The residents were up early today all along the 2200 block of East Biddle Street, wielding brooms and garden hoses as they tried to polish away some of the drabness of this neighborhood of row houses in east Baltimore.
Lavinia B. Tankard was among them, pushing the dust from the front steps of her home. "You know how it is when you have company coming," she said. "You do a little extra."
The company coming to East Biddle Street, in this case, is President Carter.
Shortly before 9 o'clock Tuesday morning, a motorcade carrying Carter, Baltimore Mayor William Donald Schaefer and a covey of federal and state officials will drive past Tankard's row house and stop at the end of the block, in front of the home of a 30-year-old city clerk named Genitha Rhyne.
The stop at Rhyne's peach-colored home, which is equipped with solar-heated water, is part of a hop-scotching half-day tour that will take the president and his entourage from Ft. McHenry on the Baltimore harbor to downtown Baltimore and the biennial national convention of the Sons of Italy.
It has been less than a week since the city first learned of the Carter visit, and for the last few frenetic days the town that styles itself the Queen of the Patapsco has been busy preening for the occasion.
In some cases, the preparations have taken a toll.
Early this afternoon, a hollow-eyed Rhyne listened to the sound of one more knock on her front door and wearily got up to open it. Then she smiled politely at the latest in a parade of news people who had started coming through her home at nine in the morning.
"I was really shocked and surpirsed when I first heard [about the Presidential trip]," she said. "It isn't every day the president comes to visit your home.... It was like a dream at first." But the surpirse had long since gone out of her voice.
A woman from the White House's advance staff walked through the living room, smiled at Rhyne and said: "Is it okay if I go upstairs, Genitha?"
"Sure," Rhyne replied, getting up from her couch again to answer the door and let a network cameraman inside.
Outside, two young neighbors, flushed with the knowledge of their new celebrity, were busily engaged in a media one-upmanship contest. "I got on Channel 2 and Channel 11," said one boy. "Yeah, well, me too, I got on all of them," his friend replied.
Rhyne closed the door and moved back inside. "I'm beginning to sound like a broken record," she lamented. Then, once again, she offered her vital statistics: She earns $176 a week; she moved into 2251 E. Biddle in March and she first heard about the president's visit Thursday night when she got home from work.
"Before I left work Thursday, Mr. Branch [Van Story Branch, head of the city's public housing program, which rents Rhyne her home for $165 a month] told me some people from the mayor's office were going to be coming by and something exciting was going to be happening."
When she got home that day, her visitors told her "that the president was coming to visit my house."
Since then, her life has been a merry-go-round of preparations and interviews. What to wear? ("Something casual. From what I hear, he's not a very formal person.") What to serve? ("Maybe some lemonade.") What to discuss? ("Something about housing programs and supporting things like that.")
Her daughters, Lashaun, 10, and Charice, 8, are excited. "but not as much as I thought they'd be. Maybe it won't really hit them till tomorrow."
Across town, in the Sons of Italy headquarters on West Fayette Street, Frank J. Battaglia sat in front of a multicolored mural of Christopher Columbus and said, "To be modest, it was my idea to ask the president" to his organization's convention.
The National Supreme Trustee of the order, who is also a deputy police commissioner in Baltimore, was clearly pleased with himself. "After I wrote him the final letter [one of three invitations], I just felt confident he would accept."
Even before Battaglia got the word last Thursday that Carter was coming to speak to 1,400 members of the fraternal lodge, everything else about the $40,000, week-long celebration had been well mapped out, he said.
The only thing the president's sudden acceptance did was to "change things around with security," Battaglia said. "The members have been jubilant," he added. "This should be the biggest Sons of Italy convention since our founding in 1905."
A few blocks away, on the third floor of city hall, Mark Wasserman, an aide to Mayor Schaefer spent the day at his telephone. In between calls, he said "I'm briefing the mayor in trying to keep up with last minute changes...of routes and schedules."
Wasserman's first task, after he found out about the presidential visit last week, was to find "an energy related" stop the president could make. Then, when the White House staff approved the tour of Rhyne's home and a nearby school, Wasserman turned to other details of the city's cleanup and preparation.
Days off were canceled for many of the city's 3,200 police officers, and special street sweeping crews were sent out to provide a lst minute facelift. CAPTION: Picture, It was Frank Battaglia's invitations that prompted Carter's trip to Baltimore. By Margaret Thomas - The Washington Post