In Shipley Terrace, a Southeast neighborhood of boarded up and renovated apartments, dying grass and green sod, people stand patiently at a bus stop to wait for the No. 32 Metrobus to Friendship Heights.
Before the trip ends, the rumbling bus will leave its modest beginnings to cross the Sousa Bridge, snake past the granite monoliths of official Washington and end at the ultramodern subway station on Wisconsin Avenue NW, across from Neiman-Marcus.
In the early hours, the bus carries domestic workers from crumbling apartment buildings in Southeast to their jobs in rambling houses with manicured yards in Friendship Heights. In between, it picks up and drops off a steady stream of private industry's office workers and low-level government employes.
Jennifer Hill, a medical records clerk at George Washington Medical Center, hops aboard at 7:30 a.m., a couple of stops before the bus turns out of Shipley Terrace onto Alabama Avenue.
"I don't see the same people on here every day," she says, flopping down in one of the side seats up front. "Actually, I don't pay the people much attention."
There are few words spoken at this hour. Riders step onto the bus, nod a greeting to the driver, then take their seats, quietly. A couple of people wearing ear plugs listen to small personal radios or tape recorders. Several other riders read the morning newspaper or a popular paperback.
Heads bob as some people doze during the trip. Most people, however, stare out the scratched plexiglass windows while the morning sun grows brighter.
When the bus starts its westbound route that will end across town at the Friendship Heights subway station, all of those who board are black. A half hour later, the first white person, a woman, steps aboard. By the time the bus reaches its final destination, the remaining blacks are all young students on their way to Wilson High School or Deal Junior High near Tenley Circle NW.
Angie Holland, one of the early boarders, has turned her ritual morning bus ride into a science. As the bus rumbles up Naylor Road, just before approaching R Street SE, riders see Holland, with her 2-year-old son on her hip, dash across the street into Naylor Road Private School.
Just as the bus pulls up to the stop, she races back across the street. Before it pulls off she steps aboard, breathless.
"I have to do that every day. Every day," says Holland, a 22-year-old receptionist at Software Control International in Georgetown. "My boyfriend drops me at that corner. I run in the day care and leave my son, then catch the bus. I'm always late."
Greg Benson sits half awake, staring out the window, on his way to his auto mechanics classes, dressed in camouflage pants and a khaki jacket. "I've been riding this route about two years, and it's usually real quiet," he says. "Only once in a while will somebody get loud."
As the aisle fills with people, it also fills with briefcases. People board with leather satchels under one arm and a brown paper lunch bag in the other hand. During the ride, they shift their belongings and their bodies from one side to another, always keeping one hand free to hang onto the overhead bars.
"Sometimes I get here earlier, but it doesn't matter; it's always crowded," sighs Gloria Betts, a secretary who hops aboard at 7:50 a.m. and has to stand in the aisle. She listens to a radio to pass the time until she gets to her job at the Department of the Interior.
"Move all the way to the rear, please! People, tighten up! Please step behind the white line!" the bus driver yells, and the crowd moves to the back. The women move to the back and a waft of air, a blend of soft perfumes, floats down the aisle to be replaced by a heavier odor as the men step to the front.
Farther up Wisconsin Avenue, past the trendy Georgetown boutiques, where there's more open space, two black youths about 13 or so spot a new development of town houses as they peer out the bus windows.
"Rich apartments -- for white people," one of the youths says. "I wonder how much they cost?"
"About $200,000," his friend replies.
"Well, I'd sure like to buy one one day," the first youth says.
"Suuuure," his friend says, in a tone that insinuates that day will never come.
By this time the crowd is thin. One of the few adults left on the bus is Susan Zacharias, who explains, "I catch anything that goes up Wisconsin.
"Sometimes the ride really stinks because you have a lot of school kids and it's real crowded," says Zacharias, a 22-year-old typesetting coordinator. "But mostly I don't mind. It's convenient; I don't have to worry about parking. I'd rather ride than drive."
For whatever reason, a Metro spokesman said, during rush hours each morning about 464,000 area residents board 1,600 rumbling buses.