The Riggs National Bank's kilt-wearing bagpipe band had just passed when the woman cut across the parade route. She was big of girth and wore a black wool coat and a hat with blond fuzzies the same color as her hair sticking straight up into the air.
You could not tell where the hat ended and her hair left off. She crossed the street and started working along Constitution Avenue, looking into the crowd at the curb and shouting "Kathy? Kathy? Kathy?"
No one wanted to admit to being Kathy. That was the St. Patrick's Day parade yesterday. Subdued. And quiet -- except when the announcer explained that the young man in the white Cadillac was Lawrence Hogan Jr., son of the Prince George's County executive and a congressional candidate. Then people booed.
It must be truly difficult to get a St. Patrick's Day parade off the ground in Washington, even if it is held on the Sunday two days before. In Chicago, Hizzonner Mayor Daley usd to come out with all his ward heelers and they made the river run green. In Boston the festivities are never complete without a Kennedy marching along and sometimes political careers were launched that way.
In the Washington parade, the big political names were Ed Conroy (Maryland state senator and also a candidate for Congress) and John J. Garrity (another Maryland state senator). They drove through in their cars and waved. Sometimes they walked behind their cars, more unrecognizable than ever.
There are no big Irish neighborhoods in Washington. And yet police estimated that 28,000 people from around the area, many of them in green hats and drinking beer or Irish whiskey, lined Constitution Avenue yesterday to watch pretty young girls in short skirts march by and numerous fire trucks and even one moving van blast their horns to declare this day to be truly one for the Irish.
Yet, the guy who played St. Patrick yesterday turned out to be Polish. His name is Gerlad Nowicki. "There's no problem at all," he said. "I just walk in and hitch a ride."
"I don't know."
This was the response from Gary Cook, a 10-year-old from Falls Church carrying an Irish flag, when asked: "How does it feel to be Irish today?"
Cook, a well-scrubbed lad wearing a baseball cap and bashfully toeing the sidewalk, had been eyeing one of the buttons being displayed by Rick Lawrence, 27, one of the several dozen sidewalk vendors on the scene.
"I clean up," responded Lawrence, when he was asked the same question. Lawrence also sells his wares at car shows, inaugurations and when hostages come home. "They should have had it on Saturday," was Lawrence's evaluation of the parade. "When all the tourists were here."
Sometimes the parade just stopped. If you have seen firemen before, you know they hardly ever wave at you, but yesterday when a hook-and-ladder unit stopped in front of the National Archives, the fireman in the little cage at the end of the ladder waved. Almost no one waved back.
The stopping proved to be a problem for some groups. A 50-year-old engine with a volunteer fire company from Alurel, Md., overheated and broke down near the White House. "It's never happened before," said fireman John Floyd. "This was parade was real slow."
"We don't have enough bands in the parade to get things stirred up," declared Margaret O'Brien. O'Brien had come with two former classmates of St. Patrick's Academy in Washington. They were celebrating a 55th reunion, having chosen a spot for their lawn chairs on the steps of a government building across from the History and Technology museum.
They all wore wool coats and hair nets, had seen every st. Patrick's Day parade in Washington and were headed for a green beer party after this one, they said.
They had been to other St. Patrick's Day parades. O'Brien said she had seen the one in Dublin two years ago. "I want to go to Boston," she said, "before I die."