As the inaugural parade passed the District Building Monday morning, a sanitation crew jammed its pointed sticks into the ground and took a break from picking up trash.
"It's Marion Barry," one of them said proudly, straining his neck for a glimpse of the man who would be mayor four more years. "Man, he's got it made."
There was a time when Barry could have been standing right there beside them, picking up trash. He had once been poor, too. And they knew it. If Barry could make it, they indicated, maybe this city wasn't all that bad. And even if it was all that bad, at least somebody was showing that a black man could find a way to get over.
"Look, there go my car," one of the trashmen said as a Mercedes rounded the parade route. He was dreaming, of course.
Then again, this was a fairy tale of a day on which the inauguration of a former civil rights activist seemed more like the coronation of a kingpin. A lot had changed, not only since the days Barry wore dashikis, but also since he started as mayor in l979.
During his second inaugural celebration, the changes did not go unnoticed.
Where Barry once talked of being in a position of advocacy, he was now, his aides said for him, in a position of power. And for people like the trashman watching the parade go by, well, perhaps they'll just have to do a little more advocating for themselves.
The mayor used to try to be an advocate for such people, even after he became mayor. Back in May l980 he actually put on a trashman's suit, jumped on D.C. garbage truck No. 802 and rode around the city, learning the hard way the difference between thin and thick trash bags.
"He's just in the way," said William L. Cox, a trash collector who worked with the mayor that day. "He's not capable of handling any trash, so what's he doing here?"
So the mayor tried again a few weeks later by going to 14th and U streets NW, flanked by police officers, to inspect the results of his latest drug cleanup effort and let the people know he still walked the streets with them.
"Let me go up there and tell him we don't have no jobs," one man requested of those guarding the mayor.
Just before speaking at a Rally For Jobs later that May, Barry had proposed cutting thousands of D.C. government jobs because of a growing fiscal crisis. It was no surprise that he was booed.
The first thing Barry did after that series of misadventures was to close his press office. It seemed that every time he'd go and be with the people, they wouldn't appreciate it.
Things are done differently around here now. There does not appear to be the need to demonstrate that he cares about low-income people as much as he demonstrated his concern in the l960s.
This week, power was inaugurated, coronated and toasted with champagne and brie. It was one of the most extravagant inaugurals the city has seen, costing more than $150,000. The night before the prayer breakfast, city officials were given hotel suites--apparently paid for by inaugural ticket receipts--so they would be on time for the 7:30 a.m. prayers.
Under Jimmy Carter, it wasn't like this. Back then, when the city threw a dig that called for black tie, people wore string ties, turtlenecks and open collars. Now, with Ron and Nancy Reagan in the White House, a different tone has been set; black tie means bow tie and tuxedo.
In a way, many city residents seem to be more at ease with a government run in style. They like prestigious license plates. They love trappings and perks and enjoy knowing people who know the people in the know.
"I think the man's got a lot of class," said Rayfield Hughes, a parking lot attendant who was making extra money because of the inaugural by washing cars. "You figure they ain't going to let a black man get but so far even if he does play the game, so play it to a bust."
Over at the bus station near the Convention Center where the swearing-in ceremonies took place, most people were oblivious to the week's events. It seemed that half of those arriving by bus were returning from family vacations down south. Even though they had taken the bus, they had shelled out a lot of money by their standards. The lucky ones had jobs to come back to.
One woman, who said she had been a teacher's aide for five years until she was laid off last year, started to criticize the mayor for his action, but cut her remarks short.
"I was mad at him for what he did, but now that I have another job I have had time to think about this situation," she said. "It is a complicated situation and I don't think any one person is responsible and I don't think any one person has the power to change it. If Barry can just look like he's doing good, people will be satisfied."