It was a bright valedictory to the last long weekend of summer, a day filled with parading and politicking and picnicking and final flings at the shore, and to make certain no one missed its meaning, there was a distinct chill in the morning air, a sure sign of fall to come.
As Washingtonians and their neighbors in the suburbs fished in the rivers, slept on blankets in the grass and barbecued in yards, on porches, or in the parks, they did so to the accompaniment of the radio-transmitted sounds of farewell and nostalgia, with disc jockeys, as if by mutual agreement, settling on a diet of oldies underscoring the significance of Labor Day weekend.
Yesterday was one last chance to do it all, one last reprieve from work and care and school, one last chance to savor summer departing for another year. It was an ending or a beginning or both, perhaps depending on your mood and age. At Fort Dupont Park in Southeast Washington, where families gathered around grills and picnic tables, 9-year-old Tangela Davis said she couldn't wait for her first day of fourth grade at Goding Elementary School. One of the highlights of her summer, already a memory now, was a family trip to North Carolina where, she said, "We caught butterflies."
On this holiday there would be little rest for Tangela's grandmother, Catherine Wilkerson. She was supervising a barbecue feast for 50 members of her family. One of her daughter's friends, a young man named David Allen, who was laid off from his construction job a month ago, laughed at the idea of Labor Day. "It's a regular day for me," he said. "Every day's gonna be a holiday for me for awhile."
All over the park, as all over the area, the radios and tape decks were playing, and from somewhere came one of hundreds of the weekend's oldies: "Blue Moon," by the Marcels: "Blue Moon, you saw me standing alone, without a dream in my heart, without a love of my own . . . ."
Dangling from a rope tied between two trees was a sign advertising a reunion of two families, the Spiveys and the Goodwins, related by marriage. At 11 a.m. Geraldine Spivey Bradford swatted the bees away from the punch and awaited the arrival of about 90 relatives, some from as far away as North Carolina. It would seem a remarkable feat just to get 90 members of one family together in one place, but Bradford was modest. "We're just a plain old ordinary family -- nothing important."
This was not an easy summer for Bradford, who is an accounting technician with the U.S. Treasury Department. Her office installed some new equipment, and learning it required frequent seven-day work weeks. To make matters worse, several of her colleagues found the time and money to travel to Hawaii, and Bradford, who has never been farther than Atlantic City, found herself daydreaming about that lush and lovely faraway island.
The New World Patriotism Day Coalition hosted a parade down 14th Street, and afterward the participants gathered on the ellipse to eat and hear speeches with the theme "The Dignity of Work Requires Lawful Employment." Resplendent in their handmade cotton and lace dresses and beaded hair ornaments were the young members of the New Generation Folklore Troop from Panama, a group that was formed this summer to help preserve Panamanian traditions and made its debut at the Hispanic Festival in July. Melissa Richards, 12, of Bladensburg, wore a long, red and white, ruffled dress. She said proudly that it was her Panamanian grandmother's handiwork. "It took her a year."
It was a day more representative of this year's particularly cool and pleasant summer than of the steaming summers of other years. It was a day on which the high temperature here did not get above 85 degrees, on which one of the songs that came over the radios seemed oddly inappropriate: "Heat Wave"" by Martha Reeves and the Vandellas. It was a day on which adversity was easily overcome, as Arniis Salaam showed after the world patriotism day parade had reached the ellipse.
As Salaam set about preparing the picnic table, he picked up the squashed remains of what was once a magnificent chocolate cake. The cake had come to grief when Salaam was forced to brake suddenly while driving a car in the parade.
But the baker from Landover didn't care. For the squashed confection he substituted a second cake, proudly adorned with American Flag icing.
At another celebration, the annual labor day parade in Greenbelt, 14-year-old Craig Baldwin marched the entire mile-long route staring at the tail ends of a dozen mounted ponies. Baldwin, dressed as a clown, pushed a dirty green plastic garbage container and shoveled up pony droppings behind the members of the Kettering Riding Club.
"It's not so bad, really," Baldwin shrugged, scooping up a particularly odiferous pile. "I get paid for it."
If Baldwin had one consolation, it was that the election-year politicians who had come to this annual Prince George's County ritual were kept even farther back in the parade, winding up Crescent Street behind all the horses and clowns and bouncy high school cheerleaders and Woodsy the Owl and military cadets. Elected officeholders got to ride at the front of the parade, but parade officials, anxious to preserve some modicum of dignity, prohibited any overt politicking until the very end of the line.
And like the riding club before them, the politicians bringing up the rear left plenty of their own droppings -- leaflets and literature, pencils and balloons.
It was sometimes hard to tell the politicians from the clowns as the politicos tried to outdo each other for attention. Sharon Metcalfe, a delivery room nurse running for a local seat in the House of Delegates, rode atop a huge yellow beehive labeled with the poster "A Honey of a Candidate." The beehive was pulled along by a pickup truck plastered with Metcalfe signs and stickers, and, in the back of the truck, 13 children dressed in bee costumes.
Metcalfe's entourage was followed by a similar extravaganza produced and directed by Del. Joan Pitkin, the incumbent Metcalfe is trying to beat in the Democratic primary. A green double-decker bus labeled "People for Pitkin Bandwagon" tooted its horn behind the Bowie High School pompon girls, all donned in yellow "Pitkin" T-shirts.
Police and parade officials called it the largest and most successful of Greenbelt's annual Labor Day events. Cpl. J.A. Lann of the city's police department estimated that at least 15,000 people had gathered to watch the parade.
About 20 members of the Greenbelt Peace Committee and the Gray Panthers marched together behind a banner that read: "Bombs, No! Jobs, Yes!" The 15-year-old peace group was initially denied permission to march in the parade, but parade officials later relented after some adverse publicity.
Many Labor Day weekend celebrants fled the city and suburbs altogether for the beaches and popular vacation spots. At Ocean City, officials tallied 200,000 visitors over the weekend.
King's Dominion officials, praising the weather, called the weekend's business at the Virginia amusement park "probably one of the better ones in the last couple years," with 30,000 to 35,000 visitors on Saturday, 18,000 Sunday and a hoped-for 10,000 yesterday.
Officials from Maryland and Virginia said the busy Labor Day weekend ended a tourist season that lagged with the June recession but surged in July and August. "From what I can tell now, this was the best season I've ever had," said Bob Givarz, an Ocean City boardwalk merchant and president of the city's downtown merchant assocation.
And there were some people, of course, for whom Labor Day was just another day to hang around the street corner. "I've never gone away," said Michael Moore, a 37-year-old pharmaceutical deliveryman, shooting the breeze yesterday morning with his buddies on a street in south Arlington.