Paul Douglass and Donny Duke live 50 miles apart, are separated by a generation in age, have vastly different occupations, but are frightened of the same thing. As they look ahead to the new year, what they fear most is war in the Persian Gulf.

"I sort of wake up at night thinking what the war really means," said Douglass, 43, a commercial real estate broker in the District. "I think it will have a dramatic effect on people."

"I could still be drafted if they brought back the draft," said Duke, 25, a landscape construction worker in Manassas, cradling his month-old son, Dillon. "My family would basically starve if I didn't have a job and had to live off of military pay."

As 1990 drew to a close, 50 Washington area residents, from Fauquier County to Anne Arundel County, talked about the crises the year had brought and those they worry are ahead in 1991. In interviews over the weekend, residents described their concerns about crime, taxes, race relations, roads, illegal drugs and the precarious state of the economy.

Some people recounted fears of sending their children to school in the District because of concerns about drugs and crime. Others related stories of friends with college degrees, nice homes and good jobs who now are laid off.

Most people were optimistic about the new year, and many said they were better off financially in 1990 than the year before, despite many indications that the local economy is in a slump.

But for nearly all of those interviewed, the threat of war was the national issue that concerned them most. Many had relatives and friends stationed in Saudi Arabia or preparing to ship out soon.

"I don't really think it's going to accomplish anything," said Steve Elsea, 42, a cook and bartender in Leesburg. "I think it's going to get a lot of innocent people killed or hurt."

Donald Manson, 51, a program manager for the Justice Department who lives with his wife on a Loudoun County farm, linked the country's economic instability with the uncertainty in the gulf.

"You've got the entire country in a state of flux," Manson said. "Until that's resolved, nobody can make any plans."

The effects of war also worried Harvey Bias, 58, of Lothian, Md. The youngest of his six children is in Saudi Arabia. And Bias fears that a war would hurt his business as a home improvement contractor.

"People are not going to be building and won't want things," Bias said. "Everything is tightening up. Nobody knows what the war is going to bring."

Some people said they never dreamed that the country would move to the edge of war over the Mideast situation, and they wonder what war would be like.

"I think it's probably going to happen," said Jean Ferreri, 23, of Capitol Hill, an auditor for a bank. "Being my age, it's strange. I've never lived through any war. Now I know people, or people who know people, who are over there. It's crazy."

Although many people were concerned about whether their friends and relatives would survive a potentially costly war in the gulf, others worried about surviving a deadly war at home waged by crime and drugs. The most passionate concern came from District residents. But people interviewed in the suburbs also said crime had become a problem for them, particularly when they wanted to venture to the city.

Crime is not so bad in Arlington, where Andrew Brkic, 16, lives, he said. "But around Arlington it is."

Brkic said he worries about the safety of his father, who works in the District. "We go to Washington sometimes, just into Georgetown," Brkic said. "You have to be a little bit more careful."

But his friend Marc Todd, 17, also of Arlington, said crime was not just a problem in the city.

"You see friends with really expensive clothes and things," Todd said. "You know they're selling drugs and you worry because you know they've gotten into something bad."

Farther north in Virginia, Fernando Villavicencio, 45, manager of a hardware and feed store in Middleburg, said the drug problem has crept into his community. He said he has begun to see rural people using drugs more often.

"It's a big problem," he said. "You can see now it has started to come here."

"We've got to stop these brutal murders and so many kids getting killed," said Betty Leftridge-Fields, an accountant at the Hecht Co. who lives on Eighth Street NW.

Ronald Saleh, 21, said he doesn't think much about drugs, until he comes home from college to his Mount Pleasant neighborhood. In the past three years while he's been at school in Florida, Saleh said, four of his high school friends have died of drug-related violence.

"The drugs are bad," Saleh said. "You can't go anywhere without being careful. You used to be able to go hang somewhere. Now you have to know where you're going and when. You've got to watch what you say and who you say it to. All my friends are dying."

"I'm looking for next year to be better. It's gotta be better," said Gertrude McKee, 73, a retired federal worker who lives on Princeton Place NW near Georgia Avenue.

"I hate to see what's happening to this city," McKee said. "I have two kids myself and I worry my eyeballs out about them. People getting killed for no reason. It could have been me."

Despite concerns nationally about a recession and worries that unemployment will continue to rise, a large majority of those interviewed said they did not expect to lose their jobs or face severe financial hardship this year.

Yet many also said they would watch their budgets more closely and postpone large expenditures, such as new cars and houses.

"I got out of {Harvard} graduate school and into a job just in time," said Atsuko Horiguchi, 28, an economist for the World Bank. "I have friends on Wall Street where I used to work and they're nervous every day. There won't be much change for me this next year. My job is pretty much recession-proof."

Joyce Bowman, 61, a program analyst for the Defense Department who lives in Northeast Washington, said she has taken her sewing machine to be repaired because she will start making more of her own clothes this year.

Bowman, who lives with a daughter, 15, and a son, 30, said she buys only the basics on her grocery list and eliminates "the knickknacks the kids like to eat." She said she loves buying shoes, but she won't be purchasing any soon.

For Christmas, "I bought everything I wanted, but I didn't do it up like other years," Bowman said. "My daughter wanted a camcorder and I didn't buy her one. She adjusted. She understood we couldn't buy like we did before."

Frank Robinson, 39, of Indian Head in Charles County, was hired in November as a sanitation worker in Arlington after being laid off 12 months earlier as a carpenter for a construction company.

"I had a much better Christmas this year," Robinson said. "I was able to do much better for the children."

He said he and his wife were about to lose their town house when he found the Arlington job. This year, "I'll be better able to maintain a fairly decent standard of living," Robinson said.

Von Wright, 25, a management consultant from Alexandria, said today's economic problems are a correction for the excesses of the past.

"The last 10 years were overly euphoric and people became too comfortable," Wright said. "People didn't take the time to plan. Now they are scared to some degree.

" . . . I think this is temporary, but it may be an adjustment for too much good in the 1980s."

Staff writers Retha Hill, Robert O'Harrow Jr., Laura Sessions Stepp, Richard Tapscott and Avis Thomas-Lester contributed to this report.