods, dancing to the music of a group that got its start singing on street corners.
Now middle-class suburbanits in their 30s and 40s, they gather on Monday nights at Michelle's in Camp Springs, Md. Old friends from the old neighborhoods of Anacostia, Southwest and Benning Road Northeast reminisce about a quality of life they feel they lost when they left the city to marry, to get away from crime, to find jobs or better housing.
Some want to come back, but can't afford the housing or can't find jobs in the blue-collar trades. Others are unable to persuade their spouses to leave the suburbs.
So they hold on to their memories:
Tv disc jockey Milt Grant's Record Hop. Mighty Mo burgers. Harrassing the D.C. cops. Neighborhood potluck suppers. Black friends they lived near and played with, but couldn't go to school with.
A time when "hanging out" meant playing stickball in tenement alleys or harmonizing with high school vocal groups under corner street lamps.
Tough Irish, German and Italian youths roamed the streets in gangs then. They had names like The Saints and The Lords, and wore corduroy jackets of different colors. "Everybody used to go to the stores together and steal them," said Mike Chucci, recalling the jackets that were the gangs' uniforms. t
"There was a lot of closeness then," said Chucci.
It is the closeness some of these fomer Washingtonians say they have missed.
"I've lived in my (suburban) neighborhood five years now," said John Caputo, a welder whose home is in Temple Hills, Md. "I know one cou-suburbs," she said. "My kids never played kick-the-can. They grew up intelligent (in the suburbs) but not with common sense. We all had to grow up on the streets and we had to learn a lot."
At one point, the music stopped and Dave (Jelly) Forbes was called to the bandstand. It was his birthday. Forbes, a District police officer, grinned sheepishly as his friends applauded.
Then it was Rosie and Ron Lutz's turn to be applauded -- for their 23rd wedding anniversay.
Throughout the night, the Memories crooned the rhythm and blues tunes populariazed by black songsters in the '50s.
The Duke of Earl. Why do Fools Fall in Love. Maybe. Rama-lama-ding-dong. In the Still of the Night. Poison Ivy.
"We started 23 years ago, singing on the street corners" said Louie Martin, leader of the group that still has three of its original members.
They were inspired by black songsters, said Ron Lutz, one of the original members.
"We dug the black rhythm and blues groups. We grew up in the streets and we had a street sound. We used to hang out in the Hi-Ho and sing."
Singing a cappella, the group would hold "battle of the bands" contests with other R & B songsters at the Hi-Ho soda fountain on Minnesota Avenue and Good Hope Road NE.
Ben Haslup, owner of Michelle's, said the Memories have been drawing crowds of 300 to 500 people to the disco every monday night.
Until 1:30 a.m. the partygoers cheered, clapped, danced.
Roma Black and two girlfriends said that despite the hour-long drive from Calvert County, they come to the club every week to capture a little bit of Washington nostalgia with the Memories.
"If they don't play," Black said, "I don't come."