They had climbed aboard in Southeast Washington before dawn, and now the bus-full of senior citizens was traveling up the tinsel-decorated streets of Manhattan, headed for the afternoon Christmas show at Radio City Music Hall.

On board was Gladys Rushing, who walks with the help of a metal cane, but never misses a chance for an outing. She likes the short ones to shopping centers around Washington and the longer ones, like this 18-hour odyssey to New York City.

"I stayed up all night getting ready to go," said Rushing, 79, who brought along a pillow, prescription pills and peppermint candy.

Rushing had never been to New York City, let alone seen Radio City Music Hall, but Theresa Samuel was a veteran. In fact, she had been to the Christmas show at Radio City at least five times. "I love the costumes, the play itself, the music, everything is wonderful," she said. "I come every year."

Trips like this one, organized by the city-funded Senior Citizens Counseling and Delivery Service, are popular with senior citizens who like the fellowship and the fun of group travel as much as they like the sights themselves.

This trip began Thursday morning with a prayer led by Gladys Hall, 70, and ended with a collection to help bus driver Emad Amin pay the $65 traffic ticket he was issued -- unfairly, they all thought -- for blocking an intersection as the bus left New York.

"I have taken several groups to New York City," Amin told the passengers, "but this was the best."

It was a last-minute trip, said Jennifer Buff, 25, the seniors' program director, who also acted as tour guide. "We got a flier in the mail in November from University Travel, offering the bus trip for $64 per person, including the show price."

The question, said Concha Johnson, director of the sponsoring agency, was whether people would be willing to spend money for a trip at Christmas time when they are faced with so many other holiday expenses. "But it just worked out wonderfully," she said.

Among the first to sign up was Samuel, who is a senior citizen but won't tell her age. "You have to have some secrets," she said.

Only two of the senior citizens on the trip were men: James Wilson, 64, a retired government worker, and Lukas Jones, 70, a retired heavy equipment operator.

Wilson sat in the back of the bus amid a group of women, singing carols and telling stories.

Jones stayed close to his wife, Dorothy, 67. He munched sandwiches and studied the sights while she worked on her church lessons.

"The trip sounded interesting even though I have come before," she said. She urged her husband to come with her. "He just needed a little nudging to get him out of the house," she said.

Rushing had saved $64 from her Social Security check to pay for her trip.

"Such tall buildings," she said as the bus drove through Manhattan. "I thought buildings in Washington were tall, but these . . . I wouldn't want to live in one of them. I'd be afraid I'd fall out."

The senior citizens reached their balcony seats in Radio City Music Hall just before the curtain went up for the 1:30 p.m. show. Some were so tired that they dozed off during the performance.

"I saw some and I slept some," Rushing said.

Leontine Page, 67, said the show surpassed her expectations.

"They call it a spectacular, but they should say it is an extravaganza," she said, as she clapped her hands to the beat of the music, sang along with the Santa Claus character performing on stage and declared that she felt like a child again.

For Page, a receptionist in the national office of the League of Women Voters before she retired, the trip was a chance "to get away from the realities of life in the city and the crime in the city, the young people killing each other, the ambulances and police sirens screaming."

She said that a young man who lived in her Northeast neighborhood was killed recently. "I didn't see it, but I felt it after I heard about it. I grieved for the family of that young man for two days."

Constance Browner, 33, who organized trips like this one before starting her current job as director of the Foster Grandparent program, said that travel has a therapeutic value for many senior citizens like Page.

"It helps lift their spirits," Browner said, "and gives them an opportunity to forget the problems they have with family, money, health."