They were fed up with their white-collar Washington world of concrete and glass office buildings and endless meetings where time is measured by empty coffee cups and smashed cigarettes.
So Ann Luzzatto, an attorney, and Eleanor Dunn, who had just finished a stint on John Anderson's presidential campaign staff, decided to chuck it all.
The two women from upper Northwest Washington bought an old Ford van, painted it fire-engine red, and became sidewalk street vendors -- not your everyday, run-of-the-mill, corner peddlers, mind you, Luzzatto quickly explains, but sidewalk connoisseurs.
Four days a week along M Street NW, between 19th and 20th streets, the former attorney and the former campaign adviser sell "only the best" precisely plucked fruits, vegetables and homemade gourmet tidbits from their sidewalk market.
Sporting red-checkered aprons and purple designer sunglasses, the two weigh broomhandle-thick carrots on an old scale and tuck freshly made French bread into paper bags as the sounds of Beethoven's Fifth Symphony ring from a stereo tape player tucked inside the van. Its melody filters outside, mixing with the blare of taxi horns and gab of sidewalk shufflers enjoying yesterday's lunch-time sunshine.
"I had to get outside and do physical labor," Dunn explains.
"I wanted to run my own business," Luzzatto says, "and I need more time with my children. When my son missed his allergy shots three weeks in a row because I was at the office, I decided my career had to go into a holding pattern."
The women, who are best friends, chose vending. "It's been an experience that has opened our eyes to a Washington that we had never seen," says Luzzatto, who was born and reared here.
"We'd never seen Washington's farmer's market that comes alive at 3 a.m., and we'd never really seen the street life," gushes Luzzatto, who lives in Cleveland Park with her husband, Francis, an energy consultant, and their two children.
"We know all the bums around here now," says Dunn, who lives in Georgetown with her husband, Sam, an architect, and their three children.
Getting all the proper licenses was the first hassle, the women say. Then they discovered that Washington's streets already had been claimed.
"The first couple weeks, they [other vendors] kept calling the cops on us." explains Luzzatto, who got used to showing her vendor's permit to police. uFinally, the other vendors came to them with an offer: "They would quit calling the cops if we stop selling apples and oranges," says Luzzatto.
"That's when I told them that we don't sell apples. We sell Granny's, a special type of apple which they don't carry."
Their competitors were not the only street people to cast a wondering eye at the two women who read E.B. White out loud to each other when business is slow.
One day a bum laid down right in front of our truck," says Dunn. "We knew he was alive because he kept moaning all day. We just worked around him."
"There is one lady who comes by every day and snitches a strawberry," she laughs.
"Only yesterday, she got a cherry tomato by mistake," says Luzzatto.
They refuse to say how much they earn, but say their profit has been more than they expected. Every few minutes yesterday, customers crowded around the van, paying $1.65 for packages of strawberries, 75 cents for an artichoke and examining $4 bottles of vinaigrette sauce made by a 12-year-old boy the women know. Banana bread made by Dunn from leftover bananas was the special of the day.
"We've had so much fun that an anthropologist who stops by here every day claims he is going to quit work and join us," says Dunn. "He's going to sell fresh flowers and toilet-flushing devices that will save you a tank full of water."
Stealing a toilet-flushing device, Dunn says, laughing, may be a bit tougher than nabbing a free strawberry -- or a cherry tomato.