Ten days ago Jimmy Carter was working on his inaugural address at Blair House while Gerald Ford's presidency came to an end across the street.
Now, with Ford a former President a remnant of his presidential staff has moved a half block away to 734-736 Jackson PI. for a transition out of power that will take six months and cost $1 miilion. It is a period of readjustment and decompression that is summed up in the childish scrawl of Mike Taylor, of Darien, Conn., in a letter to the President.
"Dear Mr. Ford, best wishes. I hope you like being a regular person again."
The letter is one of nearly 50,000 pieces of mail that have flowed into the transition office in a remarkable outpouring of praise and affection. A number of the letters are from self-identified Carter supporters who want to tell Ford how much they think of him.
"I am a Democrat who voted for Mr. Carter in the last election," wrote Raymond A. Paglier of Northvale, N.J. "I have rarely agreed with your policies and doubt that I ever will . . . Although I did not vote for you, the reason I am writing is to congratulate you for the superb job you did in restoring a feeling of decency and respect of our first citizen."
The student strike appears to be part of a larger offensive under way by both leftists and rightists seeking.
This tribute to a restoration of respect for the presidency is the overwhelming message of the letter writers, whatever their political affiliation.
"You get a feeling from that mail," says transition press secretary Larry Speakers, "that there is a depth of appreciation out there for President Ford, as if the country wanted to thank him for a job well done."
The letters, in marked contrast to the thousands of letters received by Richard Nixon after he left office, are distinguished by an absence of animus - toward Carter or anyone else. Sometimes they are accompanied by a homemade gift or a child's drawing. Among the gifts are Christmas ornaments. Bibles, homemade cookies, a key with the presidential seal and a map of the world, a pendant sterling snail shell, a deflated football bearing the signatures of the Michigan State football team of 1903, an autographed football helmet from the Mad Rivery Valley Federated Labor Council.
And there are invitations, more than 3,000 of them, invitations to form a law practice, to lecture, to speak, to attend a wedding or a bar mitzvah. It is as if adult Americans shared the ception of young Mike Taylor that Ford is "a regular person again" and would like to drop in on the celebration next door.
All of the gifts are carefully logged and a summary of them sent to Ford in Palm Springs, where he will decide on their disposition. The letters will go to the archives and ultimately to the Ford Library at the University of Michigan. All of the letters, according to correspondence secretary Elizabeth O'Neil, will receive a reply.
But these replies may take some time in coming. The volume of the mail was taxed the resources of the Ford transition staff, which includes 19 paid persons at 736 Jackson PQ. plus a half dozen unpaid volunteers. Another five Ford aides, including staff director Robert Barrett, are with the former President in Palm Springs.
The Ford staff is organized on mini-White House lines, with separate departments for scheduling, legal counsel, press, speechwriting and correspondence.
This staff occupies a historic residence where Theodore Roosevelt once lived while the White House was being repaired. It also was once the home of Rep. Daniel E. Sickles, who shot to death his wife's paramour, won an acquittal in Washington courts and went on to command a Union Army corps at Gettysburg.
Now, the Victorian townhouse has been tastefully restored wit grey carpeting and slate blue walls that the transition staff has haphazardly decorated with informal pictures of the Ford family.
Despite the heavy mail most of the transition aides find that the pace has slowed considerably since Ford has left the White House. The aides work 10-hour days, instead of the 12-hour White House days, and they have weekends off.
Speaker whose third-story office has a wine service ticker to keep him abreast of breaking news, puts out only an occasional release now and he says he has time, which he rarely did at the White House, "to think about what he wants to say."
Patrick D. Butler, the speechwriter, has written one speech in Ford's first week out of office for the former President's remarks at the Vincent Lombardi dinner in Houston last Thursday. Its most memorable line was a prediction from Ford that "if you think I'm hanging up my cleats for good, you're wrong."
This reminder is not necessary at 736 Jackson PI., where Gerald Ford remains an active public figure of warmth and substance. Judging from the mail, it is a percepttion shared by Ford's countrymen.