It was Election Day in Lafayette Park. About 50 anarchists, Communists, anti-nuclear power protesters, yippies, Native Americans, and two German tourists who were trying to find their guide, were standing in the rain, listening to a 43-year-old man called Wavy Gravy who wore a 10-gallon cowboy hat with small horns.
"Nobody deserves to be president," he proclaimed. "Nobody has solved inflation, nobody has brought the hostages home, and nobody bakes a better apple pie than Mom."
"Let's all vote for Nobody."
The crowd -- girls with brightly colored painted daisies on their cheeks, a man dressed all in red with his face covered with green makeup and long-haired hippies in their late 40s -- yelled, screamed and applauded.
A few blocks away, a lanky, raven-haired dancer had just stripped away her see-through blouse at Archibald's, lounge, Gregory Maroulis, glanced at the two men quietly drinking at his bar and his yawning barmaid. "This is terrible. I've been in business 20 years and it's never been this bad. Nobody is coming in today.
"I figured we'd have a bunch of folks in here because of the election, but nobody is here. Nobody."
Nobody was at Manhattan Liquors on K Street either, even though yesterday was the first day in memory that bars and liquor stores in the District could be open on election day. "They're voting today," the man behind the counter explained. "Tomorrow when they see who won -- that's when everyone will really start the heavy drinking."
Yesterday may have been the day that Americans finally decided who they want as president. But if the mood in D.C. bars and restaurants, on street corners and in parks is any reflection of what were feeling, then the gloomy, overcast sky was a fitting backdrop.
The day did not really belong to Ronald Reagan, Jimmy Carter, John Anderson or anyone else running for the presidency. It belonged to nobody but the blahs.
"I've never seen anything like this," the 22-year-old Archibald dancer said. "I mean, when people don't even get excited about sex, I mean, really."
Leonard Lowenstein polled 147 of his customers during lunch at the Board Room, a restaurant-bar on Vermont Avenue NW, and put it like this:
"Everyone is laughing about it and joking about the election, but deep down they are disappointed and angry, I think, yeah, angry because they don't really have a choice. The people here are frustrated. Why can't we come up with better candidates for the presidency?"
If the bars and shops were empty yesterday, the polling booths were full. Even though voters were dissatisfied about their choices, they were turning out to vote in high numbers.
Fairfax County officials said that an amazing 50 percent of the eligible voters had cast ballots by noon. They expected an eventual 80 to 85 percent voter turnout. In Prince George's County, about 25 to 30 percent had voted by noon. Officials there claimed that was a large turnout considering the morning-long rain. D.C. election officials reported that voting was moderately heavy, with about 20 percent of the District's 288,887 voters going to the polls by early afternoon. Montgomery County reported a 36 percent voter turnout by noon, while Arlington and Alexandria also said the voter turnout was "very heavy."
Voting officials were not the only public servants swamped yesterday. D.C. police reported "an unusually high amount of street crimes," all occurring yesterday afternoon.
Shortly before 1 p.m. a man was fatally stabbed during a fight in a house in the 5000 block of East Capitol Street, a boy was critically wounded during a shooting involving another youth in the 600 block of Summerset Street NW, an elderly woman was dragged into a vacant house in the 800 block of First Street NW by a man who police said planned to rape her. She was rescued by passerby who heard her screams and apprehended the man.
Maryland State Police chased a speeding car into the District, firing several times at the vehicle before it stopped; a Northeast Washington grocery store owner shot a man who he claimed was trying to rob him; a man was in serious condition after being shot during a fight on 8th Street NE and a man standing at the corner of 44th and Quarles Streets NE, was fired at by an unknown gunman for no apparent reason.
"It's like everyone just went crazy after lunch," one D.C. officer said.
According to Wavy Gravy and other speakers at the Nobody for President rally across the street from the White House, the nation has been crazy for years.
Gravy, whose real name is Hugh Romney, the founder of one of the nation's last communes -- called Hog Farm in Berkeley -- claims Americans should quit electing candidates they don't like.
"We jokingly ask people to vote for nobody," said the man who was the master of ceremonies at the 1968 Woodstock Music Festival. "But what if Americans could mark their ballots no? Then the parties would have to keep coming up with candidates until they found someone electable."
In 1968, Gravy ran a pig for president. In 1972, he ran a rock and a roll. He occasionally ate the roll but always got a new one, he says. In 1984, he says, he will again be campaigning for Nobody.
"After all," he said, "Nobody should have that much power."