It was just another day of democracy at the car inspection station: District residents of all kinds -- rich and poor, black and white, Democrat and Republican, stick shift and automatic -- thrown together to interact with their government.

There was sober reflection about republican democracy, spirited debate about representative government and a political candidate campaigning (car)door-to-(car)door.

Mostly, there was sitting and waiting. The line for the annual safety and emission inspections stretched about three blocks, from the inspection center on Half Street SW, around the corner at I Street and back down Delaware Avenue.

People say it's usually about a two-block line, but yesterday was a bit worse than normal. It was a Monday and it was the end of the month, the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Services people explained.

But the official explanation wasn't good enough for Margie Spencer: "Too much in taxes are being spent for people to have to wait in line like this," she said.

Spencer was one of the hundreds who brought vehicles into the Southwest station. Like many others, she waited about two hours.

Spencer began ticking off suggestions for her government: Make the inspections shorter, keep the centers open longer, hire more people.

"They need another station," offered Annie Armstrong, who waited in her yellow pickup truck.

"I'd like to know what the D.C. government is spending money on," said Jean Gray, who accompanied a friend for the inspection of his blue Camaro. "I want facts and figures. This is more like socialism than anything else I've seen in this city."

She suggested "taking people out of upper echelon offices" and making them work as inspectors.

At exactly 2 p.m., city employee Ben McQueen placed a chain across the driveway. The center was closed.

His action prompted two residents, now stranded in line, to petition their government directly for redress of their grievances.

See the supervisor, McQueen told them.

And they did. The two, a man and a woman, found supervisor J. Henderson behind a counter.

They opened a dialogue.

Henderson, looking like a man who might have participated in one before, was calm. "I work with the people I have, not with the people I need," Henderson said. He gave the angry man a card that extended registration one more day, and told the two to return.

" 'Come back tomorrow,' " the woman repeated. "These people, I tell you. They should be fired."

But where motorists saw problems, at-large D.C. Council candidate Johnny Barnes saw opportunity.

"I have a captive audience," Barnes said, as he took a respite from distributing his campaign literature from car to car. "Folks who don't bring reading material might take time to read my flier."

On the problem itself, Barnes pulled out his best sound bite: "This is an example of the people serving government rather than government serving the people."

George, a cabdriver who declined to give his last name, was more concerned about capitalism than democracy. "You're losing money waiting in line," he said.

Larry Greenberg, chief of services for the Bureau of Motor Vehicle Service, said three factors made yesterday's line especially bad: Mondays are always busiest, people tend to do things at the end of the month and summer is traditionally the busiest season for the agency.

He added, though, that inspections often run slowly other times because budget cuts have left 18 inspector positions unfilled.

Armstrong, the owner of the yellow pickup, failed the inspection. She said she would make her husband bring it in next time.

"He's got to come back, if he wants to drive," she said. "But not me. I'm not coming back. I can't go through this again."