If security officials thought Mikhail Gorbachev's spontaneous flesh-pressing on Connecticut Avenue courted calamity, they should have been with Anita Salustro and her husband Robert Nease.
At noon Thursday, when Gorbachev's limousine screeched to a halt on the last day of his visit here, traffic all around it did too. That included the Ford Fairmont, six blocks away, that Nease was driving to get his very pregnant wife to Columbia Hospital for Women in Northwest.
They didn't make it.
Their six-pound, one-ounce, 19-inch-long baby girl, Chiara, was born in the front seat of the car, parked curbside in front of the Ritz-Carlton Hotel at Massachusetts Avenue and 21st Street.
A blue-suited bellman, Paul Bennett, helped with the delivery. Hotel staff came running with white sheets and towels. Someone even stood by with a bowl of hot water.
The proud mother, reclining on the front seat, wrapped the newborn in a cloth bath mat.
"I felt elated. I felt calm. I didn't feel shaken up," Salustro said yesterday from her hospital bed. "I think some sort of survival instinct came over me. I looked at this baby and I said babies are going to survive no matter where they're born."
Salustro, who also has a 19-month-old, expects to take her new baby home today. "The key person is the man who got in the car and talked to me and helped me," she said.
"I just did it," said Bennett, the bellman, who is 22 and studying journalism at Howard University. "It was strange. I don't even know what happened. I saw her in the car and she was having a lot of problems and I just did it."
Nease, 38, a librarian with the Library of Congress, and Salustro, 37, a correspondence manager with the American Association of Retired Persons, left their Adelphi home at 11:30 a.m.
By the time they reached Rhode Island Avenue and North Capitol, traffic was barely moving, Salustro said. Nease wasn't sure if they should continue onward.
"He kept asking me if he should pull over and I kept saying 'No, try and make it,' " Salustro said.
When they got to the Ritz, the trip ended. Bennett said he was in the lobby when Nease "ran into the hotel saying 'I need an ambulance. I need an ambulance.' "
Phillip Truelove, the hotel's general manager, called 911. Then he and Bennett ran downstairs to Martha Mina, director of housekeeping, and gathered up the linen. The two men ran outside. Bennett got into the car with Salustro and the delivery began.
Truelove suggested that, with an ambulance on the way, the cord cutting could wait.
"I'm not an expert in these matters, but I thought it would be the better thing to do," he said.END NOTES
A small crowd gathered outside the hotel but kept a respectable distance from the car, Salustro said. In the front seat, the birth went smoothly.
"I said 'Gee, you must have delivered babies before,' and he said 'No,' he didn't even have any children," Salustro said.
When the ambulance finally arrived, the attendants held up a white curtain while they carried mother and child from the car, onto a stretcher and into the ambulance.
The hotel staff was buzzing all day. It was "business as usual with a great smile on everybody's face," Truelove said. "Everybody felt very happy."