Apart from playing host to a steady stream of visitors to the Christmas Pageant of Peace on the Ellipse, central Washington looked like anything but a throbbing world capital yesterday. Even somber Moscow, we'd guess, might have been livelier.

One could have set a badminton net across Pennsylvania Avenue and played a match, probably without being struck by a vehicle. Shirley Highway approaching the 14th Street bridge was four lanes of virtual emptiness, except for me and one other guy. The lack of traffic made the air so clear that the city's low skyline, punctuated by the old Post Office Building tower, the spire of St. Dominic's Church and the white dome of the Capitol, looked from the bridge like a pop-up cutout in a children's book.

Downtown, it would seem, was populated largely by police officers, bus drivers and the folks producing this newspaper, along with a few travelers.

We didn't find even one fast-food restaurant that was open. The Burger King in the Greyhound station, the only place where famished passengers making a brief stopover on long trips ordinarily could get anything to eat, was locked shut and was dark. Frustrated workers who had to work in one downtown office building sent an expedition to Chinatown for a carry-out order.