Imagine a Redskins playoff game with the fans packed on the playing field instead of the bleachers and you will have an idea of the human mass that gathered yesterday for Washington's Seventh Annual Adams-Morgan Day Festival.
Tens of thousands of people packed Columbia Road NW between 18th Street and Wyoming Avenue and shuffled their way through what ebullient organizers billed "The Largest Street Festival on the East Coast."
"It gets bigger and better every year," said D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, calling the festival "a great reflection of a great neighborhood."
It helped to be schooled in the slow two-step, as the crowd inched lemming-like up and down either side of the road, occasionally engulfed in the smoke from pit barbecues, assaulted with the aroma of spicy chickens or blasted by the sounds of rock music from one of six stages.
"I love festivals. I like the food. I like the music. I love the crowds," said Gwen Benson-Walker, a freelance secretary from Capitol Hill.
"You get a flavor of everything," said Anne Marie Kerr, a flight attendant for Peoples Express. "You run into people you know, and people you used to know."
Neighborhood merchants came out in force, transforming the normally placid thoroughfare into a culinary rumble, hawking everything from Szechuan pepper chicken and chrysanthemum tea to Cuban fried plantanos, potato knishes, fresh tostados, Indonesian sate and fresh clams.
Customers bellied up to the food stalls, then sought out rare patches of grass to eat under intermittent sunshine, or simply kept walking while forking the delicacies off paper plates.
The increasingly popular festival drew races and nationalities from two hemispheres and attracted residents of the neighborhood and the rest of the Washington area.
Some strap hangers who commuted to the event from outlying suburbs reported standing room only in some subway trains.
"There were no unreasonable problems or delays, but there were large crowds in the system because of the fair," said patrol Sgt. John Chumas of the transit police. "The stops at Dupont Circle and nearby took the brunt of this."
Organizers expected up to 200,000 visitors by day's end or about 50,000 more than last year's estimated attendance.
"It's a real tribute to the community that they can put something on like this and have it be successful year after year," said Jeff Taylor of Vienna, a supervisor at the local McDonald's where the staff had been tripled to handle the onslaught of customers.
Bright African robes contrasted with the Ralph Lauren chinos and topsiders of the yuppies. One group was seen strolling Columbia Road drinking champagne and orange juice out of sterling silver cups from the 21 Club in New York City.
"I'm trying to get ideas for my next party," said John Kerr, one of the group's revelers and director of the Old Towne Social Club in Alexandria.
For some the day began with disappointment.
Many suburban youngsters made special trips to Adams-Morgan in hope of catching a glimpse of rock stars Rick Springfield and Corey Hart, whose appearances had been advertised over the radio.
Maureen McCormick, 15, of Potomac had driven into town with her mother and six fellow students of Holy Child School, hoping to see their rock idols who, only minutes earlier, had appeared on one of the stages to announce the upcoming acts, and then left.
McCormick and her friends stood inconsolable near the stage wearing their Cory Hart T-shirts and wondering what to do next while a group of banjo and guitar pickers belted out a bluegrass tune.
"They said we could get autographs, too," McCormick said.
"But we didn't get any. I hate this music."
There were also some disgruntled neighborhood residents who found nothing uplifting in yesterday's festivities and could be seen hiding behind their Sunday newspapers, muttering.
"Who is this for?" asked Daniel Najjar, a 30-year-old statistician who watched the crowd inch by from the stoop of his apartment building near 19th Street. "It's not for me. It's a parade of schlock."
A number of residents have watched with growing dread and unease as Adams-Morgan has transformed over the years from a Bohemian haven into an entertainment and commercial center for the chic.
Columbia Station tavern, once a low-budget hangout for students, poets and refugees from the 1960s, was recently sold to a decidedly more upscale Mr. Henry's. A chain family seafood restaurant has opened near the McDonald's and yuppies from the suburbs now queue up for the black beans at a redecorated Omega Restaurant.
About 50 more vendors were added to this year's festival, bringing the total to about 300, some selling wares that raised a question of neighborhood authenticity like Smurf dolls, greeting cards and clocks made of laminated pieces of tree trunks.
"It used to be almost exclusively neighborhood groups and you met a lot of your friends," said Bill Black, a writer and neighborhood resident of seven years. "It probably is the death knell of this as a small neighborhood festival."
Yet there were still signs that Adams-Morgan's eclectic soul was alive and breathing. Next to the hot dog and popcorn vendors were stalls representing the local gay community, an abortion clinic, a foot masseuse, the Alley Library and a businessman selling fudge brownies and Perrier.
"It's great to come out here and be a part of the community," said Arlene Morris, an exile from Boston and owner of the Kalorama Cafe, which had cooked up 40 pounds of shrimp for their shrimp and scallop kabobs.
"The record speaks for itself," said Hal Wheeler, a 28-year-old developer and chairman of the festival organizing committee. "Sure there's been change, but it's been very moderate change. Ten years ago people were saying this would become another Georgetown and it just hasn't happened."
Wheeler said about 1,000 people volunteered to help put the festival together. One of those was Kevin Dechicco, a self-employed carpenter who directed a crew that was out at 5 a.m., installing the wooden booths.
"I think this is the best neighborhood in Washington D.C.," said Dechicco, who moved here from suburban Maryland. "You see everybody from lawyers, to bums, to Hispanics and everybody's friendly. You could call it the United Nations of D.C."