The sultry weather promised by forecasters was anything but at Hains Point yesterday morning, as a surprising breeze from the Potomac River washed over the prime fishing spot where Michael Elmore and his five friends waited.
Amateur anglers often congregate there to try their luck at pulling bass and catfish from the Potomac's brown-green waters. But yesterday, perhaps because of the off-putting forecast, Elmore and the others nearly had the park to themselves.
Elmore, 45, lives nearby at Medlink Hospital and Nursing Center on Capitol Hill. His friends work or live there, too. Twice a month, they come down for a day of fishing.
"The water does something to the body. It soothes you. You could have family problems, you could be mad, but the water makes you forget your problems," Elmore said.
He has a wide smile, a diamond stud in his left ear and a bracelet of rainbow-colored threads on his right wrist. Woven in white are the letters "W.W.J.D."--for "What would Jesus do?"
He is paralyzed from the chest down. Someone ran him down on his bicycle one night in September 1997 and left him for dead. The police never found the driver; Elmore isn't even sure that a report was filed. He never pursued it. "I try not to look into the past," he says matter-of-factly.
Waiting for the fish to nibble at a fat night crawler, watching the planes buzz in and out of Reagan National Airport across the water, there are no hit-and-run drivers. The past slips away on the current.
As a boy growing up in Orangeburg, S.C., he hooked his first fish. And the fish hooked him. "Every chance that I'd have, I'd go fishing. So my parents wouldn't find out, I'd give them away before I got home."
Three months before his bike accident, he bought two bamboo fishing poles. After months of recovery, he got the poles out again. He used one yesterday.
In late afternoon, the men will gather their catch--supplementing it, if necessary, with a stop at the fish market--and take it back to the hospital, where Elmore will cook up a fish fry. His recipe is secret: "All I can tell you is that it's good. I don't get too many complaints."
The patients will play cards. Elmore, president of the residents council, will joke with them, lift their spirits a little.
With just a few golden-scaled bass and two small, sad catfish in the cooler by early afternoon, yesterday was looking like a fish-market day. Elmore eyed the small catch, saying he could do better with crickets.
Then, a strike! His bamboo rod arced like a rainbow over the water. Elmore pulled hard, and a fat, 16-inch channel cat emerged from the river. Into the cooler it went, flopping around on the ice.
Elmore laughed. That catfish is at least 25 inches, he insisted. Then, with renewed purpose, he threaded another night crawler on his hook.
CAPTION: Bill Quarles, an employee at Medlink Hospital and Nursing Center, reaches for Michael Elmore's catch at Hains Point.
CAPTION: Michael Elmore fishes the Potomac River at Hains Point, across from Reagan National Airport. Paralyzed from the waist down when hit by a car while he was bicycling, Elmore finds the water makes him forget his worries.