Gripping Cokes and cups of french fries, the three teenage girls seemed just the kind of fans who might flock to MCI Center any night for a Wizards game or a concert.
But yesterday, the Jumbotron was flashing pictures of Tibetan monks in saffron robes. And the main attraction was the exiled Buddhist leader, the Dalai Lama.
"He's had such influence in the world. It's not like he's a rock star. It's something different," said Sara Rothleitner, 16, of Ellicott City.
When the three teenagers learned that the Dalai Lama would be in Washington, "we jumped on it," said Constance Ferber, 16, of Towson, Md.
In a city normally obsessed with more temporal forms of power, the 70-year-old spiritual leader received a fan-club greeting yesterday.
About 16,000 people filled much of MCI Center to hear his talk, "Global Peace Through Compassion." Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.), the House minority leader, introduced him and gushed over the chance "to breathe the same air, in the same room, as His Holiness, the Dalai Lama."
As for His Holiness, he showed much of the charm that has endeared him to audiences around the world, joking, relaxing into a cross-legged position on a chair, and mixing topics both sacred and worldly.
He talked of love and hate, of religion and ethics, of global peace and nuclear weapons.
He talked of malls.
"I like shopping centers," the monk, in gold and crimson robes, confessed in his stilted English, smiling as his audience roared. "Beautiful. When I go [to] these areas, I want this, I want that, I want that," he said, jabbing a finger in the air as though on a spree at Tysons Corner.
"Then, [I] ask myself, you really need that? The answer is no."
His main points, though, were more profound: the need for religious tolerance, the importance of carrying out faith in daily actions and the goal of "internal disarmament" -- combating one's own hatred and anger.
In a capital awash in discourse on war, he offered his own road map to peace, beginning with compassion.
"We must make every effort on the grass-roots level. Then there's hope for change," he said.
It was that message that stirred so many Washingtonians.
"It's a simple message, but unusual in these days when everyone talks about realpolitik and the politics of power," said Insa Kummer, 29, of Adams Morgan, who works at the German Embassy.
"He's not trying to make money. He has a good feeling and wants to share that," said Kathleen Dougherty, 32, a museum worker from Takoma Park.
The Dalai Lama's speech was his main event that was open to the public during his 10-day trip to Washington. Tickets ranged from $16 to $101.
Considered by many to be the spiritual and political leader of Tibetans, the Dalai Lama has been a regular visitor to the city in recent years, meeting presidents and members of Congress to win support for his cause. China invaded Tibet in 1950, and the government has repressed popular uprisings and demonstrations since.
But his current trip has taken him well beyond the political realm.
The Dalai Lama exchanged views with brain researchers at a three-day conference on meditation. He addressed thousands of neuroscientists at the Washington Convention Center. He toured the Booker T. Washington Public Charter School for Technical Arts in Northwest Washington, donating $10,000 to the school.
In short, he was a man who wore many hats -- even a Nats cap.
He received the cap during a visit to the charter school Thursday. The Dalai Lama wanted to reach out beyond the city's elite, said Kate Saunders, a spokeswoman helping to coordinate his Washington trip. He also is interested in technical education, she said.
So he spoke to an audience of about 200 students. In a welcoming speech, D.C. Council member Jim Graham (D-Ward 1) presented him with a tan Washington Nationals cap.
No Tibetan Buddhist would dare touch the head of the revered Dalai Lama. But he bent over, pointing to his pate.
"Are you serious?" Graham yelped. Nats cap in place, the Dalai Lama leaned back and let out a guffaw. It set the tone for a meeting at once high-minded and humorous, in which the Dalai Lama urged the students to embrace education and to be self-confident and kind.
"I didn't think he would act so young," said Bernard Igbedion, 17, a student at the school. "I thought he'd be a serious person. But he acts just like everyone else."
But even at the school, the Dalai Lama couldn't get away from politics. Asked by a student what he thought about the city's lack of a voting representative in Congress, the Dalai Lama said he didn't know what to say.
"First, I have to study what are the reasons," the spiritual leader said. There was no good reason, the students retorted.
"No reason? You should find out," the Dalai Lama insisted. As the students laughed, he added: "If there is no reason, then shout!"